To Challenge Or To Censor

Today on my GenForward Living Legacy genealogy blog I am talking about one of my great loves, the movies. I started out just talking about TV as we were growing up (I’ll go back and finish this one another time), but as I moved onto my life in the late 70’s and early 80’s and started to talk about things we watched, the article ended up being a much broader overview of censorship and what children are exposed to, and how this has influenced how I treat my son today:


Once we got out of the early 70’s and into the early 80’s the world really began to open up with the mass advent of the Video Recorder. In the UK, the establishment just wasn’t ready for the video recorder. I recall clearly that the “pirating” of videos was commonplace, and there was basically no certification. My mum used to come home with lists of movies that some guy at work had pirated and we’d basically choose what we liked the sound of.

Given that there was literally no real guidance as to what was on these tapes, I can put myself forward of empirical proof of the fact that there’s no link between exposure to violence/disturbing images, and later mass murdering or other deviant behavior.

My father worked abroad and, although at the time we didn’t really need it financially, my mum chose to work full time as well. This meant that my brother and I often had fairly free reign to watch stuff we’d asked to be hired out, especially during school holidays.

I’m not sure 100% that we knew more than our poor mother in terms of what the content was of whatever we hired out, but we had a child’s instinct for finding stuff we weren’t  supposed to. As well as the inevitable movies like ET, The Black Hole, and Indiana Jones, there would be a mix of things like First Blood, The Thing, and Porky’s (which I believe are still currently “R” rated).

Mixed into the pot would then be a whole host of films that came to be known in the UK as “Video Nasties”, and were subsequently banned in numerous countries, like Cannibal Ferox, The Evil Dead, The Hills Have Eyes and Driller Killer (some of these are now certificated in various forms but I’m still fairly sure they aren’t PG13).

Despite this unfiltered feast of the disturbed, both me and my brother ( he is 2 ½ years my junior and didn’t get to see everything I did) both managed to grow up without feeling the need to torture small animals (in fact I’d say we’re both fairly big animal lovers), nor with the urge to eat human flesh, or go on a killing frenzy with assorted power tools.

Over the years, movies have actually become a bit of a passion of mine. I’m currently sitting on a personal movie collection that’s probably running in excess of 5,000 discs. People ask about my favourite when they see the collection but to me, movies are like music. It’s all about mood and frame of mind. Great movies are great movies ,but sometimes a less great movie can be perfect because it fits the mood.

In the same way as I try to introduce my son to the fact that there’s more music in the world that Taylor Swift, I also try to expand his world with movies. He’s 11, going on 12. As far as I’m concerned anything rated  PG13 is pretty much fair game (although how, great as it is, Life of Brian ever got a 15 cert with all the language as well as full frontal male and female nudity, I’m not quite sure). When it comes to “R” rated moves, then I take a case by case approach. I’d never let him watch an “R” rated movie that I hadn’t first seen myself regardless of what the “parents guides” on the internet say (these are actually pretty useful for double checking and catching that “bit you forgot about” in movies that changes whether you let them see it or not).

Much as I had uncensored access to just about anything when I was young, I don’t take the stance that’s the way it should be for my son too. It’s not because I necessarily think it will do him any long term damage to be exposed to some of this stuff, just that there’s no hurry and it’s best to hit him with things as he’s ready to handle them best.

For example I don’t have too much issue where “Action” type violence is involved. He’s seen the Matrix (“R”) and loved it (minus a tiny bit of dad editing on the more intimate stuff in 3). He’s seen things like saving Private Ryan (“R”) and was moved by it. He LOVES Tarantino’s style (even though he’s only seen odd scenes that I deem suitable like the first Scene out of Inglorious Basterds and the first two scenes of Django), especially the tense dialogue and story telling. He totally gets it.

A lot of the ratings these days are as much as anything due to use of profanity. Personally my view on it is he’s going to learn this language anyway at school (and please don’t kid yourself here, it makes no difference what the school is or if it’s private or public). No way of avoiding it. What I don’t want to do though is be responsible for teaching him anything he doesn’t already know on that front. To that end we sat down and had a long talk about swearing, how it was not a good way to express oneself or communicate with others, but that it existed.

He doesn’t like swearing, and certainly not using the words in front of us, but we eventually got out of him all of the words he had picked up from the kids at school. As you can probably imagine, it was a fairly full list of the F’s and S’s and B’s and basic variants, just missing the one or two more extreme and less used words. As a result, I won’t stop him watching something simply because it contains one of these words he already knows.

At the same time there’s plenty I would not show him yet. Most of it due to reasons of sex and sensuality, his introduction to which has now begun at school, and which I believe needs to be handled more gradually.

Net result he’s seen and loves things like Alien and Aliens (just as I did as a kid), but I haven’t let him watch number 3 yet (rape attempt type scene). He’s seen and loves Terminator 2, and 3 (again, just as I did as a child), but I haven’t let him watch the first one yet (nudity and making baby resistance leader scene).

I actually re-watched Schindler’s list the other day with a view to letting him see it and decided, not quite yet either, although it’s a film he has to watch at some point as far as I’m concerned. At the same time, following some questions he had asked about hardships that people were faced with in other countries, I let him watch Blood Diamond which is fairly real and hard hitting.

There’s a place for censorship, but there’s also a place for common sense. I don’t think kids should be babied, however at the same time I’m not suggesting traumatising them, merely that to get the best balance and give them some resilience, it makes sense to challenge them just a little in what they are exposed to. This does not just apply to movies, which I am using here simply to illustrate a point, but all things in life.

Knowledge is not scary, lack of knowledge is what breeds fear. The more familiar they are with something, the less of a fear it becomes, and the more likely they are to think rationally when confronted by it. The more aware they are of some of the less pleasant things that life can throw at them, the more likely they are to be able to avoid them when left to their own devices, which happens more and more as they gain their freedom, confidence and independence.

Sorry to say it but life isn’t all fluffy bunnies and rainbows and at some point kids needs to start to become aware of that. To me, as they are moving into their teenage years is a good time to start educating, before they educate themselves from the many less well vetted sources with which they are surrounded these days.

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