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Perhaps you can remember the frenetic reaction to Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction?” That 9/16th of a second glimpse of one of her breasts, its nipple covered by a pasty, created such a furor that Congress, the FCC and the Supreme Court got involved.

Complaints about the incident angrily emphasized that children were watching. Yet the Source Book for Teaching Science reports that the average US child watches 8,000 murders on TV by the time they finish elementary school; and that generates very little public protest.

One glimpse of a breast is more damaging to children than watching thousands upon thousands of simulated murders? What is one to make of this? How can we possibly think that murder as entertainment is tolerable for children while an exceedingly brief glimpse of an almost bare breast is not?

The counter argument is that kids know these TV murders aren’t real. (Maybe Jackson’s boobies aren’t real either, for that matter.) Nevertheless, what children learn about morality by living in a culture that accepts simulated murder, and an abundance of other violent and sadistic acts, as entertainment cannot be positive? And what do kids learn about sexuality when the mere glimpse of an almost bare breast creates a national furor? Nothing good either.

I regularly watch the neighborhood kids play at killing. I have even drawn pretend fire from a three year old as I walked to my car. And their parents have bought them camouflage clothing, fake hand grenades, realistic assault rifles, and other assorted instruments of make-believe killing.

That got me thinking, suppose these kids were playing at sex instead. Would their parents buy them fake sexual gimmicks and a couple of air mattresses, then smile benignly as their progeny pretend to screw, instead of “kill,” one another? What kind of culture accepts kids simulating the killing of other human beings, but would doubtless have a conniption over kids humping each other? A peculiar one, I dare say.

Preaching at kids does little to shape their values. It is just living in our culture that chiefly forms their sense of right and wrong. And what they are presently absorbing by watching death dealing “entertainment” is neither wise, nor worthy of their promise. We don’t need kids playing at sex, but we do need to rethink their playing at murder.