Friday, April 5, 2013

There really are two Americas

I'm sure you've seen this story by now:
A family's criticism of inflight entertainment allegedly prompted a United flight to be diverted over "security concerns."

In a story published in The Atlantic, one family recounts traveling from Denver to Baltimore with two young sons, ages 4 and 8. During the flight, the PG-13-rated detective film "Alex Cross" was shown on drop-down monitors across the plane.

The family worried about their young children seeing inappropriate content in the film.
"Alarmed by the opening scenes, we asked two flight attendants if they could turn off the monitor; both claimed it was not possible," the family said, according to The Atlantic.

After some back and forth between the family and the flight crew, the family reportedly relented to the movie being shown and did their best to engage their children to keep them from watching the movie.

"We asked if the captain has the authority to address this issue, but received no response," the family said. "Throughout these interactions the atmosphere was collegial, no voices were raised and no threats, implicit or explicit, of any kind were made. The flight continued without incident, while my wife and I engaged our children to divert their attention from the horrific scenes on the movie screens."

But shortly after that, the captain announced the flight was being diverted to a Chicago airport due to "security concerns." 

When the family disembarked, they were questioned by law enforcement officials then booked on a new flight.
Just in case you were wondering, here's some of what happens in the movie in question:
Parents need to know that Alex Cross is a quasi-prequel to the other James Patterson-based dramas featuring a much-older Cross (played by Morgan Freeman in Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls). The younger version of Cross (played by Tyler Perry) is even more willing to chase criminals and do what's necessary to stop them -- and that doesn't necessarily mean getting them behind bars. The violence isn't as extreme as, say, a Quentin Tarantino movie, but it's probably equivalent to one of the newer Bond films. In other words, it's not just shootouts, but also scenes of torture, a decapitated head, and a pregnant woman killed for pleasure by a villain who takes joy in inflicting pain. Even iffier? In the end, the movie's message seems to be that even officers of the law sometimes need to take a morally questionable path toward justice. Also expect some language ("s--t," etc.), a scene with a lingerie-clad woman, and lots of GM vehicles.
It was apparently the scenes showing sadistic torture and violence that had the parents worried; even if their children couldn't hear the dialog, it's pretty hard to ignore an in-flight movie on one of those big, drop-down screens (as opposed to the newer individual monitors on some flights).  The parents were right to complain about this; when you're on a plane, you're pretty much a hostage to what's being shown on an in-flight movie screen.

But what really gets me about this story is that the comments I've seen on various articles dealing with it take two very divergent tacks: one group is just as outraged as the parents over this sort of thing being shown on a flight (especially since young children were present), while the other thinks the parents are spoiled modern parents who think the world revolves around their kids.  A common theme from the second group: if you don't want your kids seeing torture scenes and partial nudity on a plane flight, tell them not to look.  It's your job, not society's, to protect your little knee-biters and rug rats from the world of the adults.

And that's pretty much exactly backwards to what people of many cultures and societies used to believe.  Many cultures had this idea--crazy, I know!--that children didn't need to see, hear, witness, or spend time thinking about graphic violence and explicit sex acts.  In those cultures, children weren't exposed to magazines in the checkout lane featuring half-nude women and salacious article titles about sex tips, shocking as it may seem to us; they also didn't have to see blood-spatter on screens or grow up thinking that watching someone who is shooting people or cutting their heads off or otherwise murdering or torturing them in violent ways is an acceptable form of lighthearted entertainment.  While we may think it was sadly backward of them, those cultures thought that an immersion in sex and violence during a child's formative years wasn't particularly good for the child or for society.  Now, of course, we know that only guns kill people, and that slaking an unquenchable thirst for virtual blood never, ever translates into actual violent impulses; and as for sex, why, any 8-year-old worth his salt is five years or less from diving into the cesspool of teenage promiscuity, so what harm does it do him to watch on-screen simulations a few years earlier?

At least, roughly half of the people commenting on this news story seem to be of the mindset I've just described above.  The rest of us still think that unrelenting graphic violence and sex scenes aren't terribly appropriate for the younger set, and that showing such films on an airplane, of all places, where parents can't exactly get up and leave with their young children is just crazy.

So why the divide?

Because about half of America still thinks that parents who are raising their children ought not to have their job actively impeded by society, but should, instead, be helped by society whenever possible to raise upright, intelligent, morally healthy young men and women.  And the other half of America thinks that morality is optional, virtue is outdated, goodness is whatever you think it is, and that having children is just a lifestyle choice which ought not to inconvenience anybody but those choosing to make it.

