Sunday, March 15, 2009

Children (and) of (watch) men revisited

I recently considered taking my 10-year-old son to see Watchmen. It was my idea, John Bob hadn't asked. It sounded like the type of movie I might like – intricate plot, deconstruction of a popular genre, dark and violent, visually interesting. Of course John Bob would want to see any superhero movie. I warned him that it might be boring or too violent for a ten-year-old, but he was more than willing to risk it.

I, however, had second thoughts. My tendency is to let the kids do whatever they want, even if I know they won't like it. Often best to learn for oneself, I think. But in practice I'm not so confident that's the best attitude. Once I took my daughter Jane Bob to a haunted golf course at Halloween. There were ample warnings against taking young children and the ticket taker begged me not to do it, but she wanted to and I respected her wishes. It was horrible. She screamed frantically the entire time. Not fun screaming. Absolute terror. It doesn't seem to have caused any long term damage,other than an irrational fear of golf, but nevertheless, I now sometimes think twice before exposing the kids to things everybody says they are too young to see.

So I asked a couple of comic book freaks at work what they thought about taking a 10-year-old to Watchmen. I'd have to be fucking out of my mind, they said. Watchmen is way too violent, has explicit sex and there's a blue guy walking around with his penis swinging for all to see.

A penis. Egads. Actually, I don't care a whit if the kids see nude people. We're not full frontal nudists at home or anything like that, but I don't see anything wrong with the human body. They certainly see enough of it in museums and I think that's great. I admit that I am, however, uncomfortable with watching R-rated sex scenes in popular movies with the kids. I don't think that it does them any harm, unless ten-year-olds are harmed by too much snickering. But still, it's uncomfortable for us all. I'd rather they get their jollies when the parents aren't around and I know they feel the same way. That's my general policy, but given the nature of popular movies, it sometimes happens. No big deal.

But what about the violence? The comic book guys from work said Watchmen is ultra-violent. That can't be good for children. But is it really bad for them? Especially if it scares them? I don't know.

So I asked my imaginary internet friend and superhero connoisseur Chrisv82, who had written an excellent review of Watchmen for advice. He basically said, “it's your kid, whatever.” Just what I needed to hear, so I decided it would be okay to take John Bob. He probably wouldn't like it, but it would be his choice to go and he'd have to live with any resulting nightmares. PTSD, or other forms of acute psychosis. It wouldn't be my fault.

But then a funny thing happened. I realized that I didn't want to see a violent movie. And further still, I didn't want to see another super hero movie.

I've apparently changed a lot. I used to really love ultra-violent films, at least well-written ones. A Clockwork Orange and Natural Born Killers are two of my all-time favorites. I'm not the world's biggest superhero fan, but I read and re-read Marvel comics as a kid and up until now had no problem with the various big budget superhero movies like the X-Men franchise or Ironman.

But I've had enough. No offense to my superhero-loving friends. I don't think anyone is crazy or lowbrow or anything negative for liking them. That story just no longer does anything for me. Yes, I know, the premise is interesting. We all dream about saving the world, or at least saving somebody we love, and the superhero stories give us that vicarious thrill. Watching the genre grow from the morally pure D.C. Comics beginnings through the tortured Marvel mutants, to the post-modern Watchmen psychopaths is interesting as well. I get the iconic-metaphorical aspects of the thing.

But now I find that I prefer the more old fashioned story in which ordinary people become heroes in extraordinary circumstances. Not only is it a better story, but it can be told in so many more creative ways.

I was reminded of that as a result of my tortured decision-making process about taking John Bob to see Watchmen. In order to gauge how he would react to violence , I decided to get Children of Men and watch it with him. That was a film I took Jane Bob to see (I thought it was better on second viewing) when everyone would have said she was too young. I don't think it did her any harm other than an irrational fear of England. Unfortunately though, John Bob had a play date and we watched it without him.

Children of Men is an incredible piece of film making. The cinematography is first rate. It is a nice telling of the realistic superhero formula in which the main character reacts to an extraordinary situation. And it has one of the greatest ultra-violence sequences in film history. From the entrance into the concentration camp to the ending in the boat, it documents an exquisite decent through the seven circles of hell. The ultra-violence is an integral part of an important story. It is beautiful.

Although I understand that Watchmen may attempt to pull off that trick, I find myself skeptical. Will I take John Bob to see it? On that, I'm still pondering.

Ridiculous measures for ridiculous times

You've all probably noticed the news that AIG, possibly the biggest money losing company of all time, which has received $170 billion in taxpayer money, is paying humongous bonuses to its executives who lost such prodigious amounts of cash. It's easy to see that this latest outrage will result in increased calls for government legislation to limit executive compensation.

I don't think that's a good idea. Government has no business dictating pay scales to private companies. No, what we need to do is return to the days of the ridiculously high tax bracket. Bonuses for already wealthy people should be taxed somewhere around 95 percent. And I propose a special tax rate of 110 percent for executive bonuses at taxpayer-funded loser companies. That would end this particular form of looting toot sweet. No doubt they'd find another way to swindle us, but we can at least make it a helluva a lot more difficult.

He was a nice, quiet kid

Mark Ames has an article up on Alternet about the recent killing spree my a nice youn man with an assault rifle in Alabama which left 11 dead. Ames points out that the authorities promised to reveal the killer's motive then stopped talking about it altogether, claiming there was no motive. Ames then speculates that the killings were attributable to Reaganomics and the economic devastation it unleashed on America's middle class. Perhaps, but Ames wrote a book on the subject so it's not surprising he would find it as the root motive for anyone gone postal.

And perhaps that's true, I have little doubt that it's a contributing factor, but I'm not sure that the sorry plight of the working man in bumfuck is something the authorities would bother to cover up. I'm guessing the self-described survivalist who was obviously a gun nut was a big fan of conservative hate radio and Fox News. If I had to bet on why the authorities don't want to talk about the motive, I'd bet it's something to do with names like Limbaugh, Hannity or O'Reilly, the Republican party, right wing religious nuts, right wing bloggers, or some combination of the four whipping up irrational hatred among poor violent idiots across the land.

Just my guess, but since they ain't saying, guesses are all we got.