It’s a good idea to know just what exactly your kid saw
What good is a bully pulpit if you don’t take it out for a spin every once in a while? I write today in the hopes of empowering the parents of teenagers. I’m aware that as the father of two children not scheduled to be preteens for another decade, this may place me in the category of an unskilled shill. That’s a chance I’m willing to take.So, parents: What movies are your kids watching? Quick – put down the paper for a second, and if you can find him and actually get him to talk in multisyllables, ask your 15-year-old to recite as quickly as possible, right off the top of his head, the titles of the last three movies he’s seen.Don’t act surprised if you hear any of the following: “Saw” (parts one, two, three, or four), “Hostel” (parts one or two), “The Devil’s Rejects,” or “Wolf Creek.” If you do hear any of those titles, push a little, if you can, to find out more. If you don’t hear any of those titles but instead something like “Ummmmmm,” or “Whatever the last three movies were by Disney,” you’ll probably want to push even more!All the movie titles just listed basically fall into a certain subcategory of the horror genre. Although this subcategory has received a few different monikers, the most unfortunate (and unfortunately accurate) one – the one applied by critics that’s stuck – is “torture-porn.” I cringe at even writing that term, but good people, it seems to state the case with alarming brevity.The “plots” of such films tend to revolve around the almost fetishistic use of excessive torture and mutilation to help achieve the end-game of some sadist or other. Unlike how directors such as Hitchcock could hint at violence occurring without actually showing it to you, the new movies unimaginatively and unflinchingly demonstrate torture precisely at the point of pain, giving you in an hour and a half more blood and bone than most surgeons will see in a lifetime of practice. Furthermore, unlike other films, there seems to be no point to the violence other than the violence itself. Beyond the possibility of surviving, there seems to be no redeeming moment, no hope for the characters who inhabit these films.Such violence is cyclical and addictive, with everyone involved casting blame outside themselves.”What we are engaging in here,” one observer wrote on nymag.com, “is a sort of reciprocal, guiltless brutality-by-proxy. The filmmaker contends that it is not he who is ‘responsible’ for the gore, anguish, and depravity depicted. … From the filmgoer’s perspective, it is not he who is ‘responsible’ – he didn’t make the movie, he’s not dictating content, he just paid for a ticket, and certainly isn’t consciously or deliberately voting for more of the same with his $10 worth of encouragement. Both parties thereby conveniently evade the crosshairs of self-analysis, smugly confident that any credit or blame resides with the other.”More to the point, the director Joss Whedon offered up the powerful notion that these films are “part of a cycle of violence and misogyny that takes something away from the people who have seen it.”At the risk of being totally obvious, this trend is a terrible idea that’s headed nowhere good – silly and stupid like many movies, yes, but still, a tremendously bad idea besides, and morally indefensible. It suggests a pathological obsession with pain, much of which is actually self-inflicted by characters being forced to hurt themselves.Do you want your children watching this stuff?Prevailing cultural norms might lead you to believe that that question is irrelevant. After all, the “Saw” franchise has so far made well more than half a billion dollars worldwide, and every Halloween we get a new one. This style of horror has won the battle if not the war at the box office, and is equally voracious in people’s homes, racking up DVD sales and rentals like a champ.Parents, my point is not to scare you – it’s to make you aware of something that may be taking up space in the hearts and minds of our kids, to name it with clarity so that you and we can then do something about it. Left to its own devices, the industry in question will do what it takes to make its bottom line, meet its projections, and please its boards and shareholders. The moral formation of teenagers will not be its concern.Let me know what you’re thinking here. Maybe together we can do something small that will turn the tide locally, and then who knows what after that.The Rev. Torey Lightcap is priest-in-charge of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glenwood Springs (www.saint-barnabas.info). Torey and his wife have two children and live in New Castle.
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