I’m an electronics nazi. One of my great struggles is having to constantly monitor the various media to assure that the family guidelines are upheld, particularly when it pertains to the movie/television/games ratings and for the most part, the kids recognize that if Youngest is around, then a resolution must be found for the TV-14 program that’s presently airing. We try to find a compromise and there are instances in which the television or computer game is halted and other times, Youngest or Middle leaves the room to find something else to do. Tonight is one of those instances however, when I’ve bent the rules and as Saving Private Ryan came on the television and Youngest got up to leave, I told him that he could stay and watch for awhile. To her credit, my wife figured that there was method to my madness and said nothing, staying with Youngest as well. Youngest made it through the opening and the combat on Omaha Beach before he dissolved into tears, at which point we found something else on the tube.
It’s a painful lesson, for him as well as for me. As I later explained to my wife, while we work hard to control the media exposure, many other parents do not. Many of Youngest’s third grade peers are actively watching R rated movies, TV14 programming and playing the war games such as Medal of Honor and Call of Duty: Black Ops. In these experiences, violence is gratuitous and without consequence. If you’re hit, you’re able to reenter the game. Combat is often marked by a sense of heroism and glory and in movies at least, there’s considerable banter and frequent instances of panache. While I’m not a veteran, it doesn’t square with the reality of combat as described to me in my adulthood by my own father, a Korean War infantryman. A reality that encompasses terror, grief and brutality as much as brotherly camaderie. Elementary age children are being exposed to a one-dimensional view of violence and brutality and while I won’t permit such games or inappropriately rated programming here, when the kids visit their friends, they’ll see it there. I’m well aware that my nine year-old son is acquainted with the Nazi Zombies found in Call of Duty: Black Ops, even though I don’t like it.
The opening sequences of Saving Private Ryan are profound in their immediacy and terror. Death comes quickly, slowly, messily, quietly, randomly to someone. A soldier survives an explosion to arise and be struck down immediately by a slug. A soldier exposes himself to pull a buddy out of the way and within two minutes, is yelling to let ’em burn! I want these scenes to stand against the sanitized, sterile violence found elsewhere in the movies and video games and I want him to understand that there are ramifications to war.
Youngest talks occasionally of becoming a soldier, much as I talked of it when I was younger. He plays with toy soldiers, as I did, and engages in mock combat with his friends. That hasn’t changed over the years and I don’t expect that it ever will. But as the level of visual violence escalates amongst our children, I do want him to have a sense that there’s something more involved than the stylized and sterile violence that his friends and peers are viewing frequently and routinely.