Culture: I Just Couldn’t Look AwayBlog / Produced by The High Calling
My oldest daughter is 8-1/2. She watches PBS cartoons and a few others my wife and I haven’t censored. She’s enjoyed only a handful of full-length movies – with us, not too scary, and mostly G-rated. We didn’t finish Open Season because the characters were mean and crude. We skipped the dragon scene in Enchanted, and she hardly knows the ubiquitous Hannah Montana. Call us overprotective, but we cherish her youthful innocence. Besides, how much adult content can and should an 8-1/2 year old consume anyway? I’m not saying she wouldn’t watch something unfitting if it played in front of her – it’s just that we don’t want her to.
When I was eight and nine and ten, I hung out with Brian who bounced from Dysfunctional Mom to Alcoholic Dad week after week. Brian preferred the latter, mostly because his father fed him a steady stream of toys, junk food and HBO. On the occasions when I spent the night, Brian’s dad would go out drinking while an older, pot-smoking step-brother kept an eye on us. I’m not sure what “kept an eye on us” was supposed to mean, but he let us do what we wanted and filtered nothing when it came to movies. Oh the stuff we watched till three and four o’clock in those mornings. Explicit language, nudity, violence – I saw and heard it all. My mom protected us at home and held the same kind of media vigil I hold on my kids today. But she didn’t know what I did at Brian’s house. And I didn’t tell her. I didn’t tell her because I wanted to go back for more. Eventually, however, I saw a movie that shook me. It terrified me. It kept me awake that night and many nights afterward, and haunted me for years to come. Can you guess what it was? Roger Ebert described it as containing “brutal shocks, almost indescribable obscenities. That it received an R rating and not the X is stupefying.” He wondered what could motivate people to sit through such a “raw and painful experience.” I didn’t just feel guilty for hiding The Exorcist behind mom’s back. No, as a Pentecostal adolescent, I knew I had gotten too close to the devil. I was 12 before I confessed (in tears of relief) for what I did.
Why don't we look away?
I could ask you about our high calling as movie-goers, the high calling of movie-makers, the media responsibility of parents, or the cultural meaning of The Exorcist – and I welcome your comments on any of these – but I want to start with a simple, yet perplexing, question: Why don’t we look away? Why did I watch every second of that “raw and painful experience”? Why can’t I leave it up to my 8-1/2 year old to turn off a frightening program, or to look away from a CSI commercial? Why did a group of college women from my friend’s Sunday School class have a PJ party to watch Saw? What is it about horror and terror and evil that attracts us and then won’t let us look away? P.S. Tell us what early movie you couldn’t look away from but wish you had.
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