I really enjoyed this article from Mary Elizabeth Williams about how the presence of the moral police who hide behind “the children” in politics makes the ordinary work of being a parent who takes responsibility for your own kids that much harder. Though I do some times wonder that even the well-meaning parental guidance stuff—people who don’t want to censor but also try to monitor their own kids’ input—is coming from really remembering what it was like to be a kid. I owned Thriller and She’s So Unusual as a small kid, and knew all the lyrics by heart, even though both albums would have, if they came out after the PMRC situation, probably gotten stickered. Frankly, I had no clue or no real interest in what it meant to say “Billie Jean was not my lover” or what the pages of “Blue Boy” magazine were. I probably just thought it was a lot of nonsense lyrics, since, you know, rock has a lot of those. I don’t imagine kids are any smarter now.
The one thing I wished Williams had emphasized, however, is that the gulf between the One Million Moms effort and individual parents deciding not to let their kids buy raunchy records (do kids even buy CDs anymore, though?) is far vaster than this article would have you believe. One Million Moms doesn’t give a shit about “the children”. “The children” are just a cover story for a larger agenda of forcing pop culture to be compliant with and propagandistic for a fundamentalist Christian worldview. Their most prominent crusade to date has been trying to get a fully clothed, family-friendly Ellen DeGeneres off the air, because the mere existence of lesbians offends them, and they want them all to go away. That doesn’t have squat to do with “the children”. Children don’t look at a nice lady in a blazer and jeans and think about all the hot-and-dirty lesbian action she gets at home. No, that’s their stupid parents whose sexual repression has completely thwarted their brains to the point where they can’t think about anything but sex, and how delicious and sinful and tempting and dirty it is. The funny thing about not believing that sex is dirty is that sex ends up being less of an obsession. I mean, you’re still an animal, but you get to the point where you’re only thinking about it like half the time, instead of it ruling your every thought. I can look at DeGeneres without really giving much mind to what she’s like in bed. It’s totally possible, if you get over your ridiculous homophobia.
This is really critical, because pushing DeGeneres off the air has absolutely no relationship to the desire for explicit sex on cable TV to air a bit later in the evening, when your kids are in bed. The latter is just a totally different debate. People who are worried about kids stumbling across explicit sex or violence have a real argument. People who just want to use their children as a cover to impose their bigotry on the country are another breed altogether.
I will say that my personal experience, as a voracious reader and a curious kid in general when I was young, that I do find the emphasis on sex over violence when being worried about kids weird and often upsetting. I saw a lot of R-rated movies at ages that many parents would probably think were too young, and I definitely was reading adult books as young as 10 years old, books that had explicit descriptions of sex. Despite all this, I still only had a hazy idea of what sex was, beyond just knowing it’s something adults liked to do that didn’t appeal to me, like listening to adult contemporary music or wearing muted earth tones. (The 80s: That’s all I’m saying.) Sex’s main appeal was as a dramatic force; we had Barbie sleeping with Ken, but mainly so that other Barbie would get all jealous and angry. I wouldn’t underestimate most kids’ internal clocks on this subject is all I’m saying.
Violence, on the other hand, is something that I—and I suspect pretty much all kids—understood immediately and on a visceral level. Violent movies had an immediate and negative effect on me: nightmares. I’d be a lot more worried about kids seeing violence than seeing sex on TV, just for their own mental safety and wellbeing. But nearly all censorship or censorship lite attempts I see, well-meaning or not, focus way more on sex than violence. For the not-well-meaning people, I understand why. They’re just assholes. I’m a little unclear why well-meaning parents fall into that trap as well.