Protecting America’s kids – whose job is it?

By on November 16, 2005

When I was in high school, my friends and I loved “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” It became a weekend tradition to hold up our lighters while singing, “There’s a light burning in the fireplace.” With youthful abandon, we’d lob toilet paper rolls across the length of the theater and dance in the aisles to “Let’s Do the Time Warp.”

My mother had no idea that the main character of this cult favorite was a transvestite whose principle goal in life was to get laid as often as possible. Or that in the movie’s final scene, the transvestite, clad in fishnet stockings and wearing more makeup than Insane Clown Posse, is portrayed as a Christ-like figure.

If she’d known, she probably would have locked me in the house on Saturday nights.

But we loved it. At age 42, I still think the movie is funny, and as a graduate student at Quinnipiac’s School of Communications, I’m a big fan of the First Amendment. But since becoming a parent nine years ago, my perspective on the freedom of speech has changed. Let me explain.

In a recent opinion piece, Rob Ettman lamented the fact that two parents’ groups are pressuring Paramount Pictures to take down billboards advertising the latest 50 Cent movie. Mr. Ettman claims that such pressure groups are “poisoning” the country.

Somehow, I just can’t see how this phenomenon is a greater threat to society than ads that encourage kids to shoot people.

Mr. Ettman points out that the neighborhoods in question, located in South Central Los Angeles and Brooklyn, are already infested with drugs and gangs. And so they are. But children live in those neighborhoods too. It’s one thing to see gang members dealing drugs on your way to the bus stop-that’s bad enough, but at least nobody is surprised when criminals act like criminals.

It’s quite another thing entirely, however, when responsible, law-abiding adults say nothing in response to the overwhelming commercial messages to get rich or kill trying.

Defenders of the ad will point out that the movie portrays rapper 50 Cent giving up a life of crime to pursue a music career. Very nice. So why can’t the advertising reflect that? To a child, our complete silence on such matters sounds a lot like we just don’t care.

If you are a poor single mother living in one of those neighborhoods and doing your best to keep your kids away from drugs and gangs, this is much more than an abstract debate about free speech and capitalism.

Here’s the reality: Those billboards and the corporation behind them are a lot glitzier and a lot better financed than those cute little “Don’t do Drugs” posters that kids are drawing in their health classes. Fear not, fans of capitalism, 50 Cent is going to make a killing on that movie, whether they take down his billboards or not.

We shouldn’t have to Barney-ize the whole world, but do little kids in poor neighborhoods really need to see 50 Cent pointing a gun at them on the way to school? Is profit really more important than sending kids a clear message about drugs and violence?

Ettman is also distressed that “The Aristocrats”, a movie rated NC-17, was removed from theaters because of pressure from family groups.

What he forgets to tell you is that a boycott, or the threat of one, is a legitimate tool to promote change in a democracy. People who are outraged over the removal of “The Aristocrats” from AMC theaters are free to organize their own boycott. The question is, are they passionate enough about this issue to make a short-term sacrifice?

If you think this inconvenience is too high a price to pay to preserve your freedoms, you might want to talk to the folks who boycotted city busses during the civil rights movement.

Ettman does have one good point: It is the parents’ responsibility to supervise their own children. He also asks some reasonable questions: Why can’t parents simply refuse to let their kids go to movies they don’t approve of? Isn’t that enough?

It used to be enough, and frankly, I wish it still were. But as Ettman correctly points out, it is now ridiculously easy for kids of any age to access entertainment that can hurt them.

As a parent, I do monitor what my three children watch and listen to. Right now, this is a relatively simple task. I live in a nice, quiet middle class neighborhood, all my kids are under the age of ten, and I have had the luxury and privilege of staying home with them for the past nine years.

But what about all those parents who aren’t as fortunate? The truth is that they need help.

Your help.

And they are not the only ones. As my children become teenagers, I’ll need your help too. Is it too much to ask of responsible adults that entertainment and advertising with adult themes be kept in adult venues?

It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child. I can understand why parents like myself look foolishly overprotective to college students in their twenties.

But can you understand why we have to be? Right now, the “village” just doesn’t give a damn.


About Lori Amann-Checuti