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Monday, March 19, 2007

The Kids Will Grow Up to Be . . .

Mr. Garrison: "Eric, did you just say the F-word?"
Cartman: "Jew?"

-- from South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut

A couple of documentaries I've seen in the last few weeks, Kirby Dick's This Film is Not Yet Rated and Steve Anderson's Fuck, deal with society's taboo subjects in pretty tactful ways. Dealing with the depiction of sex, violence and vulgar language in the media, plenty of rhetorical questions get brought up. A quote that really struck me was something Newsweek critic David Ansen mentions in Dick's film about the MPAA: "Even though it's supposed to protect children, it's turning us all into children." How true that is.

I find it odd that we live in a society where the chances are much greater to see an ad using sexuality to sell beer, a clothing line or lingerie than to see people having a mature conversation about sex and sexuality. I don't think it's appropriate to tell a kid going through puberty to start having sex as soon as possible. But I don't think it's appropriate to tell a kid going through puberty that sex is a gross, horrible and vulgar activity. More than anything, the pros and cons of sex, using vulgar language and drinking alcohol should be discussed in mature ways. However, other people (who tend to think for others) want to pass the blame elsewhere.

I don't blame parents who want to keep their children at bay from certain sides of life for as long as possible. But whether parents like it or not, their kids are gonna find out about profanity, sex, drugs and alcohol.

In my case, I discovered the most well-known curse words from two movies (Back to the Future and Spaceballs) and a slide I once played on. Did my respect for elders and authority plummet because I found out about these words? No. Did my morals get so corrupted that I flunked out of school and became a crack-addicted prostitute? No. If anything, it was the beginning of understanding that there are other things out there in the world.

I don't consider myself to having a potty-mouth, but I'm not afraid to use vulgar language when it's appropriate. Does that make me a deviant of society? Nope. I think it makes me normal. But a big part of my normal-ness is not from the movies I watched as a kid, but the way I grew up and was raised. Unfortunately, people who rely on the MPAA, the FCC and the Parents Television Council to be their guardian don't want to look that deep into a person's background. Blame what kids are watching and hearing instead of talking to kids in a mature way about what they're watching and hearing.

One of the really telling parts in Anderson's film is when Kevin Smith describes how his daughter is raised around vulgar language. Kevin and his wife Jen don't hold back the words when they're around Harley, but Harley is afraid to use vulgar language. She just doesn't like saying those words. Where did that maturity come from? I don't know, but it makes for a strong argument.

Probably the biggest frustration I have encountered around parents is how they think their children are mentally inept (or to put it bluntly, stupid). No, we're not born with a mental encyclopedia of the world, but nobody is born dumb. How insulting is it to a teenager's mental capacity to pigeonhole him or her as prey or clueless? I find it incredibly so. I take the attitude that kids are smarter than you and not as smart as you. They're not either one or the other.

So what does this all mean to my life now? Well, as an uncle to three-month-old nieces and with a couple of cousins that are younger than eleven, I choose to respect them as humans. I don't see them as fragile, but as growing humans (just like how I see everyone else). If they were to use salty language around me when they get older, I doubt I'd lose my marbles. I wouldn't cast scorn to their parents, the TV shows they watch, the books they read or the movies they watch. If anything, I'd tactfully inquire about where they heard those words and ask if they knew what they meant. I'm no saint, but I'm not going to lie and pretend like that side of life doesn't exist.

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