A human being should be able to
change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a
ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort
the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an
equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a
tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
- Robert A. Heinlein
We don't care really about children as a society
and television reflects that indifference to children as human
After holding out as long as I could, Hugh finally got hooked on his first Disney film: the Lion King. Is it a coincidence that he then became adamant about playing the fighting game 'Simba battles Scar'? This was compounded by a further film, Flubber, with Robin Williams. For all their proclamations that the Disney brand is synonymous with 'family values', what this product mostly promotes is a mixture of 'good triumphs over evil' with the 'men getting hit in the crotch is funny' school of comedy. It's not fair to single Disney out, though. So much of what gets promoted as family fare is crap. Good conquers bad, dumbed down.
But don't we want our children's world to be one where righteousness and decency prevails? Am I proposing that we let the bad guys win? Not as such, but it's the wrong question to ask. Is the world black and white? Is this life's crucial moral decision figuring out which one's the bad guy so you can clean his clock? Here's what Saturday morning cartoons are likeliest to teach your child:
The bad guy is easy to identify. A six-year-old once told me "The cooler the costume, the more likely it's a bad guy." Beyond that, however, look for the leer, the maniacal laugh, a tendency to gloat over betrayed or bloodied heroes, and a dastardly plot in which the average ten-year-old could point out the flaws. Ambiguities are anathema to the action hero industry. Real world villainy is perpetrated by people who firmly believe they are the hero in their own story. Eighty percent of violent crimes are carried out by a personality type called the 'right man' - an individual pathologically unable to admit to being wrong. Psychologist and theosopher M. Scott Peck defines human evil in 'People of the Lie' as the consistent tendency to blame others and justify any action as morally defensible, even when it results in harm to others. The Ted Bundys of the world don't stand around twirling their moustaches, they think they're pretty great guys. So why do we so universally perpetuate the stereotype of the black-hat villain? I challenge you to name five adventure films whose plots aren't driven by the baddie. The only possible function it serves is to train young citizens to dehumanize whomever the media paints as 'bad'.
And that leads conveniently to modern media message #2: hurting the bad guy is a good thing, so give 'em both barrels. Heroes don't talk things out, they overpower their opponents. Rare indeed is the film where the protagonist overcomes adversity by wit or character. Protagonists who successfully eschew violence are about as common as jackalopes. Once the bad guy's established as unlikeable, he can be humiliated and injured with impunity. Whack him in the balls with a rake and drop a bowling ball on his pate while pushing him into some excrement: everyone will laugh and cheer. Here endeth the lesson. Except it doesn't. The higher the rating classification of a film, the likelier the bad guy will not only die, but die horribly. It's often not enough to see him shot dead as Hoffa. In the movies aimed at ages Keefe and up, he's likelier to be impaled, exploded, or melted: a choice between killed agonizingly or extravagantly.
What continually astonishes me is how few parents monitor or limit their children's viewing diet. Many of Keefe's ten- or eleven-year-old contemporaries regularly take in films like the Matrix or Alien, and are derisive towards the evisceration-free policy we unreasonably impose. This has complicated a few sleep-overs, but it starts plenty earlier than that. One of Hugh's kindergarten classmates told me that he loves the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and his favorite movie was the live action Daredevil. His mother often seems exasperated and baffled when he is argumentative or aggressive. Figure it out, people! Superhero toys in particular are aimed at ages three and up, and I've never met a kid who only saw videos the film rating system said they should, nor do I agree with the way films are rated. It disturbs me to think our kids need to be protected from images of sexuality until they've got a few years of watching brutal murders under their belts.
So after seeing the increase in aggressive behavior
every single study
on the subject predicts, I'm again putting the brakes
entertainment prominently featuring people being mean
to other people.
Keefe will roll his eyes that we can't see
"anything good", and I know
Jan gets tired of a diet of science shows, but I think
in our household is paramount.
Hugh's got plenty of years ahead of him
to learn how crappy human beings usually are to each
other. I want to
keep him in a cocoon of reason and decency a little
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