I’m all about violence and children, but even my head got spun around reading this:
For me, reading this was the very definition of cognitive dissonance. Where to begin?
An American newspaper writing about a British/Canadian study on the psychological effects of Hollywood animation and centuries’ old German classic fairy tales on children…hmmm…what could be weird about that?
Let’s start chronologically. The classic German fairy tales were indeed horrible. And simultaneously wondrous, which is likely what made them stick psychologically. The horrible parts: Family breakdown, poverty, kidnapping, torture, death, murder, dismemberment, abuse, misogyny, anti-Semitism, evil magic, and loads of violence. Parables of warning for good Christians, for good children, for girl children, and for women. And wondrous: All of it delivered in scenes of candy houses, glittering royal parties, golden geese, straw spun into gold, magical elves, chests of shimmering jewels.
[Many of these classics were gruesome or sexist enough that I only introduced them to my sons when they were old enough to understand the historical context in which they were originally written.]
Little wonder that Walt Disney, racist and anti-Semite that he was, had a field day with hook-nosed witches and virginal blonde lovelies. And he fed up these newly animated tales to an American audience, eager then as now, for cheap sentiment and blood-soaked violence.
What was dissonant about the New York Post article was how any American could possibly be bothered with centuries’ old media violence when America is hyper-violent to its core, at every level of its society. The US produces film and TV show after film and TV show, season after season, entertaining audiences with kidnappings, abuse, sadistic violence, misogynistic/sadistic violence, and gun deaths. And, indeed, US entertainment mirrors actual and current US life, where children are killed most days of each year from gun-related deaths.
So why would an American newspaper care about the violence in a few fairy tales or animated films? Shouldn’t American newspapers be more worried about the effects of its popular, blood-soaked TV and film culture? And of the fact that there are more guns per person (seven per person, according to statistics) in America than in any other peaceful, developed nation in the world?
A year ago, two classrooms of six-year-olds were massacred in their school because Americans worship an antiquated constitutional amendment taken out of its context and placed in a world where guns can mow people down in seconds. Also related to its beginnings as a nation (this time regarding its past slave-labour economy) and currently convulsing U.S. society is the problem of repeated police killings of unarmed African-American children and men. But a newspaper in a liberal US city published a column on the effects of fairy tales on children? Really?
[America is victim to its surreal national gun fixation. Americans encourage each other to be armed, which seems to have created a particular kind of psychological civil war. Viewed from abroad, African-Americans of all ages and children of all ethnicities die first at the frontlines of this war, the most recent victim-emblem of which for me was a 12-year-old African-American child. I watched U.S. news and outdoor-park security camera footage of the young boy waving a lifelike replica of a semi-automatic handgun. What kind of nation offers replica semiautomatic guns to children as playtoys? That’s an American brand of insanity. But I was emotionally disembowelled witnessing him murdered in real time. And that he was African-American and was murdered in mere moments by two white police took the story full-circle around to an Emmett Till redux scene. The police restrained his distraught teen sister instead of administering first-aid to the dying child. And American media is concerned about fairy tale violence…?]
The UK and Canada (nations whose academics authored the study for the British Journal of Medicine) are social democracies whose collective values place an emphasis on peace, law, and order. Academics conducted that study on fairy tales in the context of cultures that disapprove of real-life, unnecessary gun possession; and whose populations acknowledge that civilized society requires good government, good policing, and ordered society. Whether we achieve it is another issue, but those are the basics of our nations’ values.
The classic fairy tales are overwhelmingly German in origin, and they arose from a particular ideological and religious context. They were snapped up by Hollywood because they were full of the blood, gore and romance that American audiences adored, and adore today. The issue isn’t the stories themselves, which are a part of the Western canon (for better of worse). But an American discussion of them is a little ridiculous.
Shouldn’t Americans be discussing the hyper-violence of American society and culture? Violence that permeates every part of itself and is exported everywhere, representing its population, values, and ideology? Especially at this moment in international history, when Islamic fundamentalism — a competing culture of real, Medieval, religious violence — threatens the best values and freedoms of the West? Shouldn’t Americans discuss that real threat to children everywhere?
So, yes, as a parent in a social democracy I’m concerned about the violent media consumed by my children. And especially so because I have a child prone to outbursts, and I have been forced to consider the effects of violence, of corporal discipline, and of violent media, in my children’s lives. But Americans aren’t the people to help me analyze, understand, or change any of that, since they — not the Grimm Brothers — are currently the biggest creators and exporters of violent imagery and narratives [as “entertainment”] for us all.