Yesterday I spent the day in Southwest Chicago holding writing workshops with 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade students who had come to another school on a Saturday to help them get a jump on applying to selective high schools in the city. The room where I was teaching was identified as the library but the shelves were empty of books. Overall, the students were wonderful. We worked on a simple poetry exercise -- "I was" and "I am" -- to help them see themselves in the present and find strong words to describe themselves. Some of the "I was" sections were heartbreaking. "I Was-" hurt, alone, afraid, angry..." They were good about getting up and reading and their poems were wonderful, full of hope and self-esteem.
Later that day I went to see Skyfall and during the 20 minutes of previews of future movies, there was nothing but senseless violence, murder and cruelty. A remake of Red Dawn, which previews with a father being shot in front of his children as they get ready to battle an invasion by vaguely Asian looking bad guys. A preview of a movie featuring Sean Penn called Gangsters, which tries to look old-fashioned but has so much graphic violence in the trailer I had to turn away. Another film was about the capturing of Bin Laden and it felt as if we were supposed to be cheering about the raid that yes, killed him but also killed a bunch of innocent children. And since when are we supposed to see human life as a video game? That video game is being played by real people with real victims in Bengazi, Iraq, Chicago and Syria.
Sitting in front of us in the movies and to our sides were children. The message was a disgrace. Killing and violence and guns and mayhem hugely projected on the screen. Nothing about education, justice, history, achievement or empathy. No wonder there were no books in that library and young people in Chicago are being quoted over and over again saying they expect to die before they grow up. These movies don't present a single role model, filled as they are with victim women and hideously violent grown-up men. The women beg these men to stop killing, while the men explain they are doing it for love. In the preview for Red Dawn, we witnessed a robotic, blonde teenager firing a gun that presumably helped avenge her father.
Murder destroys lives and war destroys nations. Across Chicago the gangs have ended the bright futures of a little girl selling lemonade, high school students struggling to stay in school, families trying to make a better life for themselves and their children. No, 007 is not a role model, but I'm a 55-year-old woman whose early life was formed by such films as To Sir With Love and In the Heat of the Night, Philadelphia Story and Norma Rae, Silkwood and Parenthood and yes, James Bond (but back then the body count was quite low).
These children I am teaching to write need to feel inspired and supported, not hypnotized by high budget movies that reduce human values to who can stay alive longer. Hollywood should hire decent writers that offer a better vision for the future of our children -- not cartoons, or remakes of bad TV shows, but inspiring, entertaining and hopeful stories.