Friday, January 13, 2006


It IS Child Abuse

Thomas Hibbs, writing Hostel Territory in National Review Online, reviews Quentin Tarantino’s latest evilfest, Hostel.

Go read the review if you’re even remotely tempted to see the film. What struck me was the damning indictment at the end of Hibb’s withering review:

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.

That reminded me of the times I’ve seen parents drag children along to similar fare. I once saw a woman bring two children, one about 3 or 4, into a screening of one of the Scream movies.

I’m with Hibbs, allowing children to watch movies that involve extreme violence and gore goes beyond just poor parenting. It’s child abuse.

Our society goes to extraordinary lengths to try to legislate away any conceivable risk from daily life – completely divorced from any cost benefit or proportion – and yet be so utterly blind to the real risks our culture imposes on our children.

I know James Lileks  makes a good living, rightfully lampooning bad parenting of the past, but I think the parents of today, by willful neglect, are worse than any in history. We do backflips to monitor and guide nutritional choices, fall prey to every claim towards healthfulness or organics, but cultural effects?

(Chirp, chirp.)

A powerful societal norm assumes parents are now responsible for their children’s college expenses, and keeping the home open for returning adults well into the twenties. And yet, this is paired with an almost complete ambivalence about a wide range of cultural influences upon even our youngest children.

Friends gets labeled family fare, despite how many episodes involving graphic, promiscuous, or otherwise deviant sexual activity. Most grade school children routinely watch R rated movies rented by their parents and viewed as a family in the home. Kids sit for hours at Playstations and X boxes, engaged in virtual violence, tearing on screen enemies apart or bathing their screens in blood.

Industry apologists will say that parents retain the responsibility for protecting their children from such adult themes, and can properly explain difficult content to their children. This is of course true. But it becomes almost impossible to protect your children, when the culture eliminates any constraints that would have served to marginalize sources of exposure or make our job easier. And doubly hard, when the parents around us so completely shun their responsibilities. We can’t even trust the neighbors or the parents of our children’s friends to even pay attention to such negative influences.

For these neglectful parents, it’s as if some stranger comes into their homes, and teaches their children about every nuance of sexual expression, and the graphic realism or every possible form of mutilation, horror, or abuse. And those kids try to share it with mine. So even when we’re vigilant, we find the defenses of our neighbors go completely  unattended.

People, it’s time we wake up to the real threat our children face: our own neglect.

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