children's fiction, Children's Health, community, family, Mental Health, Parenting

A Random Musing on The Categorizing of Children’s Entertainment

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The other night, my family tried watching the film version of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. For some reason, I hadn’t been able to find much about the books on Goodreads or Amazon, so I really wasn’t sure what the premise or plot was. I was aware from what little I had seen about it in the blogisphere that apparently it’s one of those series whether you either love it or hate it. I had seen the books as they were released and made their way to my local library; I knew that the iconic sepia photographs from “ye olden times” had something to do with the storyline. But the novels themselves never seemed very interesting to me, so I haven’t read them to date. Neither has White Fang, but he wanted to give the movie a go after seeing a trailer.

And so, on Sunday night, here we were, in front of the DVD player, Muffin in bed, ready to learn what all the hype was about. My husband (who watches graphic war movies all the time and would not describe himself as a squeamish viewer) totally abandoned us about 45 minutes in. Shortly after that, White Fang announced he’d really rather check his notifications. I was feeling significantly creeped out, but for some reason wanted to push through to the end.

I did, but I have to say I didn’t care. And there was a distinct sense of missing a big piece of the puzzle — maybe from not having read the book, but more likely just because this is often how entertainment goes these days.

For example — why were the children “peculiar”? There wasn’t any sort of theory offered on why the mutations occurred — genetic heritage, pollution, black sorcery, extraterrestrial involvement — anything. Also, Miss Peregrine never stated how any of these children came to her, whether they were brought by their families, the police, other “peculiars”. Although these aren’t my favorite movies, I just kept making comparisons to the X-Men franchise in my head — because at least the premise was well-explained, and as someone who never reads comics, I wasn’t lost at all the first time I saw one of those films.

The other thing that seriously bothered me was the fact this film is rated PG-13, but everybody thinks PG-13 is the new PG — there are a startling number of kids in elementary school regularly viewing PG-13 movies these days. (I never let White Fang venture into that territory until he was in middle school.) And Miss Peregrine’s deserves the higher rating — in fact, I think it should be in a category of “recommended only for 13-year-olds who think gruesome and grotesque and near-demonic puppetry-abiltiies are really fun.”

Honestly, I shouldn’t have to be a mom who holds certain spiritual beliefs and values to consider this sort of film inappropriate for my kids. I shouldn’t feel like declaring this type of material as non-juvenile fiction will make other adults laugh at me.

Image result for neil gaiman coraline

As I watched, I thought about how Henry Selick’s adaptation of Coraline (the Neil Gaiman novel) is one of my favorite movies, and how it is much darker and creepier than I usually choose to go.  Honestly, I’ve never been able to read more than 60% of the book, because of the creepiness factor. But it’s a straightforward sort of “the monster under the bed is real” — Coraline is not gory, it is not overly bloody, and it sends a clear message about what’s good and what’s evil. I would let White Fang (who’s now 14) watch Coraline with only the need for a minor warning.

I greatly appreciated that some of the new superhero movies are either rated R (because it was the choice of the directors/writers to simply go that dark), or are aimed more at ages 16 and up, rather than the middle-school crowd it used to be. If audiences are prepared for what awaits them, there will be many fewer dissatisfied customers.

And let’s face it, moviemaking is a business.

There’s also something called “human decency.” In a civilized society (cough, cough), not all that long ago, either (cough, cough), people looked out for kids. The idea of a 10-year-old viewing a film that has a scene of white-eyed monsters attacking and mutilating other children was considered horrific and deplorable. In fact, many actors would never even have thought of taking a role in such a production. We all understood that something like that was not okay.

And I have to say, since some of the actors were actually children, I’m kind of concerned about their families allowing them to take part in Miss Peregrine’s.

Image result for coraline
From the movie version of “Coraline”

So, let it never be said that, although I try to be open-minded and diplomatic, I won’t take a firm stand on something where I see the need.

Never let it be said that I won’t try to warn other parents where I see the need.

And never let it be said that I don’t have the best interests of children at heart. Because even though I’d be the last person to tell you how I think you should raise your kids, I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable for me to say I believe there should be certain standards.

And please let me know I’m not just shouting into the void here. Please let me know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

It’ll help to restore my faith in humanity.

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18 thoughts on “A Random Musing on The Categorizing of Children’s Entertainment”

  1. You’re not the only one. I’ve never seen this particular film, but I’ve read enough of the book to wonder why it’s classified as children’s entertainment (not enough to be sure whether or not I like it personally). Lots of swearing and one crude reference so far. It really feels more like an adult-oriented book that just happens to involve kids. Possibly this was the author’s original intent, but I can’t be sure.

