Yesterday I noticed an interesting phrase. It was on the rating box for the new movie, Corpse Bride. It reads “disturbing images”. I was curious so I googled the phrase and found it on dozens of movies. Strange that I haven’t noticed it before. I don’t have children at home so I guess I don’t pay a lot of attention to movie ratings. However, I just couldn’t get that silly little phrase out of my mind. What is a “disturbing image”? How do the “powers that be” decide what is disturbing and to whom?
I’m not sure what is in Corpse Bride that earned it a “disturbing images” tag, and I’m not going to find out. However, I know that many of my students will see it, if not in the theatre then certainly when it’s out in video. Children in three counties have told me that they’re watching horror movies and action movies that have adult ratings. They’re watching comedies with crude language and sexual innuendos. And they’re watching most of them at home. Even if a movie has a rating that prevents children from seeing it in the theatre, only their parents can prevent them from seeing disturbing images in their own homes.
Children today are addicted to video games. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how realistic the game images had become, and how violent the games are. I watched a report on some of the crimes being committed by teens who spend hours playing “cops and robbers” games on video machines and computers. Talk about disturbing!
And what about television images? If there is any kind of rating system for TV then someone isn’t doing their job, because I see disturbing images every day! I find “reality” television VERY disturbing. First of all I prefer to call it “virtual reality” television, because how real is anyone truly going to be if they know in advance that they are being photographed? You know that when you pick up a video camera people start strutting and putting on their phony smiles, and reality shows seem to bring out the worst in people. What I find most disturbing- beyond the nudity, language, and stupidity- is that so much of the viewing audience is made up of children. I hear students in my kindergarten class and others in the halls and at recess talking about Fear Factor and Big Brother and Survivor and Cops. Now if I want to waste my time watching something like that (I admit to watching Survivor), I can at least filter what I see and hear through my own adult experiences and values and dismiss it as “mindless entertainment”. A child takes in those disturbing images and makes them part of their own reality.
Of course the news is also filled with “disturbing images” even when we aren’t in the midst of a national tragedy. My students often rush into the room in the morning with questions about the fire or accident or shooting that was on the news the night before. Sometimes the anchor person will give a warning about particularly gruesome photos, but most of the time they’re just flashed on before you can even blink. I know parents who won’t even watch the early news, and I applaud them for shielding their children from some of that.
Commercials have become disturbing as well. Sex and nudity sell like never before. As someone who can remember the first “live model” bra commercial, let me just say that things have certainly changed. I’m embarrassed by some of the commercials, but what is disturbing is that our children aren’t. In fact they are so comfortable with them, I’m not sure what, if anything, they would find embarrassing or shocking.
I love a good mystery and I’m a fan of CSI, but even some of its special effects have gotten too disturbing for my taste. When Criminal Minds premiered I didn’t even watch it because I’d already read the word “gruesome” in some of their reviews. I’m tired of gruesome. I want more mystery about “who done it” and less special effects showing what they did and how they did it. I can use my imagination!
Perhaps that’s what I fear our children are losing- their imaginations. If they are constantly bombarded by the disturbing images of television and movies and computers and newspapers and magazines, when do they have time to create the images of their own mind? When do they have time to think and dream and wonder about the world? I think what our children lack is balance. There has to be as much good in their lives as there is bad. Actually I think there should be twice as much good in order to counteract the bad, if that’s even possible. What’s that old saying “garbage in, garbage out”? I think we’ve been letting our children and probably ourselves take in way too much garbage lately. It’s time to take out the trash and leave it on the curb where it belongs!