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When Your Favorite Childhood Films Are a Little More Homophobic Than You Remembered

Posted: 12/13/2012 9:05 am

Every time I hear about a Hollywood remake of one of my old favorite movies, I roll my eyes. Seriously, does the world really need a remake of The Karate Kid? The original movie is great. Sure, Daniel-san's pants are one of the reasons I shudder when people talk about '80s fashion being back, but it still holds up pretty well.

As a parent, one of the great joys is exposing my kids to all the stuff I liked when I was little. It's great to snuggle up on the couch with the kiddos and watch old episodes of Fraggle Rock or The Muppet Show on an ugly afternoon. And parents have a built-in excuse to buy things like the Blu-Ray of The Goonies or The NeverEnding Story.

But a few times that we've gone back to our old childhood favorites, we've had a harsh wake-up call. Take Scooby-Doo, for instance. Who didn't grow up watching the capers of Scooby and his Mystery Machine pals? We couldn't wait to introduce it to the kids. We set the DVR and a few days later gathered the kids for a viewing. They loved it, but as the episodes aired, my husband and I started exchanging poignant looks increasingly often. The show is horribly racist. After one particularly offensive episode, we had a talk with our kids about the Asian people we know in our lives, and how they talk and act nothing like the people we just saw on Scooby-Doo.

We deleted the episodes and the timer, which sucks, because I remember loving that show. I never saw it as racist, but I was a white kid growing up in small-town middle America. Diversity wasn't a huge part of my existence. Scooby-Doo was made between 1969 and 1974 and probably shouldn't be viewed through a modern morality lens, but until my kids are old enough to truly understand that, they won't be watching it at our house. Until then we are sticking with Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. It's a remake that started in 2010. To be honest, it is not nearly as entertaining as the original, but it lacks negative racial stereotyping, and the kids seem to like it.

We got another big shock when my best friend brought home a DVD of Adventures in Babysitting. I cannot tell you how many times I watched this movie on VHS as a kid, but, trust me, it was a lot. It's rated PG-13 (which could mean a lot of different things for an '80s movie), and even though I couldn't remember anything particularly scandalous in it, I looked at the "Parents Guide" on IMDB to see if there was anything I needed to censor in the kids' viewing. There was a scene or two I would be skipping, a few bad words, but it didn't look too bad.

We popped some corn and nestled in under some blankets for a viewing, but not even 10 minutes in, my best friend and I were diving for the remote.

The scene goes like this:

The older brother is pissed off at his younger sister. He says something nasty about her favorite superhero just to make her angry. "Thor's a homo," he says offhandedly.

The sister shouts back, "Is not!"

"Yeah, he is," the brother says, smiling as he sees the rise he is getting out of his sister.

"Is not!" she repeats, getting angier.

"Thor's a complete homo," he says, smirking at his now furious sibling.

"Take it back, what you said about Thor!" the sister shrieks and chases her brother out of the room.


OK, this entire scene is something we don't allow in our house. My husband and I have always been supporters of equality, and pejorative terms and gay hate speech have never been allowed. Now that the oldest of our three sons identifies as gay, this sort of talk really isn't permissible. But beyond the term "homo" itself is how the characters react to it. "Homo" is the worst name the brother can think to call his sister's idol, and she knows that this is the supreme insult.

I don't know if "homo" is a term my kids had heard before. When we talk about homosexual people, we usually use the word "gay." When we immediately turned off the movie, the boys were surprised and puzzled. Why did we turn it off? What was wrong? We told them that we thought the movie was a little too grown up for them. We took it out of the player and placed it on the grownups' shelf. Even if my boys don't understand what the word "homo" means now, it is something they will learn soon enough. I wasn't prepared to have that conversation at the moment (we will soon), so we popped Ponyo into the DVD player, the kids were happy, and my best friend and I went into the kitchen for some grownup talk.

We were both stunned and shocked. Through our multiple watchings of that movie, neither of us had remembered that part. Sure, it had been years, but how could we have forgotten? It was out there, as harsh as it could be, but it hadn't stuck with us. This movie came out in 1987, a time when passive homophobia was often passed off as humor. Yes, it was a different time. But how had we just dismissed it so easily? And the "Parents' Guide' hadn't said a word about it.

It led to us wondering just how many of the other movies we were nostalgic about carry the same homophobic message hiding under the guise of comedy? And how harmful was this message to the gay kids trying to grow up around us? I'm sure it didn't go unnoticed by them. Well, it's a chance we won't be taking again. From now on, we'll be watching these movies before we hold broader viewings that include the boys -- which, truth be told, we should have been doing in the first place.

So I have a new appreciation of those Hollywood people who want to remake everything: Keep doing what you are doing. And while you're at it, be sure the racism and homophobia get cleaned out along away, because that shit isn't funny -- and it never was.

(And think about tackling Adventures in Babysitting. It's a funny premise that could use a good scrub.)

 

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