    There seems to be a significant portion of the population that’s all for exposing kids to really disturbing stuff to “toughen them up.” I don’t agree with this viewpoint at all. First of all, if a child isn’t ready for scary stuff, it can scar them psychologically and even create lifelong phobias. Secondly, not everyone is even into scary stuff to begin with. Why force a child to watch something that may never be within the sphere of their interests? And as for the old “It’s just a movie/book/TV show!” argument that adults like to use on kids…yeah. Fine. I’m an adult who’s fully aware of the distinction between fantasy and reality, and yet I know I’d be very freaked out if I watched certain movies or read certain books. I like things that are suspenseful or scary in a fun way. I don’t like outright nastiness, and I don’t think anything like that should be in media directed at children.

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    1. Thank you! I remember when I was the age my oldest is now (he’s in 8th grade), there were very clear labels/warning on everything from films to music to cable channels to novels. A middle schooler either would never have read a book like Miss Peregrine’s, because their parents would’ve known it was not appropriate for that age; or the kid would’ve snuck it home and read it under the covers with a flashlight, knowing there was something taboo about it. And you’re right, when certain genres of entertainment aren’t for everybody (and personally I hate horror), and we don’t HAVE to be involved in it, why encourage people to “push their boundaries” or “get out of your comfort zone”? Boundaries are healthy – like you said, when children are too young, and cognitively not ready, there will be damage that could last years, and that’s just not worth it.

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      1. You’re welcome! Yeah, I hate horror as well. Scary is fine, but there has to be some redeeming quality in the story, IMO. Stories about evil and/or demonic forces winning the day just feel wrong to me. And that’s usually what happens in anything labeled “horror.” Plus, the typical emphasis on gore is insane.

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      2. Yeah, I draw the line at evil winning over good. That scares me, because if that’s the view we think it’s acceptable to put into society, then where does it stop? Evil having a temporary win is one thing (unfortunately, it’s historically accurate), but I wrote a whole post once on how happy endings are so important, even necessary, and I stand by that.

        I won’t even watch most R-rated movies anymore, particularly if it’s for violence, since I don’t do gore. A little bit here and there (like one scene in Grimm that’s really bloody, but for all of 3 minutes in the whole episode) I can deal with. But the new gangster films and similar are *not* for me. And I don’t think I should have to apologize for that.

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      3. My thoughts exactly–happy endings are very important. Accurately presenting real-life struggles like grief, depression, addiction, etc. is one thing. But if the main point of the story is some nihilistic message of “Nothing matters, so the heck with it,” I’m done. I just don’t see the world that way, and I really can’t see eye to eye with an author who does.

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      4. That was what ruined The Hunger Games for me – the way Katniss just gave in and was ready to let the Capitol and District 13 tear each other apart, when she’d been fighting oppression and injustice for so long, and felt *it was okay* for her to do that, really, really stunk, and in my view, made any point the whole trilogy might have made invalid.

        (I tend to go on a tangent about that at the drop of a hat.)

        And, yes, I totally agree – it’s one thing to present struggles or tragedies – but the best stories are ones where people overcame their obstacles.

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      5. I was really pleased with the conclusion of the Legend trilogy (Champion), but Mockingjay and Allegiant (Divergent) totally bit, in my view. And I haven’t read it, my son has, but I’ve heard The Maze Runner finale was really disappointing, too. It’s like the authors are intent on delivering a shocking ending, not an ending that fits all the rest of their plot/character arcs.

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  2. I TOTALLY AGREE. I haven’t seen or read the ones you mentioned (I have the Coraline book though) but I absolutely agree that there is a whole lot of dark/creepy/disturbing/inappropriate stuff in books and films that is just becoming “acceptable” for younger children or teens to watch/read, and it creeps the heck out of me. I still feel like a teen at heart, even though I’m technically in my early twenties and therefore, allegedly, an “adult”. Sometimes I don’t mind reading/watching something disturbing, very occasionally, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let my younger siblings (for example) consume those things, and I don’t often care for such things myself. I definitely find myself wishing there WERE more standards like there used to be. Not sure where I’m going with this ramble; just want you to know that this was an excellent post and I entirely agree. You’re not alone! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

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    1. Thank you! For me, it depends on the point of the disturbing content – for example, about a year ago, I watched “Sarah’s Key,” which is set mostly during WW II – so there were naturally references to the Holocaust and death that couldn’t be avoided. But it’s all about how it’s portrayed. I don’t like watching graphic war films, but something like The Monuments Men or The Book Thief, where the actual horror of war isn’t focused on, I can deal with the more tragic elements to appreciate the story itself. That being said, I had huge reservations about letting my oldest watch The Book Thief (he was only 11 or 12 at the time, and didn’t even know about the Holocaust yet). And, yes, just because one is an adult, doesn’t mean all adults want our entertainment to be full of sex and graphic violence. After all, it’s supposed to build character to have limits based on a moral or ethical view – not make us “less grown-up.”

