Rated “T” for Trauma

 

This weekend, as a friend of mine went through my house systematically rejecting everything I own, I got a glimpse into my future. It wasn’t pretty.

I played host on Saturday to a group of my old college dorm-mates who’d come in from across the Midwest for a few scant hours of reminiscence and “adult conversation,” which ironically is almost always conversation about the people who aren’t adults. A gathering that would have been just the six of us a few years ago is now an army of twelve overtaking the house; we married folk have kept busy these last few years. As a result, we spend about 45% of any gathering actually hanging out, and we spend the rest of the time mediating disputes over Care Bears, treating minor injuries, yelling at various people to stop doing whatever they’re doing, and being dragged into the next room by hand to beat boss levels for the little ones who wanted to play the badass video games Unca Jim had until the second those games got slightly hard. (Kids today…! No discipline. Where would I be if I’d handed the controller to my dad every time Bowser started shooting fireballs? The princess would still be in that other castle. Honestly.)

The kids’ attempt at gaming was how I started to see what I have in store for me. My kid’s only two right now, so pop culture hasn’t gotten its hooks into her; she knows she likes The Wizard of Oz and Nemo, but the idea that anyone is even making Oz stuff or Nemo toys she could buy hasn’t remotely dawned on her. (I occasionally think, “It’s not too late to chain her to a beam in the basement before she sees a television commercial,” but for the moment she’s still free range.) In contrast, one of my friends’ kids is ten years old now, with all the fixations and obsessions that come with that. This kid descends on my house like a swarm of locusts, rifling through my shelves like he’s got a warrant, because he and I have roughly the same taste and emotional maturity level. For a long time, he was content with the Star Wars figures, but that phase is over. Now, somehow, without ever setting foot into a comic shop in his life, he’s moved on to Marvel comics.

As the adults sat in the kitchen trying to talk about politics or something only to inevitably veer into another twenty minute discussion comparing and contrasting binkies, this poor kid would eagerly scurry up with a new game in his hands every three minutes in a futile attempt to get his mom’s permission to play it. Ultimate Spider-Man. Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. X-Men Legends. Time and again, his hopes would be dashed: “Hmm. Rated ‘T’ for having… let’s see… uh-oh, for having Blood. No dice. Sorry. Back to playing Rainbow Brite’s Spelling Adventure.”

I tried to help him plead his case a couple of times, but I sucked at it. I cannot imagine what kind of Blood is in X-Men Legends, but that’s mainly because the only time the PS2 is ever touched is when these kids come over. (I have weekly reading to do. It's not like I'm too busy working or parenting.)

After his mom stopped him from playing Rock Band because she didn’t like the sound of those lyrics, he finally gave up entirely and started drawing X-Men. At some point, someone had given him a moleskine, and on every page of it he had drawn a different mutant. And not badly, either. If I had been able to draw Nightcrawler like that when I was ten, the only place you’d see me on this site now would be a Talksplode interview. As I watched him detailing Professor X’s wheelchair, I thought, “Here’s a kid whose mom would sooner die than go into the Android’s Dungeon with him, a kid whose mom calls their television ‘The Enemy’ as she sews him a new poncho out of hemp and organically grown granola fibers, and yet somehow he has still managed to become a Marvel zombie. Life finds a way.”

As I talked to him about it, it turns out his gateway drug was the library. I don’t know who’s stocking the shelves at his branch, but they’ve given him enough of an education to weigh in on Havok’s costuming decisions. All afternoon, he peppered me with trivia questions I pretended not to know the answers to so he could beam about outsmarting an old man.

“Did you know the Juggernaut has family history with one of the X-Men?”

“Hmm. Is he… Jubilee’s brother?”

The only time the façade almost cracked was when he broke the news to me that Marvel was bought by Disney, and I had to put my fist in my mouth to keep from shouting Kid, this is all I do.

