Prudently turning away his eyes, my younger son thrust the bulky magazine toward me.
Pointing with pudgy fingers, he spoke in a frightened whisper. “There it is.”
The night before, when he sought sleep, it was instead this terrifying image that filled his mind.
I looked. Partway down the glossy page was a photo of an old woman and a dark-haired man. It was unexceptional but for the fact that the old woman was throttling the young man by the throat and was about to smash him in the face with a cleaver.
Flipping back a few pages I noticed a near naked woman striding atop a golden disk. A gleaming knife was strapped to the pale flesh of her thigh. Her breasts were thrust aloft by a metallic-looking brassiere. Her upraised left hand was concealed in a fist of silver mail.
A futuristic edition of Penthouse? A weird mag smuggled from the back room of an adult’s only bookstore? No, this was the glossy magazine PC Gamer, sold for $7.99 ($8.99 in Canada) to computer game enthusiasts – that means children – across the English-speaking world.
The drawings and pictures scattered through the magazine ranged from the lurid to the bizarre. On page 64 a scarlet four-armed snake-man shrieked as he whipped a scimitar down upon his enemy’s head. Page 107 displayed the photo of a man, sans jeans, sitting on a toilet. Scattered densely throughout the text were games advocating murder, one endorsed by George Bush’s C.I.A. Director, William Colby. Mr. Colby inquired, in a suicidal fit of pique, if readers were prepared to kill those who “threaten your moral fiber.” The question has meanings he never intended.
It doesn’t take much to realize that, for a sensitive child, this publication is a nightmare waiting to happen. Grisly images of blood, murder and death abound. In this weird cyber world the benevolent voraciousness of Pac-Man, the computer-game of years ago, seems a product of a different civilization.
To suggest that our children should be protected from such terrifying media is to risk being accused of advocating censorship and alliance with gun-toting, neo-fascist, hyper-religious rightists – an image which itself seems the product of an imagination overblown by video games. However, to allow our children’s minds to be filled with whatever trash pure technocapitalism thrusts into them, is to passively avoid the late 20th century’s great moment of moral reckoning.
The struggle to protect our children from terror while at the same time avoiding the self-serving demagoguery of the extreme right or left is also a local challenge. It’s local because it begs each and every one of us to decide what is best for our children, and to take practical steps to protect them.
Page 106 showed a man and woman battling each other with a series of elaborate punches and kicks. Does the value of presenting a female competently defending herself in a physical encounter with a male outweigh the destructive effect of desensitizing children to violence against women? Answer – Probably not.
The rampant utilization of violent imagery to extract money from children must evoke a response from a caring community. That response should demonstrate respect for individual difference and creative expression, and an understanding of children’s need to live in a safe environment; safe from violence, and safe as well from images of terror.
To tell the truth my son would like nothing more than to be undisturbed by the scenes of carnage that abound in our media-mad culture. He probably hopes someday to stride through the scenes of gore like stone-faced Rambo, with nary a twitch or tremor to his active imagination. It is this hardening force that desensitizes children and carries them away from the intimate protective shell of the family before they are ready. In other words, all this blood makes kids grow up too fast.
The battle over censorship is more than an effort to prevent the latest state-sponsored fascists from invading our private lives. It’s also the struggle to convince our children that they live in a world grown ups can make safe. If adults can’t protect kids from grisly images, how can children expect adults to protect them from even more brutal realities?
Fortunately, it was only a few days before my son forgot about the gruesome image and restful sleep was restored. When at last he grows immune to carnage he’ll probably breath a sigh of relief that he’s like the rest of us; solid, tough, secure and impervious to the media-driven deluge of gore. Until then, he is what he should be – a sensitive child.
I just don’t know if I would call it progress.
One last techno-commercial: Page 50 of PC Gamer shoves a huge caliber pistol in the reader’s face and shouts, “Guns, Bombs, Tyrants! The evening news or a new video game?”
That, indeed, is the question – for today’s adults, and for the children of tomorrow.