Monday, September 18, 2006

Violence Against Children

So it seems that lately, me and the Ash keep ending up with these movies that depict scenes of violence against children. They range between slightly unnerving to horrifically graphic, but the common thread is definitely there, and in some cases they jarred me so bad that I couldn't help but get up and go check on Henry while he slept (Syriana, Tsotsi, I'm talking to you).

Which brings us to the other night when Ash and I plunked down to watch
The Pledge. I'll spare you the extended review, but let's just say that's two hours I'll never get back. The plot revolves around the main character's hunt for a murderer of little girls, and as such there are some rather graphic scenes. It's no Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but as a parent, it was more than enough to disturb my otherwise pleasant suburban evening.

It was while watching this film, this completely squandered bit of cinematic potential, that the Ash piped up with an observation about the recent glut in our household of movies with this kind of imagery, one which I found interesting. She said at first that she thought it was a weird coincidence, us getting all these movies with kids suffering at the hands of violent hate-filled adults. Then she thought that maybe somehow we were subconsciously choosing them, as if some force deep within our collective psyche was compelling us to move these films to the top of our queue. Which doesn't totally make sense to me, but okay. But then she thought, maybe it's simply that there's a boatload of movies out there that depict violence against children.

Before I go any further, I'm not about to try and make a case for censorship. Just so you know. I don't think it makes much sense to blame the movies for society's ills. If anything, blame society's ills for the movies.

I don't know if there's any relevance to it or not, but I think Ash may have a point. Regardless of how they keep ending up in our DVD player, there simply are a lot of films that depict violence of some sort against children. Becoming a parent obviously causes me to notice it more than I did before, and in fact, I think I've found myself to be much more sensitive to violence overall. Again, I'm not advocating for censorship, nor would I ever. I hardly think I fit the profile of the hysterical parent who thinks the world needs to be padded in Nerf foam and is outraged, OUTRAGED I TELL YOU, at all of the corrupting influences out in the world that could stain his poor baby's innocent little soul. But still, I have to ask, what does it mean? What can we say about a society whose film, whose art, whose entertainment, is capable of producing such imagery? Are they a happy people? Do they find this kind of thing entertaining? Are they so desensitized to violence that their filmmakers have resorted to victimizing children on screen in order to disturb an otherwise blas
e audience? Or, perhaps looking on the brighter side, does it all indicate a broader cultural awareness of the tragedy of a child's suffering? I know it may sound stupidly obvious to say that children suffering is tragic, but I don't think it always was quite so. In other words, maybe the massive appearance of violence against children in movies is actually a sign of progress.

Then of course, there's the question of why? Why show such imagery? As a playwright who's penned some rather brutal scenes of my own, I think that much of the time, the intention is in fact to disturb the viewer, to jar them out of a complacent state, if only for a moment's thought, a brief reconsideration that the world as they know it is in fact the place they think it to be. Sure, sometimes, scenes like this are only meant to shock or disgust, but I think the intention is usually easy enough to infer.

And one more question I have to bring up: why is violence against a child more tragic than violence against an adult? My short answer: it's not. But I have to confess, I think it's more my head giving that answer than my gut or my heart.


Tim said...

Well, I could come up with the easy answer. We are desenstized. Hurting children is one of the few things that still gets to us. But I'm tired of that crap.
Tsotsi is using a child as a reflection on another child as a reflection of society. It seems like it would be a difficult movie to make into a trend.
Syriana was I think trying to point out our ideas of collateral damage. That we are somehow accepting of X number of lives lost in pursuit of some greater good. Plus it had a nice son of god vs. muslims sort of imagery to it.
But I think the fact that you rented the Pledge shows that you are either conciously or subconsiously doing this to yourselves. I mean Tsotsi and the Pledge are both pretty upfront about what they're about. And you also watched the Squid and the Whale, which while not physically violent, definitely involves violence against children.
Probably just a case of using catharsis to mollify irrational fears.
I've thought about this quite a bit, because my little sister almost always watches movies full of sturm and drang, and Julie and I avoid them like the plauge. This makes me thing there has to be some mental health component and something reflecting upon us based upon what type of escape we choose. Are we escaping by going past the worst our mind is able to imagine, or by avoiding letting our mind imagine the horrors at all?

The Holmes said... could have a point. Though in this case, I tend to think it's less an issue of mental health (are you calling me crazy?) and more that old habits die hard. In the past, I don't think I put much thought into the fact that what I was signing up to watch might contain scenes that I might find overly disturbing. Then again, I don't think I'm ready to adopt a policy of complete avoidance.
Either way, thanks for the first comment on the new blog.

Tara said...

I would have to argue that violence against children could be more tragic than violence against an adult. (Yeah I know, I'm anti-kid but whatever.) So it's all a matter of situation and outcome. If a kid gets killed they've experienced less of life, and that's kind of sad. There's also grieving parents that are sad. If an 80 year old man, that never married and has no children is killed, and no one is left that knew him... It's still sad, but his life was long, and there's no one that will be left without him. Less impact = less tragic, to me.
Which brings me to the other issue of violence against children, defense and understanding. A small child is less able to defend themselves and may not be able to comprehend what is going on. Depending on the type of violence I would add the mentally and physically handicapped into this category as well as the elderly and infirm. Violence against someone that knows that it's coming and has a chance at defending themselves just doesn't rank the same as violence against those "less equipped".

yer mama said...

I dunno why we keep getting movies like this but I hope it stops because I dont have enough tears for all the babies and children depicted in violent scenes - be it from hollywood or

man I almost sound like a "pro-life" nutcase.

David said...

I thought of your post as I read this just before leaving for the day. It's the one from today, 10/2.

Just about started crying at work. That is so terrible it's difficult to understand Yet those are the types of circumstances people in these kinds of regions live under. I often find myself wondering how you reconcile something like this with any type of faith. Being agnostic, clearly I don't have the answer.

David said...

Oops, link got cut off since I don't know HTML worth a darn. It's Anderson Cooper's blog on CNN.