It broke my heart when he eventually noticed my Stack on the coffee table and voraciously dove into it, only to have his mom ban and forbid almost everything I read. We had a nice long talk about Marvel’s parental ratings system that I wish someone at Marvel could have heard. “The reading level is right there on the cover… no, down in the corner there. See it? Wait: here’s a magnifying glass. Yeah, so Gorilla Man is rated ‘T+’… I wish I could tell you. I have no idea what that means. Is there a ‘T,’ or a ‘T-‘? Couldn’t say. I’ll look it up on their web site…and… now that twenty minutes have passed without me finding anything, here it is on Wikipedia. Looks like they have ‘T+’ for Teen and up, ‘MAX’ for Childhood Ending, and ‘A’ for All Who Are Older Than Nine…. What about under nine?… I’ll get back to you.”

I’ve never paid any attention before, but apparently I’m a “T+” kinda guy. (“What’s Chew?” “Oh… yeah… that’s… no. I think I better hang onto that one, actually.”) The only thing in the living room he could read was Avengers Academy, which he liked, although when he finished he did sigh and say, “Aaand I’m already done,” prompting me to ask, “You don’t by any chance post on the Newsarama boards, do you?”

All the while, the boy kept dropping hints about the stash of X-Men comics from the eighties that he knew were somewhere on the premises. I had to pretend I didn’t know where they were, blaming our recent move. I just reorganized, and now fun ROM Fights Space Monsters is in the box right next to Things You Can Never Unsee v. 3. Besides, the time I tried to give him my old Fantastic Fours, his parents acted like I’d said, “Here’s eight pounds of my garbage to scatter around your house!” Which is essentially accurate.

We live in a weird era. Adults never stopped reading the stories they read as kids; the stories are still interesting to kids but being written for adults; the same characters from those stories are also in books that are just for kids. Any parent off the street like my friend could try to buy an X-Men comic and either get the one where Wolverine has Nerf claws or the one where Kitty and Colossus get it on. A book called Gorilla Man is somehow not appropriate for a ten year old.  Most of the people who would be scandalized by all this have no idea it’s even an issue they have to be aware of. No wonder my friend goes through everything in my house like her kid’s food taster. Maybe she’s overdoing it, but maybe she’s been burned one time too many.

Of course, it’ll probably be fine in the end. My parents bought me Dark Knight Returns when I was twelve, and I turned out great.



Jim Mroczkowski might not teach his kids to read, just to be safe. Leave your comments where comments are left, assuming they are appropriate for all ages, of course.

Comments

  1. BWHAHAHAHa, that was awesome. I’m still young, but I am still freaked out when I meet the children of my grad student friends or realize that my cousins have grown up and its time for my generation to start making little people,

    I think when the time comes, I will put all my comics and death metal in cold storage, and thaw them out just to corrupt the grand kids. 

  2. My friends and I often discuss how parents nowadays are doing more harm than good by monitoring every shred of stimuli that comes their child’s way. This usually fills me with optimism about the next generation, but then it occurs to me that I may just subconsciously surround myself with people who share my values and beliefs. And then I realize that despite having the emotional maturity of an 8 year old, I’m 27 and this new breed that I continually pity is already underway, and will someday exist in the same dark future as my own future offspring. 

    I’m curious (and terrified) to see what kind of effect this overblown censorship will have on the younger generation. What kind of adults will these children grow become? Will they be more rational, progressive thinkers than we turned out to be? Or will being raised by paranoid tight-asses who read too much how-to material mold them into a generation of sociopaths whose fragile minds couldn’t handle the flow of reality unleashed on them upon stepping into independence? I’m leaning towards the latter. But then again, every generation sees the one that followed them as a gaggle of raving martians. Right?

  3. Poor kid.

  4. This mother sounds like a nightmarish tight ass.

  5. This mom sounds like my mom.

  6. Twenty-five years from now, he’ll be Secretary General of the UN, and we’ll all still be doin’ this.

  7. I can see people monitoring what their kids watch and read. If something is R or M rated then they should be older to read it. However holding back teen/pg stuff is pushing it.  Instead of teaching kids whats right or wrong by doing activities with their kids, they throw them into a room with a happy go lucky educational program.

