Caught the 9 year old playing a game online at Cartoon Network. Caught as in came upon unexpectedly, surprising both of us, not as in caught him with his hand in the cookie jar. He’s allowed to play some computer games, although we have a tricky time of it with him. He'd sit at the computer all day if we didn't watch out. Take an eye off him and he’ll make a beeline for the keyboard, usually while reaching for one of his CD-ROMs, but occasionally intending to go online to play.
This morning he was playing a Batman game. Batman was doing what he usually does in these games. Chasing crooks while dodging their bullets, bombs, knives, and karate moves, and beating them up when he catches up with them. Kind of a stupid game and not the kind we encourage him to play. Also not the kind he usually plays. He prefers games that involve real problem solving, strategic planning, designing things and implementing his designs—he has a landscaping program he loves, believe it or not. Usually, though, he plays games like the Sims and Lego Creator.
So the blonde and I don’t get too upset when he plays Batman once in a while.
I got upset today.
Batman was beating up a girl.
Batman does not beat up girls. He outwits Catwoman. He out-sciences Poison Ivy.
Of course, when I was a kid reading Batman comics, Batman barely laid a glove on the likes of the Joker and Riddler. He was the world’s greatest detective and he defeated the villains by out-thinking them.
There’d be the obligatory fistfight at the end.
BAM! POW! OOOF! WHAM!
But usually Batman had to figure out what fiendish plot Penguin had hatched, figure out how to thwart it, figure out where to find the Penguin, and only after all that figuring did the fists and batarangs fly.
Things are a little different now.
One of the different things is that violence against women on the part of the hero is not just allowed. It’s as gleefully indulged and as brutal as the violence superheroes inflict on their male enemies.
It’s not just in comic books. (There is no such thing as a graphic novel. If there are more pictures than words it’s a comic book. Unless it’s called Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel or Make Way for Ducklings.) In the cartoon Clone Wars, the animated bridge between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith George Lucas commissioned to save himself the bother of any actual storytelling in Episode III, Anakin fights a lightsaber duel with a female Sith that is as violent, brutal, and deadly as the one he fights with Obi-wan at the end of Revenge of the Sith, which it is probably meant to pre-figure.
Somehow the duel and its outcome are meant to show that Anakin has taken another step towards embracing the Dark Side of the Force. But the fact that the Sith he fights and kills is a girl isn’t a part of the equation. And I hate that.
No doubt this is sexist and old-fashioned of me. It’s a double-standard, my not caring if Anakin were to dismember a few dozen male Sith but thinking that the only threat he should have to fend off from a female Sith is sexual. I don’t mind if the femme fatale pulls a light-saber. But the good guy should just slap it out of her hand and then pull her to him for a clinch and a kiss before sending her off to the Jedi jail.
“You’re taking the fall, angel.”
No, I don’t think that showing the villainess being as kick-ass tough as the hero teaches boys and girls that women can be forceful and independent and that they have the strength to take care of themselves. I think it just teaches kids that it’s ok to hit girls.
I’m skeptical of the power of popular entertainment to teach anything good. At its best it is usually only diverting and amusing. It can cheer you up. No a bad thing in this life.
But it won’t get you into college, heaven, or the corner office.
On the whole I think its influence is pernicious. Mostly because most of it is ugly and stupid, and ugly and stupid are soul-destroying forces already too plentiful in the universe.
Please, don’t tell me how you read comic books, play Grand Theft Auto, listen to rap music, watch Fear Factor, and even saw The Dukes of Hazard and your soul is humming along just fine, not a mark on it.
My grandmother smoked like a chimney her whole life and died of old age at 86.
Some people drink sterno without going blind.
Most of it is garbage and should be kept out of the reach of grown-ups, nevermind children.
I’m I telling you I support censorship?
No, I’m telling you why I made the 9 year old shut down the computer.
And to read The moral of the story by Jeanne D’arc.