I just left the movie theater, where my husband and I took our 5-year-old and our 3-year-old to see The Hobbit. Depending on your tribe, you either want to ask me “Was it as bad as the reviewers say?”or “Are you out of your mind?!?”.
I consider myself part of the latter tribe. My family rolls with the crunchy, self-righteous crowd. Children and TV Violence is considered a scourge in our home, second only to sugar. We don’t have network TV connections anywhere in the house, and we find it difficult to not self-righteously bring that up in conversations. Like the rest of the nation, I watched in horror as news of the events at Sandy Hook Elementary unfolded last week. I felt an urge to ensconce my two sons in the safety of family, naivete, and a vow that they would never again see or hear anything more disturbing than that we are out of Dora The Explorer toothpaste.
Did we suddenly go out of our minds this afternoon? Decide to wave the white flag to pop culture, and cede our children to the power of sex, violence and Red Dye #40?
As a blogger, I’ve noted with interest this week that every blogger I follow has felt compelled to weigh in on last week’s tragedy at Sandy Hook. Most bloggers have written variations on “I’m speechless”, “Hug your children closer” and “Can we finally talk about the guns/mental health/masculinity culture in this country?”. I haven’t had anything more that I can say that hasn’t already been said. But I have been curious about our family’s response to the tragedy, to the discussion on violence in our culture. I’ve been curious that, in our shock and heartbreak, my husband and I want to do what Americans have always done best, which is to over-correct. I found myself thinking “That’s it! No guns. No school. No TV. No video games. No interaction with anything but a blunt, rubberized stick. And maybe the cats.” But when I looked up from my bereft fog, I saw 2 little boys who are enamored with the world, particularly with the messy nuances. My eldest son is 5 years old, and is already an adrenaline junkie: He loves any story that is intense, and bonus points if it contains “monsters”. He is fascinated with what makes for good, what makes for evil, and what makes for the majority that is in-between. He’s fascinated by death, and how it comes to be. He’s intrigued that the “good guys” can do “bad things”, and wonders what that means for your good guy status? My youngest son is 3 years old and is quick to tell me when something is “scary”, and then just as quick to tell me that he wants to get a better look.
As I’ve attempted to guide and protect my sons in the world, I’ve had to make decisions that go against the grain of my culture. When the rest of the world is calling “Home Alone” a “family movie”, my husband and I have had to redirect our kids to something else in the video store (yeah, we still go to those), because there is no way I’m going to let them watch a movie where an iron gets dropped on someone’s face from 2-stories high, and there isn’t a serious injury. We’ve been cautious with anything from Disney, not because we can’t appreciate the entertainment value in being manipulated, but feel that one shouldn’t be able to see the strings. But this week I’ve given a lot of thought to what it means if I lump all “violence” in together, without regard to my sons’ curiosity about it, and without regard to how these are the Stories in our culture, the modern-day walkabout. How will my boys discern between these stories if I toss them ALL out, equating Grand Theft Auto with Robin Hood?
So our family took a jaunt this afternoon, taking a 5 and 3-year-old to see a movie that is rated PG-13, and includes a scene where an Orc is (bloodlessly) decapitated. I heard my oldest son and my husband at various points in the movie, stage-whisper about fear, power, greed and becoming homeless. Midway through the movie, I held my 3-year old as he napped in my arms. I thought to myself that I had held him this way only a year ago, when he was still nursing. My husband reached over to tap me and whisper: “Should we wake him up? He really wanted to see what Gollum looks like.” Yes, he did.