  8. This reminds me of spending free comic book day with a friend and his 8-year-old nephew.  The friend had promised to monitor every comic that went into the child’s hands, so as we got our free schwag, it had to be reviewed to see if it was appropriate.  This would all be well and good except that during the times when he WASN’T reading comics, the child was describing, in graphic detail, horror movies that he had watched on the television, at his mother’s house, most of which seemed to involve exploding heads.

    But, you know, those funny books are dangeous stuff.

  9. You’re lucky you have a girl… well to a degree…

    Every time my 3.5 year old is in Target he points at the coolest toy possible and asks for it, and I have a hard time turning him down, because I would have wanted it myself (and still do). My wallet is always hurting after a trip down the toy aisle like that.

    Then I was grabbing some toddler to for my 17 month old, only to realize that he only wants what his older brother has. So recently, I just gave up.  Jackson wanted a the Green Power Ranger, well Cameron got the Black Power Ranger.  My wife was surprised this weekend when I declared Sunday "Water Shooter Day" and bought myself a Super Soaker, and the boys equally fun water guns.

  10. It’s so hard to predict what will actually disturb kids. My nephew won’t bat an eyelash at asploding people’s heads in Halo but can’t watch make it past the first thirty seconds of The Monster Squad. So I basically just worry about whether something will go over his head or not. I don’t give him, say Y The Last Man primarily because he likely just wouldn’t get it, rather than the violence.

  11. You know, I hear what that mom is saying.  Did you guys know that Old Man Logan was a T+ rated book?  And that book had decapitation and guts in like every other panel.

    I know we all sit here and recall being 9 when we saw our first R-rated movie, but R back in the day is a lot different than an R now.  As a teacher, I see time and again kids that are exposed to violence/sex, but are never given context for it.  Have you ever seen a 12 year old start humping a chair just to be funny?  Kids don’t get it, and unfortunately, not enough parents are giving their kids context to the things they’re exposed to.  I may have watched violent movies before I was supposed to, but my mom and dad were always there to make sure I understood the difference between fantasy and reality, right and wrong.  So, good for that woman who takes the time to monitor what her children are exposed to.  I wish more would do it. 

  12. When I was 9 I saw RoboCop and Terminator I uncut, when I was 12 a friend offered me to play Doom on his Dad’s computer. I saw it and was like "uuh…the shotgun looks so realistic!! You really kill all these things, do you? No, I don’t want to play this". When I was 14 I played hardly anything else but first person shooters. My point is, children often can decide for themselves what is ok and healthy for their age group and what not(not always, I admit it)… and after all I turned out pretty nicely – even if you ask my parents.

    But you see… rating systems based on rules are bullshit. It’s the context of the violence that’s important. Is it there to be a fun of it’s own or is it there to glorify amorality and/or just look COOL with no connection to the scaryness/fun of the story? That should be the criteria!

      And let me add, the american rating system is the most bigot, corrupted one anywhere on the planet when it comes to language and nudity. Women HAVE breasts and people SAY fuck, but they normally don’t shoot other people’s limbs off.  How can non-pornographic nudity be more harmfull to teenage development than injust splatter executions?!?? [btw I’m European]

  13. This exact same thing happened to me with the old high school friends coming over.  All the kids were too young to play video games, but the boys enjoyed playing with the Rock Band instruments "Unplugged."  The oldest, a girl of about five or something, was really into my comics.  Fascinated that I had so many.  I had the long boxes out in an aborted attempt to reorganize them.  I had to shy her away from Invincible and everything Warren Ellis ever wrote.  However, I did scrounge up some issues of Alison Dare and a trade paperback of Leave it to Chance.  I ended up letting her take those, because I like to poison children’s minds.

