Friday, October 31, 2008

Scary movie musings

Sonny had an early appointment at the polyclinic today for his hepatitis B inoculation. So it was midmorning before Pa brought him to the infant care centre - where the eerie shock awaited.

The place seemed strangely quiet. When Pa hefted Sonny onto his shoulders and strolled in, not a single toddler raised his head or sucked at a bottle. A member of staff materialised and said softly (too softly?): "Sleep time". Pa's imagination was churning as he was led into a room where a row of cots awaited. In each lay a baby, either bundled up in a blanket or sprawled on a mattress. All were asleep. At the end of the row lay an empty cot, where the member of staff was even now plumping up a mattress and readying a fitted sheet. There was a chill going up Pa's spine. Goose pimples were trying to launch an all-out assault. Pa deposited Sonny - eyes already shut - onto the mattress and scooted.

Why was Pa behaving in this peculiar fashion? Well, he had watched one too many cheap horror films on television, in which - absurd as it may be - rows of beds in a sterile surrounding, with everything in order, bespeaks an asylum where a mad killer is inevitably about to begin a murderous spree. Not that Pa believed that there was any sort of threat to Sonny's life. But there are times when one's imagination takes over, with excessive input from the world of filmdom and the idiot box. Mum, for instance, can't survive five minutes of a slasher flick before she starts jumping at shadows - not because she seriously thinks Chucky or Jason or your maniac of choice is coincidentally sharpening his weapon, but because the atmosphere conjured up by the film has taken psychic hold.

All of which is to say that we need to keep careful tabs on Sonny's TV intake from the get-go. Though we noticed months ago a certain propensity towards leggy models (click here for that post), he doesn't normally seem very interested in what's playing. Yet since we tend to spend an hour or so late at night before the boob tube (after Pa gets home from work), he'll presumably start to pay closer attention. And sooner rather than later, he might pick up enough cues from eerie music, the depiction of violence and shock-value editing to begin to be disturbed by screen images. It won't do for us to just continue to utterly ignore his presence.

Yet, even as we begin to play censor, there's a case to be made for making use of television for educational purposes. A programme on telly can be a great jumping point for discussion, it seems to us: A thoughtful exploration on some historical topic, say, is enhanced by wise use of visuals and other trimmings. One strike against the idiot box is how viewers can become utterly passive inhalers of whatever is broadcast, failing to engage their critical faculties or imagination. Yet with practice and parental help, active TV-watching is entirely achievable - though there's a time to just let the brain idle and catch something devoid of redemptive value. Which - to return by our roundabout discussive route to scary movies - is the only way to watch B-movies and their ilk: If you try to bring to bear your would-be movie critic's eye or import the rules of logic and common sense, you'll likely either start throwing things at the screen or at least become a nitpickety irritant to your viewing companion.

Such pleasures, of course, will remain completely foreign to Sonny for the immediate future. Once he is old enough for such things to register, his first exposure to even vaguely disturbing imagery - fictive or via a news channel - will call for careful explanation about how reality relates to screen depictions. Just letting him "work it out on his own" is an option too scary to be contemplated.