A few years back I heard some big city parents groups were working toward eliminating playground bullies. Nice idea, and if you had asked my ten-year-old self how he felt, the response would have been resoundingly positive. I was tormented by older kids in grade school. One guy thought it was fun following me into the restroom and tossing a basketball over the stall door when I least expected it -fun! Upon reflection, did that experience really scar me, or was it, as the saying used to go, "one to grow on"?
There was also darker subject matter packaged for kids. Who can forget the lewd and offensive Wacky Packages, or The Goonies, with an ensemble of foul-mouthed kids on an underground adventure? As you hear oft-repeated these days, "They would never allow kids to see that now!" Another example is comic books on record.
A short series of comics-on-vinyl were released in the early seventies, featuring performances of popular Marvel characters. One of these was the swamp monster, Man-Thing, and on his record there were a number of dark elements, including murder, suicide, and macabre visions from beyond the grave. The story opens with a despondent clown killing himself over a lost love, and only gets darker from there. You can sample the first half:
They would never let kids listen to that now!
If you can't already tell, I don't feel that I came out a bad person because of these things -the reasons are much more complicated than bullying or macabre tales. This week the topic has been raised again of what is appropriate for kids, but in connection to a recognized classic of children's literature.
This Friday the impossible will happen: a film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are will be showing at a multiplex near you. Discussions are already happening whether this will be appropriate for the target audience. You can get all the dirt here, but I thought a quote from author Maurice Sendak was worth repeating:
"I would tell them (parents) to go to hell," the author told Newsweek when asked about the movie's fright potential. "That's a question I will not tolerate."
I can't blame him for being ornery. Anybody that's seen the trailer for the film, which is being touted as a reflection on what it means to be a kid, would be hard-pressed to say that it's too scary for children. Sendak may also be speaking to a larger point, that life is meant for living and though it isn't always a paradise for the young, they shouldn't be entirely insulated from the real world.
I'm reminded of a quote from the film, Leon:
Mathilda (Natalie Portman): Is life always this hard, or is it just when you're a kid?
Léon (Jean Reno): Always like this.