Sunday, May 12, 2013

All Grown Up

When I was 6 or 7 years old, my mother and I were in line inside of Hardees. A man at the counter was upset because his wife, who was waiting on us, was supposed to be off work. I don't remember what he was saying, only that he was loudly yelling and cussing. An old man in the the front of the restaurant stood up and asked the guy to hold it down and watch his language because there were women and children present. The angry guy responded by walking over and beating the hell out of him. The woman screamed in horror. The old man bled profusely from the head an face. End memory. 

Now fast forward to the present day where anyone who knows me knows I have a lot of fucking kids. Raising a child is one of the greatest responsibilities anyone can take on, and I have 4 of them bastards (figuratively speaking). I seem to have a different philosophy than most parents on what is and is not appropriate. It's not superior. It's not right. It's just different.

I've noticed many parents shelter their children from language, violence, and sex. I get it but at what age should we let reality seep in?

Don't get me wrong. I didn't allow any of my kids to watch Rambo nor Rambone at the age of 4. I didn't put them to bed by reading Andrew Dice Clay nursery rhymes or anything. I just don't understand the extent to which people try to prevent their children from seeing or hearing adult content.


About two years ago, I found a copy of The Three Amigos on DVD for $3. I loved that movie as a kid and, like most parents, I like to shove my childhood down my kids throats (perhaps that's a poor choice of words but, again, I'm not making them watch Willy Wanker and the Hershey Highway). The Three Amigos is rated PG so I was surprised when Lucky Day said "Not so fast El Guapo! Or I'll fill you so full of lead you'll be using your dick as a pencil!" The movie features a few sexual jokes and questionable language and, in my mind, should be rated PG-13. I actually double-checked the case to make sure it wasn't. Faced with this rating vs. content conundrum, I did some research.

It turns out that the PG-13 rating was introduced by the Motion Picture Association in 1984 and The Three Amigos came out in 1986. So, why did it have a PG rating? Because the rating metrics were different at that point in time. From 1984 - 1986 a PG and PG-13 were defined as follows:

  • PG - Parental Guidance Strongly Suggested - Most material may not be suitable for children. 
  • PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned - Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are strongly cautioned to give special guidance to attendance of children under 13.
That's how movies like The Goonies and Spaceballs (1987) were rated PG. PG-13 was reserved for more violent movies like Red Dawn and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, both of which would likely earn R ratings today. 

Those same ratings are now defined as follows:
  • PG - Parental Guidance SuggestedSome material may not be suitable for children. Parents are urged to give parental guidance as the motion picture contains some material that parents might not find suitable for younger children
  • PG-13 - Parents Strongly CautionedSome material may be inappropriate for children under 13 
This isn't about movie ratings though. I saw this movie when I was 8 years old. I saw it and plenty of other movies full of violence, nudity, and bad language before I was 13. I had seen people brutally killed by Jason and Freddy, full frontal nudity, on screen sex, sexual jokes (a la Spaceballs), and numerous creative uses of the word "fuck". My brother and I re-enacted scenes from Star Wars when I was 3. We watched the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings cartoon movies on laser disc before I started kindergarten. I was listening to George Carlin and Eddie Murphy by the age of 9. I was watching the Simpsons in sixth grade. Today there are plenty of 6th graders that aren't allowed to watch The Simpsons let alone The Running Man.

You can judge my parents if you want but I turned out just fine (albeit my opinion). I'm not a sexual deviant, I haven't killed anyone, and I don't cuss like I have tourette's syndrome. In other words, I'm not a fucking idiot. I may have different  or odd points of view, but I'm not a bad person. I'm responsible, productive, and, as far as I can tell, people respect me. 

This isn't one of those "when I was a kid things were better" speeches. I just don't understand what sheltering kids accomplishing. Yes, when I was a child games were not as violent. Yes, there was a big stink over the language and content of music and, yes, today the content of these mediums is even worse. However, if you check the statistics, violence and crime on all levels are lower today than when when we were kids. 

The red line is the Violent Crime Rate moving from 1986.

Long before movies, video games, and recorded music people were violent as hell. "Rape, pillage, and plunder" wasn't just an expression, it was either a real concern or an activity on your to-do list. People have always hurt and killed each other because people have always been violent evil assholes. Sex sells because it feels good and is fucking great (no pun intended). Our entertainment caters to our natural psyche. This is a case of art imitating life, not the other way around. Games, music, and movies are simply our modern day gladiators. The TV/movie screen and speakers are our Coliseum. Blaming society's ills on entertainment mediums ignores the larger problem - people just kind of suck. 

