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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Writing & Ethics Part 2: Images, Influences & Childhood

There has long been a school of thought that watching television and films harms children; only last week a report was published by some UK Watchdog suggesting that Under-5s should not be exposed at all and that under-14s should have their television watching, particularly in school, reduced radically. Whilst I *sort of* agree on one level - Ofsted's increasing desire to put a screen and/or technology in-between children and their learning instead of books was a bugbear of mine so severe I actually left teaching because of it - I have to wonder what the world is coming to when so-called experts actually question stimulation of any kind as being "harmful". Whilst I would never have a child of mine watching TV all day, every day (and yes, I'm aware some parents do), I do happen to think that TV and film actually aid learning and understanding of the world. How can I not? If I didn't, as a writer I couldn't in any conscience do what I do without feeling like a fraud at best and a kind of a pusher at worst.

Besides which, I was a total telly addict as a child: this not only did not harm me in my opinion, it has actually aided me. My parents always insisted we go outside, play in fields, rolls in mud etc etc but if given the choice, I would watch a film. I LOVED films. Had there been the internet readily available back in the 80s when I was growing up, I'm sure I would have loved that too. But what's more, I was not a passive receiver of these images: I incorporated elements of these stories into my own games and my own stories - I still have a notebook in which, aged 9, I wrote a story imaginatively (if not weirdly) called THE BROKEN ZODIAC which is basically a re-telling of Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal, a Ying/Yang tale of good versus evil.

Like all kids growing up in the 80s, the muppet content of my TV and film diet was high. God how I loved those things. I was going to be a Muppeteer when I grew up, I could think of no better career at this point. My love of muppets encouraged me to make my "own" out of toilet rolls, lolly sticks and bits of Laura Ashley wallpaper my Mum had left over from particularly questionable bedroom suite; it also made me realise that actually, acting and performance was not my forte: but writing was. So I had my many sisters and brother doing the performance side whilst I wrote and organised a show that we called DEMON DANCING, loosely inspired by Labyrinth and using the music of the delightfully moody Thompson Twins on cassette. My parents had friends over to watch us. We got a standing ovation. Niiice. My love of muppets extended as I reached the fabled "double figures" my Dad would always bang on about, but my expectations of them grew too. I've written before that as a teen I loved Farscape probably because of them, but it was The Company of Wolves that showed me just how dark Jim Henson's creature shop could be...And I loved it. I don't recall how I managed to end up watching this in the middle of the night, on my own, age 10: I strongly suspect I had got up to sneak around the house alone as I was prone to, simply because I wasn't supposed to. I do remember the first time I saw it the sound was off. This made it seem all the more mesmerising to my ten year old brain and when Stephen Rea makes his hideous transformation, I remember being truly frightened.

Of course, in this age of CGI it looks dated and even a bit shaky: I found my son watching my special edition DVD only the other day and like a *responsible parent* I turned it off, telling him that he shouldn't watch that until he was older. He raises a cynical eyebrow and says, "Mum. It's hardly Alien, is it?" I say, "When the hell did you watch Alien!" and he says, as if I'M crazy, "All the time." How silly of me. Note to self: get a lock for the DVD cabinet. Or should I, if he's going to be a writer himself one day??

7 comments:

Rach said...

My son is now nagging to see those films. I've told him he can watch Alien when he is 30! We rank them up a set of shelves with our indie horror at the top. They can pick locks but are lousy climbers. It's an incentive.

He can write horror stories quite well on his own though. Maybe it's hotwired. My daughter prefers to write for Torchwood and her stories are now read out in assembly. Watch out James, she's after your job!

Children love to be scared, even when quite small. Think of peek a boo. But the ones I know like Aaah not Eaugh.

I find mine need a high fantasy level. Something to show them this is not real. It couldn't even be remotely real. The fantasy need reduces as they get older.

So do I think film and TV are bad for them? Well its like is food bad for them? Most is junk and should be burned in a huge pyre. While you dance around it naked if you wish.

However there is some brilliant stuff there too that they will remember for the rest of their lives and will use as a benchmark in their own writing.

My job is to make the judgement call for them until they can. And give them a balance so they can see for themselves what's crap.

OK long comment from me. This is one I'm known to be outspoken about in the village. I went through school when you were made to read "real life" and they tried to ban fantasy.

If you live on a council estate the last bloody thing you want to read about is life on a council estate!

Now I'm off to watch Cube. No I don't let them watch that. But I think the eldest might be ready for "The Haunting", 1963 of course.

Lucy said...

It's often random things that fire up kids' imaginations I find. Why on earth have I got a "thing" for werewolves? I was exposed to vampires, monsters, blobs, sharks -all sorts. Yet it's the werewolf that stays at the forefront of my brain, probably staring with the creature in Never Ending Story. His was the first picture I looked for. Yet I don't mention the Never Ending Story IN the post. It's like an unspoken thing - that is the film that started it all for me, end of.

I agree with you though Rach - it is like junk food I reckon: of course I wouldn't allow my kids to eat sweets all day and they're not allowed to watch absolutely anything. But there is good stuff there that can start MORE good stuff.

evil twinz said...

I loved Company of Wolves when I saw it as a kid too - Dazza says now that the wolves are WAGGING THEIR TAILS when chasing that girl through the cardboard wood, so I won't watch it again, it'll spoil the original viewing.

Rach said...

evil twinz - they are enjoying the chase and the prospect of a juicy meal. Will that help you watch it again?

Just bought American Werewolf in London on DVD because my antique format was dying. The man on the escalator flashes back whenever I go on the underground.

Rach said...

OK Lucy. Before you point it out. I'm did not flash first, the memory, the memory. Is there anyway to put it without it coming out even worse?

ian said...

Blimey, I don’t recall being able to comprehend what was ‘good’ or ‘bad’ art at that kind of age! On the one hand, as an 8 year old boy who drew constantly, I was fascinated by the film poster for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre which inspired numerous fiction/horror tales of my own with my friends, yet the imagery never entered into my drawing (I think I was too scared to even go there). I didn’t see the movie until I was twenty-two, but the marketers had already set up a connection (which was perhaps emotional, say, due to the nostalgia factor) ...

On the other hand, a film like Robocop was incredibly notorious when I was at school (age 9) and became a sort of phenomenon in that larger social context. Before the various other entertainment media began extending the Robocop brand into comp games in the early nineties, we were already making connections, as 9 year olds, with the content by acting out scenes in the playground; I was drawing the poster image everywhere for everyone; we made the hero’s gun out of Lego, etc, etc. I saw the film under *extremely* controlled conditions (my parents sat me through all of it), but I understood myself at that age that this was fantasy – even in a film whose exploitative elements were *so* brutal.

I guess what I’m saying is that we not only had in the 80s multiple contacts with a single film itself, but also hundreds of unique experiences and emotional connections formed with other media that balanced our consumption and reading of new films. The entertainment ‘world’ we created in our hearts and minds as kids in order to deal with a new film (shocking or otherwise) was pretty sophisticated, I think, and ever-expanding. And so I agree with you, it would have been amazingly counterproductive to limit our exposure to film and TV – if only on the simple premise that we *were* and remain still active consumers of media who personalise and invest emotionally in a film or television program ... and that became a sort of mutually reinforcing system which helped 'protect' us from "harm", especially at that early age.

smalltincup said...

Good grief, looking at those pictures is like looking into the dark contents of your soul my love.

What's for dinner? Are we getting divorced again?