05 January 2018

My Father vs. The High-Tech Spectacle

I never really played violent video games as a kid (except for Wolfenstein 3D: Spear of Destiny, but it's hard for me to count that), but I have been thinking about violence in video games of late because of an essay I taught in my academic writing class this fall, "Peacescripts?", the conclusion to Elana Gomel's Bloodscripts: Writing the Violent Subject. In it, she discusses those who have the impulse to restrict violent narratives: "If we do not talk about horror, it will disappear. If we do not see it, it will go away. If we do not show it, our children will grow up innocent and peaceful. [...] Violence is a disease we catch through the eyes mesmerized by the high-tech spectacle of extermination" (204). Later, she asks, "If children are corrupted by horror comics and violent television shows, does it mean that left to their own devices, they will grow up nurturing and cooperative?" (204).

Gomel says this was a popular view in the 1960s and 1970s, but it definitely lasted until the 1980s, because it was seemingly my father's point of view. We were perennially frustrated as children about what works of television and film we could not access because they were "inappropriate." In the first grade, I suspected I was the only child in America who had not seen Home Alone, and I suffered for it. As an adult, I feel like the only thirty-something in America who never really watched The Simpsons, because during its formative years and mine, I was banned from watching it. (We didn't have cable, otherwise I suspect there would have been a lot more I couldn't watch.)

"Inappropriateness" was always a little vague, but my feeling it is that it was more about sexuality and crudeness than violence. The Simpsons, I think, promoted poor family values. When we were actively watching movies, my father usually skipped through the sex scenes. I never saw the full Castle Anthrax scene ("And after the spanking, the oral sex!") in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

When we were watching films as a family and a sex scene unexpectedly came on, we would be sent out of the room until it was over. (I think this happened with The Cider House Rules, for example.) Except my father had a bad habit of hitting PAUSE on the VCR remote rather than STOP, meaning that in some cases, the nudity, rather than being banished, was held in place!

I don't remember exactly when I was allowed to break out of this. Perhaps I'm still not allowed. I do remember being seventeen and having friends over, and we watched one of the Alien films in the basement. After my friends left, my father asked what it was rated; I told him "R" and he told me I should have asked permission. I argued that we were all old enough at 17-plus, but was informed that in his house, his rules went.

There was one exception to all this, which was Seinfeld. I don't think I've ever seen my father watch another American sitcom, but if Seinfeld was on, he would drop everything. We could pick up two different FOX affiliates (I think) that aired it in syndication simultaneously, but about ten seconds off from each other. When the first one went to commercial, he would flip over to the other one and watch the last ten seconds of the act over again. Despite Seinfeld's horrendous gamut of inappropriateness (I will always remember the one where George becomes a genius through sexual abstention), we could still watch it with him because he could never bring himself to turn it off, which was the only foolproof way to stop us from watching it.

I did finally see the full Monty Python and the Holy Grail: when we watched it in high school English class in high school during a unit on Arthurian myths. My father had higher standards for inappropriateness than Catholic schoolteachers.

#317: Do you play violent video games?

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