The "Queen Of Scream" is actually the "Queen of Squeam (ish)."
I woke up this morning to the cover of the Los Angeles Times and the moving image of the President of the United States saluting the returning war dead, their young bodies ripped and torn by the bombs in Afghanistan, the real blood and gore that war brings. And then I saw on the cover of the New York Times images of the dos and don'ts of children's Halloween costumes and it made me crazy.
I have often wondered about people's desires to be frightened and freaked out; to me, life is scary enough. But since the beginning of time human beings have been drawn to the macabre. After seeing The Exorcist for my 15th birthday I received the nickname "Dimmy" from the ghost of the priest, Damien's mother calling out to him "Dimmy, (short for Damien) why you do this to me Dimmy?" I was so freaked out that my 1972 Mercury Capri had the vanity plate "Dimmy." Subsequently I have learned that I scare easily and ironically, horror films were my first claim to fame. Go figure.
Being a mother I've had to make the hard choices of what scary images my young children digested. Obviously, many children stories and films prey on the fears of children; dead parents, closet monsters, etc. But with good parental radar I was able to steer clear of certain images and themes.
When I was an actress in the film My Girl, a lovely coming of age story for young girls, the theme of childhood death, in this case Macaulay Culkin, fresh off his meteoric rise in Home Alone, is the young girl's best friend and who dies unexpectedly by his allergic reaction to many bee stings. I was very concerned that the film, which had two smiling kids on the poster, wasn't preparing the parents, myself included, as I had a five-year-old daughter, for this truly shocking death of a childhood idol. I suggested the disclaimer "issues of life and death explored in this film" and lobbied Columbia Pictures to add it but to no avail. The film went on to be very successful and my concerns seemed not to be founded.
In modern media, there are ratings and guidelines and now today websites such as Common Sense Media, which give parents a good overview of what to expect.
As a parent of a thirteen-year-old gamer son who prefers Laurel and Hardy to violent film, I am still constantly debating with him the acceptability of game violence; are robots killing each other acceptable but animated humans killing each other not? If the humans are "T" and the robots "M," where do I stand? It is a struggle. I often get it wrong and my biggest issue as a parent is my waffling and inconsistency. But I am trying.
Halloween, the holiday, is a breeding ground for a seemingly unending gruesome gore fest. Has it always been this way? I don't think so. I remember Halloween as a time to dress up in a costume other than myself. That was what was fun. The fact that my film nemesis, and if you ever see the forgettable Halloween 8, my subsequent murderer, Michael Myers (for the uninformed, he is the one in the gray jumpsuit and white mask brandishing a butcher knife) was, this morning, on the front page of the New York Times being modeled by a six-year-old. A six-year-old. A six-year-old. Are you kidding me? WTF is going on? Are we really so inured to the realities of violence that we think it's cute that six-year-olds are trick or treating as mass murderers? That their best friend is going as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre-er, replete with realistic sounding chainsaw dripping blood.
Often when I am doing a book signing for one of my children's books a young fan will come up with their parents, get their book signed and then (breaking the rules of the book signing) try to slide their well worn DVD of Halloween for me to sign. I look at this young child and ask, "Have you seen this?" and they say, "Yes...and Halloween 2 and Friday the Thirteenth" etc., and I snap a look to their parents, like I'm sure that prick who shouted "liar" was snapped during Obama's address, and glare and say with my eyes, "Are you insane? I really should call Child Protective Services."
We have to stop and ask what are we doing or saying to our children that this level of violence is acceptable for our children. Look at the Los Angeles Times and see our President saluting our fallen soldiers. That is the real violence with real heartbreaking consequences. Real heartache. Real terror. Everyday in Iraq and Afghanistan, real life and death. As I write this I am rethinking our spider display outside our home. Is it too scary for the neighborhood children, many of them young, who walk by our house on their way to the local grade school, a school where I hope they will be taught right from wrong, truth and consequences and that I hope that they will then go home and teach their parents?