Sitting in a packed theater in L.A. last Saturday night, eagerly awaiting the credits to roll on Martin Scorsese's latest film, The Departed, I was startled to see two little girls -- five and seven at best -- filing into the front row with their family. The more compassionate parent in me assumed the best -- these people had obviously wandered into the wrong theater. In a few minutes they would grab their popcorn and head for the door in search of the family-friendly Open Season playing next door. The cynic in me, however, thought otherwise and unfortunately was right -- these parents had consciously chosen to bring their kids to what would inevitably be a festival of violence, sex, and obscenities, without as much as a second thought.
Throughout most of the film I was riveted and my attention didn't stray from the screen. But as shots rang out, throats were slashed, and the body count rose exponentially in scenes (albeit beautifully choreographed scenes) of death and destruction, my thoughts returned to the young minds who were absorbing this visual buffet of violent imagery.
I couldn't see the girls in the dark, but I wondered if little hands covered little eyes -- instinctively protecting themselves from a shot to the head that left brains spattered on a windshield or the scene in which Nicholson is brandishing a ferocious-looking dildo against the backdrop of a porno film.
For the record, I am no Pollyanna. I didn't protest to have disclaimers put on CDs with explicit language. I don't shield my children from everything. And also for the record, I'm not one to get involved in other peoples' business. But something about this situation stirred me to action. I felt like I was watching abuse and neglect in action. And as much as I knew I should bite my tongue and walk away -- I didn't.
I made a beeline for the exit, strategically placing myself in the path of the little girls. I went up to a young woman holding their hands and with my internal censors gone, I said with contempt, "You should be ashamed of yourself. How could you take your kids to see this movie?" My husband added his two cents, and then the young woman, who turned out to be the unsuspecting older sister, looked at me askance and said, "I'm not her mother. And who are you?"
My husband and I walked defiantly past their brood while news of our personal attack on their parenting skills spread throughout the family. We thought we were in the clear, but as we navigated through the crowded mall, a man wielding a burning cigarette approached. "Did you say something to my wife?" he asked my husband threateningly. But before he could answer, fueled by Scorsese-induced bravado, I got right in Cigarette Man's face and said, "I had something to say to your wife. How could you take your young kids to this movie? What were you thinking?"
Cigarette Man hurled insults at us, and the three of us bobbed and weaved toward the escalator. Maybe it was the movie, or more likely the fact that this guy looked like he'd been in a few barroom brawls in his life, but I began to worry that this could get ugly. I had a moment where I was sure Cigarette Man was going to take a swing at us (I doubt this guy would have a problem hitting a woman) -- or at worst pull out a weapon. So I quickly moved toward a security guard saying in a voice louder than I have ever used in public, "YOU BETTER NOT GET SO CLOSE TO ME, SIR. BACK OFF." The security officer held Mr. Cigarette back as he screamed in frustration, "YOU FUCKHEADS!" and my husband and I headed down into the parking lot.
Shaken, we drove home and wondered if we'd crossed the line. Had our self-righteous indignation been appropriate or had we acted like fanatical parents trying to impose our beliefs on another family? For me, watching these young kids exposed to almost three hours of violence -- which I instinctively knew, and now studies have proven, could have a profound and lasting negative effect on their psyches -- was nothing short of blatant child abuse and neglect. But was it my place to do something about it? Was vigilante justice called for?
I don't know if there is a right or wrong answer to this one. Thinking back, I'm glad I said something, but I wish I'd chosen a more tactful, constructive way to say it. Frankly, I knew I wouldn't have a very receptive audience, so I just wanted to spit out my thoughts and be on my way. I also don't know if what I said was heard or simply fell upon deaf ears. But maybe, just maybe, I hit a nerve. And next time, when this family is deciding on a Saturday night outing, maybe, just maybe, they'll think twice about their choices.
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