Bright Lights Film Journal

Children of Violence: Studies show PG-13 more violent than R

Over the Edge (1979)

A recent study from the journal Pediatrics was picked up by NPR yesterday, and promptly disseminated like a virus through the news networks, concerning violence in the media, and little children, you know, all the juiciest stuff:

Parents who rely on movie ratings to decide what their children can watch may think that PG-13 films have fewer villains flashing guns than R-rated movies.

But they’re wrong.

The PG-13 movies actually show more gun violence, a study finds.

That’s troubling, and not only because parents might feel they’ve been hoodwinked by the industry’s rating system. There’s lots of research showing that watching violence in movies makes people more aggressive and less compassionate. So small children may be getting lessons in aggression that their parents would much rather avoid. (more)

I don’t have kids, but I can do one better: I have a very vivid memories of my childhood. So I identify with the kids when their freedom to watch guys get shot and stuff blow up is under threat.  Bushman may be right, but so what? He thinks he’s saving his kids from trauma, but he’s only making trauma a forbidden pleasure, rather than the inescapable banality it really is.

From 1985 to 2012, the amount of gun-related violence in R-rated movies stayed pretty much the same, and the amount for those rated G or PG actually dropped. It was the PG-13 movies, which are typically the big summer blockbusters, that saw a huge surge in gun violence.

“Children under 13 for sure should not see PG-13 movies,” Bushman told Shots. That applies to all forms of media, he adds, including video games.

The many studies on violent media don’t prove that exposure causes violent criminal behavior, Bushman says. “We do know that violent media media exposure does increase aggressive behavior,” he says. “It increases violent thoughts.” And, he added, it numbs people to the pain and suffering of others.

Bushman suggests that parents go online and check clips from movies and video games on YouTube and elsewhere. They can also look at comments on popular movie rating sites.

He has three teenagers, so he knows what he’s talking about. He screens movies and video games before letting his kids watch them, and he explains why the family has put violent media off limits.

“We also block TV programs that have violent and sexual content, and all of our screens are in central locations.” In the Bushman household, a kid with an iPad in the bedroom has to keep the door open. And at bedtime, the kid has to give up the iPad.

“I’m sure my kids hate the fact that their dad has been researching violent media for the past 25 years,” Bushman adds. “Their friends can watch whatever they want. But they can’t.”

Bugsy Malone (1976)

This Bushman sounds like a real dickwad. My sympathies to his poor children, who are clearly over 13 or he wouldn’t call them teenagers. One day they’re going to escape his over-protective grasp and see one of today’s violent movies and probably throw up due to being so unhardened. I just hope they have the wherewithal to wait until they get home so they can do it all over his jacket. Serves him right!

Am I bitter? Of course. I remember being refused admittance to R movies as a 16 year-old when meanwhile I could go rent A Clockwork Orange or I Spit on Your Grave from the mall no problem. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but take the movie The Road Warrior for example, or Creepshow, two movies I was refused admittance to, for the crime of being 15 but who were surely meant for no one else. My mom had to drive back to the theater after dropping me off to buy the tickets. My very first letter to the editor, the Courier News, in 1982, was to demand a new rating for us in between kids, allowing me to feel vindicated when PG-13 showed up, even if by then I was old enough to see whatever the hell I wanted.

The point is, who are 99% of the kids who go to see movies today? Teenagers. Why? To get away from their parents long enough to feel free. What do they want to see? Guns and violent action for boys. Why the guns? Because they have a lot of anxiety and anger from living with their goddamned parents and having to go to goddamned school, and deal with all your goddamn bullshit. It’s hormonal. They need to blast themselves free from your apron strings. Biologically they should be getting married and having children by now, or going off to hunt or fight in wars, but our system is so ass backwards we force ‘smart’ teenagers to wait until long past their fertile years to marry and reproduce. Meanwhile they can be old enough to drive, or go to Iraq, or buy guns, but have four years to go before they can drink, and that’s not right. Just because society isn’t ready for them to enter it doesn’t mean their hormones can just stay in a holding pattern for 10 years while you get your shit together. More likely they will explode and do something really stupid, like drunk driving, and frankly, it’s your fault, mom and dad, not theirs. You may deny them the outlets in reality to be their own age but don’t deny them the chance to do it by-proxy, to channel their rage into the movies.

