Jan 7

Desensitisation

In the first Friday the 13th, Jason kills Kevin Bacon’s character by sticking an arrow through his neck. In the second one, he manages to impale two people together on a bed, using a spear to make a sort of human kebab. In Jason X, he picks up one girl in a sleeping bag and uses her to beat another girl to death. It goes on with death after death. The Friday the 13th films are rated 18 (or R in the US) and, whatever about kids in their mid to late teens, I imagine we wouldn’t find too many people happy to show them to kids under 10. At the very least they could inspire some severe nightmares. Of course it is important to keep in mind that those scenes are designed to make you uncomfortable, to make you wince. These scenes usually aren’t thrown out there casually. They’re set pieces in horror movies. And we wouldn’t show them to young kids.

But what about other movies?

One of the movies I enjoyed the most in 2014 was Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s rated 12 but I was watching it again (3rd time) over the break and wondering what age I would show this to my girls. I mean, it’s a huge amount of fun and adventure, has lots of laughs and I actually think Daisy would love most of this. I’d love to watch it with her. Maybe even now at age 7 she’d be fine with it?

As I was wondering about this, Groot impales two enemies through the abdomen, picks them up and uses their dying bodies to beat other people to death. Kind of reminded me of a cross between the Friday the 13th double spear kill and the sleeping bag one. Then Groot gives us a big smile and on with the show. What struck me as odd is that I have seen the movie twice before and barely noticed the level of violence in that shot. Because, contrary to how it would have been handled in a Friday movie, it is thrown out there so casually and ends with a laugh. But it’s actually pretty horrific if you think about it and it’s hardly an isolated incident in the movie.

I suddenly had a flashback to Flash Gordon movie from 1980. A character (I won’t spoil it) dies by being impaled. The movie is a fun, silly adventure romp but I saw that as a kid and what stuck with me is that one character being impaled. It burned into my mind. And now I wonder if the grown-ups even noticed.

So this all left me with some thoughts…

Firstly, most movies have their rating for a reason. Guardians is 12 and I’ll likely wait until my girls are that age to show it to them. By the way, I like Common Sense Media as a handy guide for media I haven’t seen or movies I can barely remember.

Secondly, we have this desire to share things we like and it seems like it’s about the other person but I’m not convinced it is. I have to acknowledge that a big part of that is wanting to be that person who introduces them to it for the first time, who gets to watch their reaction and gets to be the guy who is loved for showing them something awesome.

Last, and most important, is this: too easily we forget how desensitised we get to violence or anything else over the years. Think of the most basic example of seeing young kids being truly amazed by going to a train station or something like that. The sense of wonder as they look around and take everything in. But to us everything just becomes normal and boring over the decades to the point where we don’t even notice. And so it is with violence. Kids are not as desensitised as we are. Nor should they be. They might be fine with a lot of what we show them and we think we know our own kids but it is impossible to predict just what will haunt them, what will shake them inside and stay with them. And they may never tell us.

I guess it all comes back to a recurring theme on this blog: we always have to remember that we aren’t kids any more. Those extra decades count.

2 thoughts on “Desensitisation

  1. Curtis Jobling

    Smashing article, Jason, was discussing this on FB with friends just last week, specifically with regards the second Hobbit movie. I got it for Christmas, looking forward to watching it with my daughters (8 and 9) only to discover the special edition was a 15 certificate. On account of more intense and prolonged scenes of violence, I believe. I think the fact that it’s orcs getting decapitated makes some people feel it’s no biggie, much as in the Guardians movie those creatures (nekros?) are some kind of undead aliens (I think?). Therefore so long as they’re not human you can kill them however you like and not incur higher certification.

    I watched many 15 and 18 films before I was old enough to as a teen, sometimes with my dad, other times (Evil Dead, I’m looking at you) with my friends. I think the best way for a kid to experience these films is with a parent, so they can talk about them during and afterwards. It’s when they watch them with their peers where perspective can become skewed.

    Great topic though, and super to see a parent taking certification seriously.

    Reply
  2. jason Post author

    Yes, I think you’re right about watching movies with parents – that can really help put things into context or sometimes disarming parts where needed. Interesting you bring up the non-human issue – I think you’re right that this is often the approach and I wonder if it sends a dangerous message: violence and killing is okay as long as the victim is different to us or we can label them as an enemy.

    I actually think it might be even trickier when it comes to teens because many are so much better equipped to interpret what they are seeing, especially when it comes to understanding just how different movies are from real life but where it is tricky is that teens are still learning and forming their world view. It’s so dependent on the kid. I watched some horror movies and my interest was more in the make-up effects (I still love practical effects) so once I hit a certain point, there was always a slight disconnection between me and the movies. And yet I had a couple of experiences of seeing scary movies earlier and they stuck with me.

    A tricky topic. I think the main thing is that parents really think about it, take the content seriously and make deliberate choices. And of course we as content creators have something to take from it too – we are not usually our target audience so have to keep that in mind.

    Reply

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