Saturday, 24 January 2015

Better in Small Doses




As a kid I hated movie censorship. Or comic book censorship. Or music censorship. Or novel censorship. The list is quite long.

To some extent I still do hate this suppression of both self expression and the right for people to watch whatever the hell they like.

But...

I DO agree that there should be certain restrictions. The age system we have for both movies and computer games is common sense. It used to be a pile of stagnant wank, or at least the movie side of things did, under the Nazi-esque doctrine of the British Board of Film Classification's boss for many years, James "Hope He Died Slowly" Ferman. Once he retired and later died (hope it was slowly) the BBFC began to adopt a less dictatorial approach to what the Great Unwashed could and couldn't see at the cinema.

To generalise.

U = Dumbo
PG = Star Wars
12A = Spiderman
15 = Gladiator
18 = Saw
18R = Debbie Does Daventry

A woman I've always loathed, both when alive and now she'd passed on, was/ is Mary Whitehouse. A prolific meddler in what she thought should and shouldn't be on the telly, this rancid old bat ruined many a TV show and was an ardent hater of most things that were fun. However one thing she DID do that was a good idea was to bring about what we now call The Watershed.

On TV in the UK, after 9pm is when the various terrestrial stations can get their tits out and show the "adult" stuff that they agree not to show prior to that time. So an uncut airing of Ray Winston's debut movie "Scum" would only be shown after 9pm. Similarly while Doctor who is a kiddy show, its horny, adolescent cousin show, Torchwood could only be shown after The Watershed. This was mainly due to the fact that it had strong sexual content and in the first season season alone, EVERY major character shagged or snogged someone of the same gender

But I digress...

The Watershed was a good idea because it meant that kids couldn't watch violent and/ or sexual content unless they were up past a reasonable hour when they should, in theory, have been in bed. The TV companies had done all they could to ensure that they had acted responsibly. The rest was up to Mummy and Daddy.

When I was about 5 I was sat on the floor waiting for Playschool to come on the TV. This was about. 4.30pm every day and a great show for little ones to watch. Big Ted, Little Ted, Humpty and the other toys. Going through the Square, Arched or Round window for a story. Exciting stuff. However...one afternoon I turned the telly on a little early and caught the last 5 minutes of some BBC1 daytime drama. I had no idea what I was watching and thought it was harmless. The ending upset me badly. A man was in a room and suddenly around three men in big, black top hats with big bushy black beards, came into the room. The man started to cry and began shouting what I thought was the line "I don't wanna be a cowboy!" over and over again. I have no dout this wasn't what he said but at this point, at the age of 5 and waiting for Playschool to come on, I imagined the man had been "naughty" and the other men had come to tell him off and punish him for that, especially has he was crying. They pulled him out of the room and dragged him outside and put him into some weird suit thing where the hood zipped right over his face and head. This was still familiar, because I'd sometimes kicked off about putting my pyjamas on before bed. Then one of the bearded top hats put a rope around the man's neck and another guy pulled a lever. The man was raised about 6 inches of the floor and instantly went limp. The beardy guys looked solemn, and silently walked off. I realised then that what I'd watching wasn't about a man getting told off and being put in a strange pair of pyjamas. They had in fact just killed him.

As I sat there in shocked, disturbed horror, the credits rolled and then a few moments later the music began for Playschool.

Hence The Watershed.

As I grew up and throughout my childhood I was given a barrage of entertainment that made out that violence was just F.U.N.

Comics aimed at little 'uns like Whizzer & Chips or Buster would feature characters such as Scrapper, a young lad who loved getting into fist fights. Also Shiner who couldn't get through one episode of the comic without getting a black eye. And let's not forget The Dandy's strip Bully Beef & Chips where the hulking thug Bully Beef would pick on the smaller character of Chips. I vividly recall one episode where Chips managed to tie up Bully Beef and then said casually "Now. Where did I leave that wire brush?" Next panel had a red-raw BB who had been scrubbed ragged in revenge. Message = Violence is a laugh

Later on I read 2000AD and war comics such as Victor or Battle Action. In these comics the violence was upped considerably. While in 2000AD this was 90% justifiable in context (Judge Dredd only shot guilty people, Strontium Dog showed utter remorse when a little boy was accidentally killed in a crossfire) in the war comics this was taken up to 11. Union Jack Jackson and Darkie's War were nasty and brutal with slit throats, knives in the back (with the requisite hand over the mouth to stifle the screams) and grenades being thrown into machine gun nests.

These comics made out that violence was something that was either fun or necessary. Worryingly they painted a world where violence, or at least justifiable violence, was something that had no moral fallout. No guilt or shame or remorse. It was just something you did and then moved on.

Movies, even for kids, were violent. Star Wars and its sequels, THE biggest influence on my imagination as a child, were full of fighting and death. Only kids movie I ever saw where billions of people get killed in one instant. Indiana Jones shot a guy who was at that moment, only a threat BUT we all laughed at how cool that was.

Later on we had horror movies and some of them had very protracted, graphic scenes of pain, torture and murder. Sleepaway Camp 2 has a scene where a teenage girl is drowned in a pit of human shit. Halloween has a teenage girl strangled with a telephone cord while her naked tits are shown and The Prowler has a college age woman murdered with a pitchfork while taking a shower. Thing I remember most about this was that her big tits bounced around a lot and that she coughed up blood as the killer leaned on the pitchfork. These were things I saw in my teens and the juxtaposition of nubile, young people (and tits) with very gory and painful violence was odd to say the least. I was 14 or 15. My adolescence was in its summer years.

TV shows, even for kids were violent once you got past the Playschool era. The Tomorrow People was creepy and Doctor Who had people dying left right and centre. Behind the sofa TV it most certainly was.

Which brings me to my point.

As an adult I defend the right for anyone over 18 to watch whatever the hell they like within reason. No snuff films. No kiddy porn. No movies that extol or propagate racism, homophobia or misogyny. Beyond that, watch what you like.

Growing up however, there was very little in the way of entertainment that talked about the "nice" side of life. Films like "The Yearling" or "Old Yeller" or even "Gregory's Girl" were considered boring and were few & far between. We had a staple diet of violence at every junction. Aggression in entertainment was seen as a normal form of life. Cops in movies would shoot bad guys without any sense of shame or regret. Not because they should have felt like that BUT because even then it was established IN REAL LIFE that the first, second or even third time you kill someone you will feel bad about it.

The comics, films and TV shows I revelled in as a boy built into me a false sense of expectation about what would happen when something bad happened. I knew it was all fake and to this day I loathe people who state that some other adults"can't tell the difference between real and fake." If you are able to feed and dress yourself then you know the difference. Also movies, music and comics do not "make" anyone go out and do anything to anyone else. You may get creative ideas from watching Friday the 13th but you have to be lacking a piece of the puzzle of your DNA to enact it. Films don't make people commit crimes any more than the Devil or God do. People do bad shit because they want to, not because a latex puppet covered in fake blood "made" them do it.

But I digress again...

As a child the exposure to violent media should have been controlled. Violence is a part of life and everyone has a fascination with death and horror at some point in their life. Be it a Dracula movie or dressing up and begging for candy on Halloween. But I would have liked to have seen a little subliminal messaging that told me just how utterly fab it was to be decent to other people, without the feeling that while being told this, I could be missing out on a really good war movie. I'd have liked to know that not only would good guys be able to throw punches, take a punch without crying (or bruising) and shoot a baddy down without blinking BUT they were responsible with money, could sustain a friendship and weren't selfish.


Exposure to all this type of thing as a kid wasn't healthy. In small doses it would have been fine but like like junk food...it's better in small doses.

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