Children understand the difference between movie violence and real life violence. It’s built into their DNA. They can come home to the CNN and hear every grisly detail of real life murders, or Lifetime’s stalker husbands, Investigative Discovery’s “murder porn” and understand these are real things and still not the same as guns being fired by terrorists at Captain America, they know the difference between violence and action. Action appeals to their darker nature, while Investigative Discovery for example chronicles our darker nature. And if we don’t appease that darker nature, look out! The pressure will pop those kids right through the TV and into the ‘breaking tragedy’ section of the evening news. Movies with lots of guns prevent our children from feeling the need to get real ones. It’s called catharsis! Indigenous tribes re-enact hunts and ancient battles, myths, and dramas, all of which relates the Civil War re-enactments and good fun like the below duel at some Renaissance fair:

The film The Cabin in the Woods, for example, deals with elder gods sleeping in the center of the earth demanding their story lines conform to tradition and contain much blood. They are the full representation of our darker, bestial natures, the ones that suffer behind the pressure cooker bars of banal civilized life all the livelong day, from high school and its petty injustices to the daily dread of seeing older kids twice their size able to push them in the mud on a whim and steal their girl, to the tyranny of overprotective parents so busy denying their kids access to fun shit that they forget to actually raise them to tell the difference.

children of Atari, mid-traumatization

I grew up playing war in various forms, from cap gun combat in the wilds behind the neighborhood back yards to HO scale army men mounting vast complex assaults against different scale monsters. We played Atari, and shot aliens and cowboys (above) and jumped over alligators on swinging vines. We fought nonstop but it followed certain rules. One: if you got a fake punch you had to react like it was real, go flying across the room like a hoodlum fighting Adam West as Batman. Two: if shot you died, brilliantly, gasping and clutching the grass.

At the same time, even then, I never had any interest in owning a real gun or doing real life violence. For one thing, any idiot knows that if you don’t have a gun in a real life you are much less likely to get actually shot. But I love massive onscreen violence because fuck ’em…

An example of the rarity of the bleed-over is the crazy idiot out in Colorado, Aurora, stomping into a dark knight showing in full regalia, but these things are rare because even children of a very young age don’t need to learn the difference between fake violence and real violence, it’s built in!

Studies like this parental journal misunderstands the basic use of myth and fairy tale as not to amuse our conscious minds, but to reach out a hand to our wild unknowable unconscious. The cinema is where we go like a million little Quattos (left), to fall asleep and let our conjoined psychic power mad Basket Case twin come out of our belly and indulge its most violent id fantasies in the safety of the screen and the mind. This is what’s real. Deny that twin its indulgence and the real craziness begins. It’s no longer Marvel Comics, but CNN. Perhaps in their inordinate wisdom the pundits are the ones with most to profit by rallying against onscreen violence, the less killing onscreen at the multiplex the more on the streets, which gives them more to cover in their 24 hour news cycle, and Halliburton sings doo doo doo do doo.

Want to prove I’m right? Look for the gleam in their reporter’s eye when covering the latest massacre, how alive they are, how excited to have something happening, something that will boost their credit in the TV news hierarchy. The right place at the right bloody time for a journalist can lead to being the cornerstone of the industry, the way being able to feed CNN live video of rockets from his hotel window in Kuwait made the career of Wolf Blitzer back in the 80s. How my dad and I loved it. We loved the allusions to Nazi war, football and canine fangs in his name, “Wolf Blitzer” –we loved General Powell’s answer to the press question “when will the US bombing stop?” was “Oh, no, it won’t stop.” Damn that was cool!

It was so cool, we needed a sequel.  Adults really should work on getting their own damn violence over on the right side of the screen instead of trying to remove their children’s. Hulk Smash!