As he discusses the horror film Hostel, currently a low budget hit eclipsing older releases Narnia and King Kong, Hibbs noted a distressing phenomenon:
Yet, the most depressing and horrifying thing about these sorts of films is, alas, not the explicit gore. It is the fact that at nearly every screening of a gruesome horror film I attend (from Massachusetts to Texas), I see parents in the audience with young children. That strikes me as a serious form of child abuse and a more convincing sign of the impending apocalypse than anything depicted on the screen.
I had the same thought a few years back when I went to see Blade 2 with Wesley Snipes. I was shocked to see several small children in the theatre who had been brought by their “parents” who were engaging in their own mysterious version of “parenting.” It wasn’t quite Kill Bill, but the film had graphic portrayals of bodily mutilation that took tatooing several steps up the cruelty scale and mass murder with blood hosing everywhere.
I don’t need to see a study to know that the children exposed to this kind of film will become insensitive to violence, killing, etc. To use a more biblical expression, I’d say it hardens hearts. My own experience bears this out. As a teenager, my friends and I took advantage of the combination of video rental privileges and driver’s licenses to rent every horrible thing we could get our hands on. The more a film pushed the border of tastelessness, violence, and sexual priggishness, the more likely we were to give it a viewing. I particularly recall a film that portrayed graphic serial rape of a woman caught in the wilderness Deliverance-style by a group of bad men. The first time I saw it I was shocked and shaken. The fourth time I was laughing.
After years of exercising more personal vigilance in my viewing choices, I’ve managed to recover my sense of shock at the depiction of outrageous behavior onscreen. I can only imagine how warped an individual’s sensibilities can become after dulling the edge of the conscience on reels and reels of bloody, sex and violence-drenched celluloid (or digital media), particularly when the process begins with non-parenting parents initiating their toddlers into onscreen bloodsport.
This damage to the mind’s facility for perceiving moral distinctions is the basic problem with total liberation of entertainment from social constraints. All the barrier-busting and fun-poking at stuffy taboo protectors leads to an arena with no-holds barred. What demons will wrestle in the virtual stadiums of the future? I’m not at all sure we want to know.