There really are two Americas.  And the America that thinks children are an unnecessary and annoying excrescence who should put up with whatever sewer-slime the adults around them are rolling in and consuming is the America that is winning the culture war.


vera said...

Blame modernity. (I do.)

L. said...

Hmmm. I am one of those people who do happen to believe that "children are an unnecessary and annoying excrescence who should put up with whatever sewer-slime the adults around them are rolling in and consuming," and the way I am raising my own backs up your argument.

But I no longer live in the U.S. anymore, because it was getting a little too intolerant of my lifestyle and values over there, you know? So I disagree that my side is "winning."

John Henry Lamming said...

Maybe it's less about a culture war between two Americas, and more about the differences between parents and non-parents (who are becoming the majority.)

Barbara C. said...

"I believe the children are the future" long as they don't inconvenience anybody.

I think you hit the nail on the head.

catholic traveller said...

And the sad part is when the two Americas converge in one household. It does not lend itself to peace in the family.

Kirt Higdon said...

This specific problem seems destined to be solved by having the monitors embedded in the seat back in front of you. These also give the advantage of a choice of movies to watch - about 50 or so on the ones I have seen. On the larger, drop-down monitors, R rated movies are already banned. I'm not sure the airline should feel obliged not to show a given movie simply because of the objection of one parent or a pair of parents.

Kate said...

Erin, have you ever read Neil Postman's The Dissapearance of Childhood? Addresses a lot of your very good points here. Since I read it, it's hard not to see the proof of his thesis everywhere.

Red Cardigan said...

No, Kate, I haven't read it--thanks for the recommendation! I'll check it out.

Kirt, I have to disagree with you on this one. Four-year-olds shouldn't have to watch violent torture scenes just because they're on an airplane. Unfortunately, the seat monitors don't solve every problem, either--some people watch R-rated movies complete with nudity and graphic sex scenes while someone else's child is seated next to them. I don't think it's asking too much to ask adults to avoid watching grotesquely violent and/or sexually titillating fare for the time an average plane flight takes.

Maybe, since smoking is no longer allowed on planes, we could have "Smut/No Smut" sections so parents traveling with children and people who aren't moral midgets wouldn't have to be surrounded by other people's smut consumption while flying?

L. said...

The problem with that, Erin, is that there is no consensus on "smut," except for the old "I-know-it-when-I-see-it" description. I know parents who don't let their kids watch even PG-13 movies.

And believe it or not, this same concern was raised by the most liberal of the liberal "lame-stream" media some years back:

Red Cardigan said...

Shorter L: We don't know what smut is. Therefore we have to make 4-year-olds watch partially nude sex scenes and torture on an airplane, because there's just no other choice.

Sigh. Why do I even bother?

L. said...

I don't know why you bother -- when my kids were 4, they watched some of the same R-rated movies at home that my husband and I watch. I don't think they were watching "smut." I think of "smut" as hardcore pornography, but as far as I know, they don't show that on planes.

But what if the passenger next to my small child was reading a porno magazine, and I asked him nicely to put it away, and he refused? Then it would be my job as a parent to move my child where he couldn't see it.

There are seats on planes from which the overhead monitors aren't visible -- I know, I just flew across the Pacific on one, and no matter how much I craned my head, I was too short to watch the movie. I think it's the parents' responsibility to shield their children, not the airline's.

Charlotte said...

You're right, Erin, L doesn't get it and never has.

L. said...

Was my last comment lost, or do you no longer permit commenters from addressing other commenters who confront them directly?

I have been banned from Charlotte's blog, so I can only address her here.

Red Cardigan said...

Not lost, L. It didn't meet my comment guidelines re: incivility between commenters. I didn't know about the bad blood between you and Charlotte, and she addressed her comment to me, anyway. But thanks for letting me know.

To be honest, L., sometimes you appear to be attempting to goad commenters into online fisticuffs, and so I have watched your comments a bit closely when you address other commenters. I disagree with you about most things, as you know, but I don't mind civil disagreement. Let's all keep it that way.

L. said...

I wouldn't call it "bad blood" -- in fact, I don't even recall any specific arguments with her, but she knows my views so that is presumably why I am not longer in her community.

I address commenters when they address me, and I thought my comment to her was a perfectly civil thing to say to someone speaking not TO me, but ABOUT me, in the third person.

I try to attack people's VIEWS, not the people themselves, which is why I presume I haven't been banned here.