Let me take you back to 1991, when I was seven. At the time, one of the things I loved to do, and would pester my parents about doing frequently, was driving by the film theatre in a nearby city whenever we would visit, just so I could see the film posters. Oh yes, I wanted to see the films themselves as well, but going to the theatre was a rarity at that point.
One Saturday, my father for work purposes was going to his office in a nearby town, and asked if I’d join him, with the promise of stopping to see the posters afterwards. I jumped at the chance, and after sitting in his office for what felt like forever while he gathered some work together and talked to a few co-workers, we were off to the local cinema. Above and beyond all other posters, there was one I was dying to see in person in this pre- internet era: the poster for Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Now, to be honest, I had not really seen many Schwarzenegger films at that point, beyond Twins, but Terminator 2 was a film I had been pumped for ever since attending a Blue Jays game earlier in the year and seeing the trailer for the film play on the jumbo screen. That trailer was far more interesting than that particular game ever was, which ended up being the first and last professional baseball game our family ever went to. But the images from the trailer were burned into my mind: robots, morphing robots and action? I was just itching to see that film.
Of course, I never honestly expected I would get to see it: at least, not at that point. It was an R rated film, and I was under the impression that kids were not allowed in R rated films at all. So I was beyond stunned when we drove past the theatre and, instead of looking at the posters, my father announced that we were going to see Terminator 2.
What followed was one of the most memorable film going experiences of my life. From the minute the exoskeleton’s foot crushes the skull, I was in awe: this film wasn’t just awesome, it was epic. It was dark, scary, imaginative and all around badass, and I will admit to being sad as “Uncle Bob” sacrifices himself for the sake of the future. More important however is that is was a great time with my father, one of those experiences I wouldn’t trade away for anything.
Yet, I do have to look back on that as my adult self and wonder about how wise it was to take a seven year old to a hard R action film. I’m not saying it was a bad move, as I have yet to turn into some sort of violent psychopath, and I seem to have been able to process the film fairly well given my age. Credit where credit is due however: Cameron made a damn good film that, while fun, is serious and set in a world in which violence has consequences. Even as a kid, I remember realizing just how intense and frightening the sequence in the Dyson home is, and the feeling that something big was at stake. I couldn’t necessarily describe what it was in words, but an awareness none-the-less.
When/if I have a kid of my own, will I show them Terminator 2 at the same age I saw it? Likely not. I don’t think I would hold it back till they are 18, but I will likely wait till they are somewhat older. For starters, I’m likely to start them off on black and white films and television just so they can develop an appreciation for classic cinema and television before I get to more recent material, but in all honesty, I just want to be able to make sure that they are ready and capable to handle what the film throws at them.
Now, let me take you back to Saturday, September 4th, 2010. Me and my father decided to check out Machete, the latest exploitation film from Robert Rodriguez. Or rather, the latest exploitation homage/parody. The film is an absurd but fun work, an ultra violent cartoon with a real political anger at its core. It isn’t perfect, and is a little long, but we had a fun time.
What unsettled me however was that a few rows behind us in the theatre, was a woman with her young kid, who couldn’t have been more than six years old, if that. As much fun as Machete is, the film is a large scale joke, were death is laughable, sex is a farce, and any notion of “seriousness” is left far behind. it’s a film where in the opening few minutes, a woman pulls a cell phone out of a questionable place, and several brutal killings happen.
Is a six (likely five) year old kid really going to be able to properly process this film? I doubt it. Is it responsible to show this film to a kid? Not at all. An R rated film is, at some point, a right of passage for all kids, but not at that age, and certainly not just any R film when the time comes. While it might have been a mistake to have shown me Terminator 2 at the age of seven, it is a film that strongly emphasises the value of life, shows death as a painful process, and that the taking of life is not easy. Machete does none of these things, nor should it: it isn’t that kind of film. But that also means that it needs to be viewed with a good understanding of what it is.
Irresponsible parenting when it comes to what kids watch is something that bugs me. Knowing what a kid is and isn’t ready for takes effort and restraint, and yes, some sacrifice. You may not be able to watch whatever the hell you want any time you want with a kid around, or might have to pay a baby sitter. Tough, that’s part of the deal with kids if you are going to have them. More to the point though, it is a problem that extends beyond the life of your own kid, as it merely gives fuel to the fire for those who try and blame childhood violence on films, television and gaming. I like having hard R horror films and action films, and I don’t want to see future productions jeopardized because of parents who don’t know better give censors ammo.
And don’t tell me you cannot control what your kid can and cannot see. You can control what enters your own house, or where you keep your R rated material. You monitor who your kids friends are, right? Keep in contact with those kids parents? You can probably have a pretty good idea what they might be watching. Claim you cannot control the internet? Well, don’t give your young kid a personal computer.
Most importantly, take these earlier years to get your kid ready to be a responsible viewer themselves. Help them to understand what it is they watch, how to process it. Talk it over with them. Discuss key topics. Don’t just slap a film down and let them mindlessly absorb it. Get them to think! There is no better time then when they are young to start. Those films you miss will still be there later once that time with your kids is done.
So they choice is yours. Choose wisely