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    husband, dad, teacher, filmmaker, writer, film geek, musician, DIYer, vegetarian, Bulldog, Buckeye, Nighthawk

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Dr. Accountability, or How I learned to stop blaming Hollywood and do my own parenting

Comic adaptation Kick-Ass comes out next week, and it seems the movie’s girl-assassin character, Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), is causing controversy.  Hit Girl is a pre-teen who swears – she apparently uses the f-bomb and the c-word – and kills a number of bad guys in very violent ways.  Some folks see this portrayal as inappropriate and argue that it exploits the actress.

A Fox News article quotes Joanne Cantor, Professor of Communication Arts at University of Wisconsin-Madison: “Seeing an attractive young girl playing such a violent role gives the message that this type of behavior (and language) is not outrageous. It makes it harder for parents to declare such behavior out-of-bounds when popular movies glorify it or make it humorous…People may be able to understand that the movie is tongue-in-cheek, but that doesn’t necessarily undo the desensitizing effect of the movie.  Younger children may not be able to see it in theaters, but when it comes out on DVD, children of all ages will have access to it — and young children have less capacity to discount what they see.”

I have a number of problems with Cantor’s statements, but before I get to them, here are two caveats.  First, I haven’t seen the movie yet – I’ll catch it tomorrow night.  Second, Cantor merely enunciates what I have found to be a common attitude, so don’t mistake this as beating up on her specifically.  (In fact, let’s keep in mind that she’s being quoted, her statements taken out of context by a reporter whom I suspect had an argument in mind then found supporting evidence to suit her needs.)  Now on to the hair pulling…

1) “Seeing an attractive young girl playing such a violent role gives the message that this type of behavior (and language) is not outrageous.”  I won’t know for sure until tomorrow night, but I would bet that the movie shows Hit Girl behaving this way specifically because it IS OUTRAGEOUS.  This is an R-rated COMEDY, people.  Just the idea of this tiny tween taking out henchmen in gruesome ways makes me laugh – and I don’t expect for a millisecond that I’m supposed to take it seriously.  Not everything is supposed to be taken literally.  Heck, I thought that’s what comedy is supposed to do – exaggerate until it becomes absurd and, therefore, funny.

2) “It makes it harder for parents to declare such behavior out-of-bounds when popular movies glorify it or make it humorous.”  I’m utterly baffled by this statement.  For one, why would this even enter the interactions between a child and parent?  If your underage child is exposed to these representations – IT’S YOUR FAULT.  And besides, to what behavior is she referring?  Are tween girls confused about whether pretending to be a vigilante, killing people, or using the f-bomb is out of bounds?  If they are confused on that issue, guess what parents – IT’S YOUR FAULT.  Beyond that, I think Cantor underestimates tween girls.  They aren’t toddlers.  They’re smart enough to know whether Hit Girl’s behavior is right or wrong.  And if they act like they don’t know the difference, they’re probably doing it just to piss off their parents (which is one of the favorite pastimes of tweens).

3) “People may be able to understand that the movie is tongue-in-cheek, but that doesn’t necessarily undo the desensitizing effect of the movie.”  To borrow a line from SNL – Really?  You think it’s the movies that are desensitizing people?  Looked around the real world lately?

4) Finally, the point that really burns me up: “Younger children may not be able to see it in theaters, but when it comes out on DVD, children of all ages will have access to it — and young children have less capacity to discount what they see.”  Why would children have access to the DVD and not a theatre showing of the movie?  What Cantor is really saying is, theatres do a better job of restricting access to mature content than parents.  Unfortunately, there’s a lot of truth to this.  I never cease being shocked by parents who place no restrictions on what their kids watch and the video games they play.  Some of the most intelligent people I know, in fact, don’t act as gatekeepers of their own children’s exposure to the media.  I can accept that – kind of – as long as parents watch things with their children and explain the difference between a movie playing violence for laughs and behavior in a movie that we’re supposed to emulate.

I would argue that no representation of violence is as harmful to a child as a parent who demonstrates no interest in what their child is watching.  Actions speak louder than words – or images.  Our primary jobs as parents are to keep our children safe and to nurture them in a way that will prepare them to be healthy, responsible adults.  If anyone watches something called Kick-Ass – a title that should announce more clearly than any rating system that this is a movie for adults – and regards its characters as role models, it’s the parents who have failed, not the movie.

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2 Responses

  1. “I would argue that no representation of violence is as harmful to a child as a parent who demonstrates no interest in what their child is watching.”

    Can we get this on a billboard or bumper sticker or something? Now?

    I think that people have taken the whole “it takes a village” idea too far and have forgotten that first and foremost, it takes a freakin’ parent who is willing to do the work.

    Excellent post.

  2. As a parent of twin tweens, I can safely say that your comments are right on target.

    They are fully aware of right and wrong because MY WIFE AND I taught them–not Disney or nickjr. or any other media outlet.

    To all the parents out there who use games, television or movies as electronic babysitters, all I have to say is, “stop blaming ‘the liberal media’ when you kid drops the f-bomb and look in the mirror.”

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