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By Doug Brunell | December 22, 2005

While in a recent debate over movies that push the envelope of what is acceptable, a person complained about films that weren’t porn but still included real sex scenes. In response, I made a mocking comment to the effect of, “What if the children see it?” She then asked why that wasn’t a valid consideration. You know what? It is.

Parents should be concerned about what their children see and hear. Whether it be violence, sex or anything else a parent may find unpleasant. The concern that a child may witness an actual sex scene between two actors is valid, but only to the parents. The filmmaker should never take such concerns into effect when he or she is making a film.

The litmus test between art and entertainment is pretty simple. An artist sets out to create without thinking about the audience for his work. He will usually create a piece only for himself. If others like it — great. The entertainer will think about his audience and how things will play for it. He listens to test markets and sees what has done well in the past with a similar “demographic.” Sure, he may try to put his personal stamp on his work, but he is still catering to a crowd.

When making a film, the true artist can never sit back and think, “What if a five-year old sees this? What is my responsibility?” He has none. If we start making artists responsible for the actions of people who see their films, then we set up a dangerous environment where artists and entertainers are easy targets (even easier than they are now) for every politician and crusader with a misguided cause and a lawyer. If a child sees a sex scene and has questions, it’s up to the parent to answer them. That’s a parent’s job. If a person watches Irreversible and goes out and rapes, the blame still falls solely on the shoulders of the rapist. If someone watches “Carrie” and kills her mother, that’s the daughter’s fault, not Stephen King’s. Not Brian De Palma’s.

Asking artists to take mythical audiences and their ephemeral reactions into consideration while creating their films is asking them to self-censor. If I, as a writer, had to think about every person I may offend before writing a piece, I’d never get any work done. Anyone can be affected by anything at anytime. Chances are Snow Dogs didn’t bother most people, but there may be one guy out there who absolutely flipped when he saw it and beat his wife because she insisted they rent it. Was that director Brian Levant’s fault? No. The nutcase is responsible for his own actions. (Had “Snow Dogs” been made with the intent to make men beat their wives, and the film openly advocated it, then there would be an argument for making Levant responsible. As it stands, it’s just a bad movie that caused fools to lose money.)

I’m glad we live in a society where people seem truly concerned about the welfare of children. Unfortunately, “seem” is the operative word. Too many people say they are concerned about what happens to children but then act differently. As an example, I listened to plenty of adults who were concerned about children seeing Kill Bill Vol. 1 because of the level of violence in it. Some even questioned why the film had to be made and if something could be done about it. Let’s contrast that with, oh say, asthma, something that seems like a problem but not one as huge as childhood cancer or accidental handgun deaths.

According to a congressional study, twenty-five percent of America’s children are living in areas that exceed “federal standards for ozone.” In other words, they live in places where the air is so polluted that even the government, with its notoriously lax environmental standards, says it’s too much. Pollutants in the air are one of the biggest, if not biggest cause of childhood asthma and other respiratory ailments. Between 1980 and 1993 the number of young people in this country who died of asthma more than doubled. The number was in the hundreds, but the startling thing was not the total but that it had increased by such a large amount.

About once a week I talk to someone who is concerned with what children see and hear on television, radio and in the movies. It’s noble that they are concerned, and as a parent I can understand and relate. About once a year I talk to a parent who is actually concerned about the amount of pollution in the air, and even then they seem resolved that nothing can be done. (Demanding tougher pollution control is one step, but that seems difficult and isn’t as sexy as saying Quentin Tarantino shouldn’t make movies.)
Being concerned that children see sex and violence in a film is a valid worry. Perhaps a bigger fear, though, is what the children’s authority figures are doing to them. Are they dressing the children in brightly colored clothes so that drivers can see them as they are allowed to play in traffic? Or are they really watching out for their well-being and concerning themselves with things that are honestly harmful to children? Images on a screen don’t destroy children, but parents do. Governments do. Artists? It seems to me that the biggest threat they pose is exposing the shortcomings of those who actually control a child’s safety … and maybe that’s why they’re so feared.

Be concerned about the kids, but remember that a bj on the screen never killed anyone. Asthma, on the other hand, doubled its fatality rate in just thirteen years. In 2006, we’ll have another thirteen under our belts. What will the numbers say then?

Discuss Doug Brunell’s “Excess Hollywood” column in Film Threat’s BACK TALK section! Click here>>>

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