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  3. I think YA is a strange classification because it’s technically for teens but adults are very often the ones buying and reading it. Probably that allows some authors to push boundaries. There are also certainly YA books that are more mature than others. I think that in this case PG-13 probably doesn’t mean it’s suitable for a 13 year-old, though. But movie classifications are so strange these days. Even Disney films like Frozen are PG and kindergartners watch it. Years ago Disney would have made that film to be rated G, no?

    I think audiences are just tolerating more mature content in media and it’s not helping that the lines between genres and age ranges are blurring. The other day someone told me he was concerned about his young nephews seeing mature content in a superhero TV show and he wondered why they put that in a show for children. He assumed that superheroes=children’s entertainment. In many ways that used to be true. It’s not anymore. And that’s why I can go to something like The Dark Knight Rises or an Iron Man film and be surrounded by elementary school children in the movie theatre even though I’m not convinced the sexuality and violence is appropriate for that age level.

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    1. This is so very true — nowadays you can’t accept that anything is for kids, you have to view the content yourself and make sure it fits your standards of what’s appropriate for a certain age group. And apparently a lot of parents either aren’t doing this or don’t care — and I don’t know which bothers me more. As a parent, I don’t have an issue with violent/sexual reference films being made (it goes into freedom of speech and lack of censorship), but I just want it labeled properly, with plenty of “spoiler” warning available for those that want it. I think the ratings board has a hard road ahead of them, now that many movies/TV shows (and even books) are, like you said, pushing the once-understood limits. Thanks for joining the discussion!

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      1. Right. We don’t need to censor things, but children have different tolerances for different things, which parents will know about. But it helps for materials to be labelled to help parents decide!

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  4. Well I’ve not seen this film or read Coraline, so I may be way off base, but I hope I can offer some insight. The reason why I liked the book- and what seems to be lacking in the film if it was unclear why they were Peculiar- is that a lot of it is a metaphor for the holocaust, and therefore the Peculiars symbolise oppressed people, or people that are just different. It’s a terrible shame that the movie missed out on this message, cos I feel that’s what makes the books so special. The books are dark and weirdly graphic, but I feel like this serves a purpose. I will say I have seen the trailer and didn’t like the look of it cos it seemed to miss a lot of the atmosphere of the book. I can see why, if you were to translate the book successfully, it would probably end up being what I would rate an 18 (I think in the US that’s called rated R?) because while the violence in the book is done in such a way that it’s not too bad, if you translated that to screen it would be very graphic- like Pan’s Labyrinth graphic (in fact Pan’s Labyrinth is pretty much how I picture a good film version).
    Okay I’ve rambled a lot here, so forgive me if I go on a bit more, but I think you’re really onto something. I think I’ve come to a point in my life when I’m a little sick of all the *explosion* based movies that keep on being churned out. And I do agree with you that a lot of them just don’t seem appropriate for children. I get the impression that the standards of what’s “acceptable” for children to watch gets lower and lower every year- whether with violence or sexual content. Personally, I find it to be less of a problem in books, for loads of reasons I’ve probably discussed before (but if I haven’t it has a lot to do with children being able to self-censor what they think is ok or not in books, plus having higher tolerance for graphic stories than we think- it’s good to look at Bettelheim on this) but when it comes to visual mediums I think what is and is not acceptable has to be held to a higher standard.

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    1. Yeah, for me, I just decided Miss Peregrine’s didn’t seem like anything I’d be interested in, and simply opted not to read the books. And my only — but it’s major — complaint is that the movie wasn’t properly marketed. If it had been rated R/18, even if the ratings board felt it was just on the *cusp* of being that, I would’ve felt, “Okay, I’ll make White Fang put this one off a little while.” I wouldn’t have been so disturbed during the viewing of the film. And White Fang is not nearly as sensitive as I am, and he was really creeped out. So, it’s all about the correct labeling. Like you said, there’s a lot to be said for throwing something at kids that really isn’t appropriate, vs. just making a movie true to the story’s origins and letting people decide for themselves.

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