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I guess I just like liking things

A friend (and former boss) who is a dad blogger recently posted an entry on the heart-grabbing scene in Wreck-It Ralph. He has kids that are 5, 7, and 9 years old, and feels that not only is the heart-grabbing extraneous, but it also should have warranted a higher rating for the movie.

I’m 40 years old. Not only do I not have kids, it’s been a long time since I was one, and I’m rarely put in charge of kids, so what I’m saying is I don’t think I know what ages kids can deal with certain things. For me, Wreck-It Ralph was not only a trip down Memory Lane but it was also a celebration of a big part of my life. Every character from classic games that showed up was one I either had firsthand experience with or at least knew about.  It was great to see a universe where all of these characters got to interact.

I was 20 when Mortal Kombat was first released. Many of you have no recollection of the brouhaha that game caused – parents apparently had a problem with their kids being able to rip out pixelly spines and burn someone else down to their skeleton. Seems almost quaint now, doesn’t it?  (Note: No, it does not. People probably shouldn’t be ripping out spines.) The game had a violence warning on it, but arcade operators aren’t the best babysitters.  When I got my Sega Genesis (I was 22), Mortal Kombat was the first game I bought for it, and the Blood Code was the first code I ever memorized (yes, even before the Konami Code).

When Q*bert shows up, everybody wins!

When Q*bert shows up, everybody wins!

I’ve already talked about how the Salt Vampire from Star Trek was one of the first scary-to-me things I ever saw. It freaked me out for several days. Now I look at it and wonder what my deal was.  I first saw Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark when I was 12 or 13, and I distinctly remember being flat-out scared by the spiked skeleton and Dr. Ock in the opening, and the skeletons later in the Well of the Souls. I couldn’t understand how anyone else wasn’t scared by it.  I had a friend when I was younger than 10 who was afraid of The Wizard of Oz.  The flying monkeys and the giant Head of Oz were terrifying to her. I remember thinking that was hilariously ridiculous, but I sure wasn’t remembering that when a snake was crawling the eyeholes of a skull in Raiders.

I was a sophomore in high school when I saw Nightmare on Elm Street 2, my first out-and-out horror film.  A friend of mine warned me before I saw it, saying “Be careful, because after you watch it, you’ll want to see all of them.” I thought it was a strange warning, but it turns out he was right. For a long time I was obsessed with Freddy Krueger, to the point where I bought a toy version of his knife-glove.  I look back on that time and don’t completely understand it.  Sure, Freddy was sorta funny, but what a weird thing to be obsessed with. I still have a fondness for the Nightmare movies, but I can’t explain it in any rational way.

All this to say I can sort of track my journey of fear, at least where movies and TV are concerned. I know firsthand that desensitizing happens, even if I couldn’t tell you if that’s a good or bad thing. I think being desensitized to real-life horror is a bad thing, definitely. You never want to get to the point where seeing the conditions in a war-torn country produce an overwhelming “meh” from you – human suffering should always be a horrible thing to you.  But a made-up character with make-up effects or CGI? I have a harder time answering that one. For me, the big difference is knowing how they did it. “Jason didn’t really shove an arrow through Kevin Bacon’s throat, and here’s how they actually accomplished that” is not only very interesting to me but takes away the horror of it. Being able to see that is completely different than you shoving an actual arrow through somebody’s actual throat right in front of me, though. Please don’t do that.

The best arguments I’ve heard against on-screen violence are that it puts negative images in your mind that, if focused on, could produce unwanted results — not that viewing violence will necessarily cause a person to become violent (though that certainly can happen), but that there are better things to think about. The other argument that makes sense to me is that the pretend violence can desensitize a person to actual violence. Again, there’s a difference between seeing a fake arrow shoved through Kevin Bacon’s fake throat and seeing an actual arrow shoved through an actual throat – but would seeing war-torn images on a movie screen cause a person to not be moved by images of an actual war-torn country on a newscast on that same screen? Very possibly, and I’d classify that as a Bad Thing.

This, of course, can also explain why horror movies are popular: they’re a safe danger.  While the movie might produce feelings of anxiety, fear, and nervousness, they aren’t real.  The actors aren’t in any real danger (on-set accidents aside!), and you’ll see them in an interview later on the same day. Our brains process that and make it all okay.  A kid, though, isn’t equipped for that.  I sure wouldn’t show Nightmare on Elm Street to a 9, 12, or maybe even a 14 year old. Wizard of Oz, maybe a 7-year-old?  Before reading my friend’s article, I don’t think I would have thought twice about showing Wreck-It Ralph to a kid – I didn’t even remember that there was a heart-ripping scene in it!

If I ever have kids, I guess it’ll be an interesting bunch of adjustments.  I’ve already told my wife if we ever have a daughter she will grow up to like things like Star Trek and Doctor Who. The kid won’t even have a choice in the matter.  “Medical school? Sure, if you want.  Tattoos? I don’t know. Star Trek? NO QUESTION, YOU’RE DOING IT.”

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