Children, violence, movies, censorship
- From Jeremy Robinson
Apologies for my last post, which was messed up.
It should have read:
I wasn't going to add anything else to the Tolkien debate, but the discussion
on violence & children & movies is too juicy to miss.
My two cents':
It's worth remembering that movies are not 'real' in the usual sense of the
word. They're a very particular form of cultural product (i.e., entirely
cultural, ideological, political, aesthetic, social), which are subject to
technological, industrial and economic pressures from many sources, and are
consumed in very particular socio-economic contexts. They're not 'real': they
use myriad devices to promote an illusion of what Tollers called a 'secondary
world': in other words, an abstraction on top of an abstraction on an
attraction. Very far removed from 'reality'.
For ex, the violence in the 'Lord of the Rings' films isn't 'real', it's a
simulation using filmic, narrative, aesthetic and technological codes to
produce an illusion in an abstract form of a particular kind of cultural
product (the Hollywood blockbuster) from a source that's already very
fantastical (Tolkien's Middle-earth), which is itself another very particular
kind of cultural form (the novel or 'heroic romance').
Then you'd have to take into consideration:
the narrative within the film, the genre (very important), the context, the
actors, the consequence of the action, the motive, the location, the witnesses
(who's being violent, to whom, and why, what's the outcome, etc), and the
relation of the scene with the thousands of other films and stories the
viewer's seen (a considerable number even for a 5 year-old).
Then you'd consider the viewing context of the film:
where, when, how, what time of day, and, crucially, who with (with parents,
children, friends, in a cinema, at home alone, at a friends' house, etc). For
instance, watching a violent gangster movie where characters routinely shout
'you motherfucker!' might be embarrassing seen in a room packed with family
members (say at Christmas), compared to watching it alone.
Then you'd consider the phase in the individual's life, or even the month, the
da, their mood. With my students I ask them to think about seeing a horror
film with friends on a Saturday afternoon, when they laugh at the dumb action,
compared to seeing it on their own, at night, while visiting some relatives
they don't like, in the countryside, and everyone's gone out for the evening,
leaving them alone in a strange house: then they watch the movie. Watching a
movie after a life-changing loss, or when you're feeling vulnerable, or ill,
is completely different from seeing the same movie in a confident state.
Finally, to quantify the influence a particular film has on someone (almost
impossible to do), you'd have to consider:
their age, gender, status, location, ethnicity, parental influences,
relationship with parents, family relationships, relationship with key family
figures, education, relations with friends, peers, and myriad other social
groupings, not forgetting personal interests, fascinations, phobias, etc.
There's something to be said for kids wanting (needing?) to be scared, like
riding a rollercoaster, or doing a dare, testing limits, etc.
There's also something to be said for treasuring the films that really
affected you as a child, whether scary or humorous or whatever. I can't
remember who said that sometimes it's better to never see those special films
again, to keep them as potent memories.
There have been thousands of studies of media effects, not one of them
conclusive. Martin Barker is great on this subject (see his 'Ill Effects'
Beside it's not so much violence as 'emotional stress' that really gets to
people. Woody Allen, Terry Gilliam and Steven Spielberg, among many others,
talked about being deeply affected by 'Snow White', 'Pinocchio' or 'Bambi'
when they saw them as kids. 'Bambi' must rank as one of the most traumatic
movies in film history. And the forest scene in 'Snow White' can still scare
the hell out of young children (even if, today, it looks like nothing more
than a glorious example of cel animation from Disney's Golden Age). Anything
can affect people, even the most apparently innocuous and bland entertainment.
And it's impossible to legislate or control how people are affected. You'd
have to ban everything.