  14. Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    Jim, it’s like you read the sign I put up on our glass doors. "The public library: Your gateway drug to media since the early 18th century."

  15. great article. I’m all for parents monitoring what their children see. However without having experienced what they’re keeping from their children you end up with people like Jack Thompson who demonize things based on their misconceptions.

  16. On an oppressively hot day in 1986, the sort of day so hot that poor Conor would melt halfway through the "ck" in "it’s fucken hot", my friend’s henna tattooed, acoustic guitar playing mother decided the only way to keep us from bursting into flames (which was thought of in the most non-homophobic way ever thought) was to lift us off our pogoballs and take us to the shelter of the local movie theater.  The only movie we agreed we wanted to see was Spaceballs.  We got as far as the "Major Asshole" scene, when she pulled us out of the theater, drove us home, and smashed all of my friend’s Weird Al Yankovic cassettes.   Weird Al, of course, would go on to create  a ton of controversy by creating the incredibly offensive lyric "go medieval on your heiney".

    Five years later this exact scenario (minus the pogoballs, plus flannel shirts and hackey sacks) was reenacted when she found a Penthouse under his mattress and destroyed all his Metallica CDs.

    Her remarkable parenting did not lead to him being Secretary General of The UN, but rather, expulsion from school for repeatedly being caught handing out copies of the Satanic Bible by Anton Levay, followed by a  steady stream of jail time for crimes no intelligent person would commit.  So, no Secretary General of the UN for him, but we can’t rule out Vice Presidency or White House Press Secretary.

    My parents bought me X-Men comics.  Much like my ex-friend, I’ve had many run-ins with the police.  But I paid those parking ticket, and thus, have only ever seen jail on HBO.

  17. @ akamuu: Have you read The Satanic Bible? It’s too bad your friend didn’t understand it, because if he did, he may not have ended up a criminal. 

    That being said, I often wonder how my parents "overlooked" the vile, vile heavy metal I played all day. Still, I turned out to be a fine family man (and an elementary school teacher, at that).  

  18. Mmmmm… How much blood in a comic could screw up your 10 year old? I don’t think any amounts of red ink in a comicbook page can make him become a murderer. Kids can distinguish fiction from reality as much as we can. I think violence should be dipenalize in media ratings. I think sex is the concern parents should be aware. but thats only prior to 13. Ones the kids reaches puberty theres no sence in that either.

  19. It’s not so much the blood as it is the actual acts of violence.  If not tampered with some sort of moral compass, kids perceive certain actions to be "normal" or "accepted" by society.  If there’s no perceived consequence to keep the behavior in check, then, well, the behavior continues.

    It’s why prejudice is perpetuated today–if you grow up with a racist telling you things, then most likely you will be a racist that believes those same things.  

    It’s true that most kids have a pretty good handle on reality vs. fiction, but the mistake we make as adults sometimes is that we believe kids think like adults–or they’re predestined to know how to act. They don’t think like adults.  They think like kids, and so, we have to make sure we provide them with appropriate ways to think about violence, sex, etc. much like our parents did. 

  20. @hailscott: I have not.  I get all of my morality tales from comics.  😉

    @Neb: I agree with you on your views of context.  Unfortunately, many parents I’ve interacted with recently (can’t speak for Jim’s friend) prefer to completely isolate their kids from ideas that they don’t feel cofortable talking about, rather than contextualize them.  At least three times a week a mom or dad comes into the store I work at looking for kids’ comics, and proceeds to tell me they think Archie is too racy for their twelve year old.  Their twelve year old is usually wearing a napkin for pants, a bikini top, and bragging to their friends how they get silly bands for free by flirting with the creepy guy at the 7-11.*  But the parents doesn’t want them reading Archie Comics.  Obviously, this is a bit on the extreme side of overprotective, clueless parenting, but I see things like this on a very regular basis.  

     

    *-this exact scenario has played out three times in the past two months where I work