When I went to see The Patriot last Saturday night, I was appalled at the number of parents who had brought their small children (from an infant in a stroller to several children ranging between four and ten years of age!) to that exceedingly violent and gory movie. Right in front of me, a little girl no older than six sat on her mother's lap. I couldn't believe that any parent would subject such a young, impressionable child to such images. Can you imagine what her dreams were like that night?
I'm sorry--I lied. I can imagine parents doing such a thing. The fact is, I ran a home daycare for eighteen years, and I can no longer be surprised by even the most outrageously careless or selfish behavior on the part of parents.
Maybe the parents were just clueless. Although the violence in the movie had been described, hyped in fact, in numerous articles and reviews leading up to its opening, some people don't read articles and reviews about a movie before they go to see it. But even after paying for their tickets, conscientious parents would have forfeited that money and gotten their kid out of the theater the minute they realized what sort of images the movie is filled with.
In case you don't know, there is one scene that graphically depicts a soldier's head being blown off by a cannonball, with blood spurting everywhere. Another scene shows a different soldier's leg being blown off by yet another cannonball. Then there's the scene where a whole village--men, women, and children--are locked in a church and then burned to death. And what small child would fail to identify with the cute little redheaded boy who is murdered, along with his mother, by the evil British colonel? The grief-stricken father, a member of the patriot militia, then puts a gun to his temple and kills himself.
Perhaps the most gruesome scene, from the point of view of a young child, is the one where Benjamin Martin (the Mel Gibson character) falls into a frenzy and uses his tomahawk to hack at the body of a British soldier he has just killed.
Certainly his feelings are understandable. The brutal British Colonel Tavington has just shot and killed Martin's fifteen-year-old son and has ordered the hanging of Martin's eldest son, and the soldier Martin chops up is one of those detailed to perform the hanging. But does a child of six (or of any of the other tender ages that were so amply represented at the theater ) really need to see a frenzied man chop and hack at another human being, while the dead man's blood flies up and covers every inch of Martin's face and body?
Even the character's own child in the movie turns away from his father in fear and horror after witnessing that act. (So that, I guess, any child who managed not to understand how truly frightened he was supposed to be by what he had just seen would be cued by the reaction of Martin's own son.)
All right--I'm not being fair. The movie was never intended for small children. It's not the fault of the producer, the director, or the star that some parents are witless enough to expose their children to such images. But how could even the most unaware parent continue to sit there and allow her child to watch such a movie once she had discovered its level of violence and gore?
Unfortunately, I don't think ignorance is really the issue here, even for those parents who might not initially have understood what they would be seeing. The real problem is the parents' selfish disregard of their own children's well-being. Most of the parents probably wanted to see the movie, but didn't want to (or couldn't afford to) spend the money on a babysitter. Or maybe they were willing to pay for a sitter, but couldn't find one, and really, really, really wanted to see that movie on that particular night. But, folks, if you can't get a sitter--for whatever reason--when you want to go out, you either don't go out, or you take your child with you (but NOT to a movie that is so entirely inappropriate for him or her to see).
Many of the parents that I have chastised for allowing their very young children to watch on video such movies as Fatal Attraction, Arachnophobia, and Scream (all these examples are true, by the way) have offered the excuse that the child doesn't seem to be bothered by it.
That reminds me of the time I spoke with one woman whose seven-year-old son, whom I babysat for, seemed very depressed. She said that when he seemed so, he was probably just missing his father--who had been beaten to death outside a bar during the time the child was living with him, just a year before the little boy came to my daycare.
I asked if he had received any sort of counseling to help him deal with such a tragedy. How did they handle the issue at home, I wondered. Her response was that they didn't handle it at all, and he had not been in counseling, either. She said that he never seemed particularly troubled by the incident. He never spoke about his father's death or asked questions about it, or even cried much after the first few days, so she figured he must be handling it fine.
Such self-absorbed cluelessness is exactly the sort of thing I'm concerned with here. The parents don't want to deal with their children's very real needs and vulnerabilities, and so they just assure themselves that the kids are handling everything just fine.
I'm sorry, but that's worse than stupid--it's irresponsible. You're supposed to guide and protect your child. And generally speaking, that responsibility should take precedence over getting to see the movie everyone is talking about.