Mensch tracht, und Gott lacht

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Things that Don't Mix: Horror Flicks and Kiddies

I've been kind of keeping this to myself, but DP of Rock, Paper, Dynamite and Thomas Hibbs of NRO have rekindled the flicker of a particular thought in my brain.

As he discusses the horror film Hostel, currently a low budget hit eclipsing older releases Narnia and King Kong, Hibbs noted a distressing phenomenon:

Yet, the most depressing and horrifying thing about these sorts of films is, alas, not the explicit gore. It is the fact that at nearly every screening of a gruesome horror film I attend (from Massachusetts to Texas), I see parents in the audience with young children. That strikes me as a serious form of child abuse and a more convincing sign of the impending apocalypse than anything depicted on the screen.

I had the same thought a few years back when I went to see Blade 2 with Wesley Snipes. I was shocked to see several small children in the theatre who had been brought by their "parents" who were engaging in their own mysterious version of "parenting." It wasn't quite Kill Bill, but the film had graphic portrayals of bodily mutilation that took tatooing several steps up the cruelty scale and mass murder with blood hosing everywhere.

I don't need to see a study to know that the children exposed to this kind of film will become insensitive to violence, killing, etc. To use a more biblical expression, I'd say it hardens hearts. My own experience bears this out. As a teenager, my friends and I took advantage of the combination of video rental privileges and driver's licenses to rent every horrible thing we could get our hands on. The more a film pushed the border of tastelessness, violence, and sexual priggishness, the more likely we were to give it a viewing. I particularly recall a film that portrayed graphic serial rape of a woman caught in the wilderness Deliverance-style by a group of bad men. The first time I saw it I was shocked and shaken. The fourth time I was laughing.

After years of exercising more personal vigilance in my viewing choices, I've managed to recover my sense of shock at the depiction of outrageous behavior onscreen. I can only imagine how warped an individual's sensibilities can become after dulling the edge of the conscience on reels and reels of bloody, sex and violence-drenched celluloid (or digital media), particularly when the process begins with non-parenting parents initiating their toddlers into onscreen bloodsport.

This damage to the mind's facility for perceiving moral distinctions is the basic problem with total liberation of entertainment from social constraints. All the barrier-busting and fun-poking at stuffy taboo protectors leads to an arena with no-holds barred. What demons will wrestle in the virtual stadiums of the future? I'm not at all sure we want to know.


Jay D. Homnick said...

Thanks, Hunter.

Generally speaking, the apocalyptic warnings about TV and movies ruining society no longer capture my imagination, because I figure all this has been out there long enough for us to see that its effects are more subtle. But there is no doubt that the coarsening of the culture - particularly the puncturing of innocence at younger ages - will exact a toll on the oversoul of our national experiment.

Tom Van Dyke said...

A blurb in Hostel's newspaper ad:

"It's the kind of film where you avert your eyes from the screen only to have curiosity force them back to the sheer brutality of the action."

Long live the New Flesh.

Hunter Baker said...

You and I have different ideas of what a long time is, Jay. In terms of history, we've only had the type of entertainment I'm referring to for a very short time. We'll be sorting out the effects for a long time, yet.

Ed Darrell said...

But who is out there fighting for the good stuff? Would I be correct were I to assume that no one on this blog complained when Newt Gingrich went after Big Bird?

Television and films could be great teachers. Somebody has to make that happen, though. As of yet, humans still run the enterprises.

If something of great value comes along, it's pretty sure conservatives will complain about it somehow. Teletubbies, Big Bird, ballet, orchestral music, good drama on stage -- all targets of the right wing.

Movies, too.

It's a free market of ideas out there. To the extent we consumers don't fight for the good ones, the bad ones win.

Hunter Baker said...

I think the good Ed means that we don't support our local public television station. How that translates into a philistinism with regard to culture is another question entirely. A failure to love the work of Dr. Wayne Dyer does not strike me as a failure to appreciate good cultural offerings.

Kathy Hutchins said...

Teletubbies, Big Bird, ballet, orchestral music, good drama on stage -- all targets of the right wing.

If "targets of the Right Wing" is some sort of codeword for our pathetic ineffective attempts to de-fund CPB, I fail to see what that has to do with the death of any of these things, particularly orchestral music. There are five NPR stations in the DC area, not one of which plays classical music. The big signal stations are non-stop left wing talk; there are a couple of low watt college stations that serve up jazz and/or world music. We do have several classical stations on the dial; they are all commercial enterprises.

Griping about paying the salaries of Diane Rehm and Terri Gross with my tax dollars is hardly the definition of philistinism. And the only good thing I can say about the Teletubbies is that at least they kept Iris Murdoch entertained when she was in the final stages of Alzheimer's.