Buckle up kiddies, it’s a Walt Disney gorefest
Choc tops. Check. Obesity inducing fizzy drinks. Check. Two seven year olds. Check. Negligent parenting. Check.
Time to set school holidays brain to snooze. The film is PG and Disney: Race To Witch Mountain.
The plot concerns alien beings that take the shape of children and are gently helped back to their spaceship by Dwayne Johnson – exactly the kind of caring behaviour you’d expect of a former professional wrestler known as The Rock.
Parental nap rudely interrupted when the frantic gunfire starts.
In an early scene four government cars go on a mission to kill our hero and the children in a high-speed car chase. Cars roll and bullets fly. And the ammo doesn’t stop. Scores of dead people litter the narrative. The final scenes involve an army of men with automatic weapons shooting at the kids and everything else in sight.
Arnie and Sam, said seven year olds, watched all this quite calmly. They ate their ice creams and drank their fizzy drugs without turning a hair. I walked out in shock. Why the hell does a sci-fi flick aimed at young kids need to include multiple violent executions by automatic weapons?
Who approved the script? We all know Walt Disney was a fascist. But I, for one, thought the Disney company was trying to dig its way out of that whole Nazi-hugging public relations mess. Apparently not. [Defo note to editor: Is this actionable? Established fact about Walt, but then again….]
I am, it must be said, an incredibly liberal parent. I let my 9-year-old watch South Park – a show which some grown-ups think shouldn’t even be viewed by grown-ups. I answer my boys’ questions about bodies and ‘sexing’ and child abuse and homosexuality and abortion. I take the view that kids can tell when you’re hedging and that it’s far better to lead the discussion than avoid it.
I once got into a serious argument with a good friend when I mentioned I’d explained the function of a tampon to my four year old after he’d found one in my bag. My mate became enraged because he thought my son might tell other kids about periods and then he might have to explain them to his son. I told him I thought boys (and grown men) ought to understand how women’s bodies work and learn to deal with it. Why should we make a big deal of periods when we don’t fuss about kids understanding sweat or urine?
Debates about what we should expose our children to are necessarily heated. They’re grounded in our own personal moral and political values. They take us into uncomfortable zones. (The payback is that kids eventually work out that their mum and dad had sex and they have to live with that horrific thought for the rest of their lives.)
My problem with a movie like Race To Witch Mountain – and movies like it – is not that it shows violence, but that it Disneyfies it. US pop culture constantly swerves away from real life issues that young children might confront but considers mass scale violence a legitimate form of entertainment as long as no blood is spilt.
It’s a pop culture grounded in a deeply conservative ethic. Photos of 15 year old Miley Ray Cyrus on the cover of Vanity Fair showing her bare back unleashed a moral outcry. Similarly when Janet Jackson exposed a nipple in a Super Bowl broadcast there was a mass debate about the effect on young children (some of whom were presumably still breast feeding).
The idealised notion of childhood innocence that a lot of US popular culture feeds off is rooted in a sentimental and ultimately false idea of childhood. It’s one that imagines children as a kind of unblemished version of adults: as the generation who will save us from ourselves.
Yet violence is something children are quite at home with and do need to confront: they need to learn to curb their own aggressive impulses, to tell adults if other kids bully them, and to protect themselves from predatory or violent adults.
If Disney wants to deal with violence in movies aimed at primary schoolers then they ought to have the gumption to take the subject on. Otherwise they ought to retreat to their usual stock of family values laden kitsch and let the rest of us get on with the serious business of talking honestly and openly with our kids.
I don’t have a problem taking my kids to movies in which people die. What worries me is the bizarre combination of ‘family values’ bliss with sanitised mass murder. It seems anything goes in this brand of pop culture in the sacred name of protecting The Family: an ideal which protects children from having any direct contact with reality.
Professor Catharine Lumby is the Director of the Journalism and Media Research Centre at UNSW. She has two young sons and takes no legal responsibility for any of their values.
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