To those who like to cite recent mass shootings and random acts of violence as being attributable to movies, games, TV, and music, I would like to submit the following argument: that shit started long before the entertainment industry.

A sniper took out several people from the top of a water tower in the 70's and I'm pretty sure the only video games he had access to were Pinball and maaaayyyyyybeeee Pong. In the 1800's, without the aid of movies, mobs of people randomly lynched those they didn't like. In the Dark Ages people flocked to the town square to witness mass executions, many of which were ironically church ordered, even though gangsta rap wouldn't make its mark for centuries. The ancient Greeks, Japanese, and Indians painted and sculpted pornographic pictures without the inspiration of Ron Jeremy. It would seem we've always been violent and horny. There are even records of ancient Roman graffiti equivalent to that found in a modern bathroom stall. 

Ancient relief of two men tag teaming a pony(?) you do.

In my opinion, pretending the world is free of violence, hate, sex, and foul language is kind of misses the point of parenting. We are supposed to raise our children to be responsible, productive, well-behaved members of a society which is violent and full of bad words, sex, hate, and insensitivity. One day, perish the thought though we may, our kids will cuss (if they aren't already doing so). One day, they are going to see a bit of nudity or, even worse, have sex. One day, they are going to witness, be the victim of, or be party to some sort of violent act. It's all going to happen and there isn't shit we can do about it. 

Should we be sheltering our kids from this or ensuring they know how to act when faced with it? If they hear cuss words, they need to understand that some people find such words offensive and they should not be used in mixed company or certain settings. If they hear hate-speak, they need to understand that it is just the outdated talk of ignorant fearful people that is in no way relevant or realistic. When they see or hear something of a sexual nature, they need to understand that sex is natural and nothing to be ashamed of. When they see or hear about violence they need to understand the impact of that on victims and society. They need to understand that it is never acceptable to hurt people. They also need to understand that some people are crazy, some are sick, and some are just fucking stupid.

I don't recall what happened after that old man was assaulted in Hardees. I only remember that I felt terrible for him. It stuck with me because I found it disturbing, the violence was not endearing in any way, shape, or form. I can still hear the woman scream and see the old man's bloody face but I don't remember what Asshole looked like at all. Despite having witnessed this violence at such a young age, I have yet to beat the hell out of an elderly person. If anything, it struck be as being unnecessary, gross, and barbaric. It didn't desensitize me. 

My kids can tell the difference between the reality and fiction, they know what words they can and cannot say, they know what is appropriate and inappropriate because they are intelligent and fairly responsible, not any more or less intelligent and responsible than any other kid, but they can certainly hear the word "fuck", understand it is bad, and not repeat it. They can shoot someone in a video game and not even want to hurt anyone in reality. They can see or hear sexual jokes or references and ask questions to get real answers, not downplayed bullshit because the topic is uncomfortable. I would certainly prefer they see a pair titties over two people trying to kill each other but in America the two go hand in hand. 

Sure, sometimes subjects are uncomfortable. For example, last week I watched the 1998 remake of Psycho with my oldest son (which is a near frame-by-frame remake of the original so, while it may be unnecessary, it is still a good movie). In one of the few added scenes Norman Bates rubs one out while spying on Marion Crane as she changes. My son asked why he was "shaking and breathing funny". Was that an uncomfortable conversation? Yes. Did I disregard the question or make-up some bullshit answer? No. I simply explained that Norman Bates was touching himself because he is a creep. I also explained that spying like that is wrong, an invasion of privacy, and illegal.

I'm sure there are actually plenty of parents that have open conversations with their kids and let them watch some questionable material. They may even lie about it to friends and acquaintances for fear of being judged though I don't get the social stigma on it though. If you don't give your kids some freedom they won't know how to handle it when they do get it. 

We can't shelter our kids from society's woes forever. By the time they are 8 it is probably okay to let it start filtering in. In the end, we all want our children to be well adjusted and unharmed. Unfortunately the world is a shitty place. It's full of shitty people that don't give a rat's ass about anyone but themselves. Sheltering doesn't do any good as long as the world is also full of terrible parents. Not Parents that are too selfish to consider sheltering, talking to, monitoring, or raising their children in the slightest bit. Their the kids will carry the torch of ignorance for our grandchildren's generation. Yes, life is unsettling and scary but it is our job as parents to provide Parental Guidance that enables our children to deal with the shitty world in which we live.

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