We don’t have cable or satellite, so any movies that we watch are borrowed from the library or rented via Netflix. This suits our family just fine. We watch a lot of Scooby-Doo and Harry Potter movies, and stream Mythbusters and documentaries on the computer.
When renting, I look for movies that I liked as a kid to watch with my children. Trouble is, I have developed some strange amnesia regarding content in those movies. Ghostbusters is a good example. It has a fair amount of sexual innuendo that I just did not remember being there. My kids love the movie and the bawdy jokes seem to have gone over their heads, so no problem.
I brought home Back to the Future, thinking: time travel, 1980s — 1950s culture clash, cool fake science and the butterfly effect all together with Michael J. Fox? Awesome.
Actually, not so awesome. I had completely forgotten about a scene in which Marty McFly’s mother is sexually assaulted in the high school parking lot.The bully-assailant tells his cronies to go away when he climbs into the car with the girl. His intent is clear (to teens and grown-ups), and he tells his friends “this isn’t a peep show.”
The outcome of the movie hinges on a loser-ish, timid character finding his nerve and beating up the bully in order to protect his gal. Because the focus is on the underdog character, and not the goon assaulting the high-school girl, the scene doesn’t play as especially menacing. But she is clearly struggling, pinned down on the seat while the bully wrestles her into submission.
There is so much wrong with this scene. It lacks the gravity that a scene of this nature should have. At the end, the girl tumbles out of the car, hair perfectly in place, dress not ripped and smiling at her savior. Is this why I forgot about it? Did it just seem inevitable that the bully character would also be a sexual predator; or that the female, who had just been coming on to Marty McFly, would of course get into trouble. I mean, some people just don’t know when to lay low and stay out of harm’s way. Or do I think those things because I have seen so many movies and tv shows depict scenes of sexual assault in such a lighthearted manner?
Additionally, at no point do any of the bully’s friends seem unsure about leaving their friend to rape a girl. Even the hero, who is there with the sole intent to impress and protect the victim, hesitates. The bully tells him to leave and turns back to his assaulting. The would-be hero starts to leave, only making the decision to fight when the victim pleads for help.
What kind of message is this movie sending? That girls who like making out are at risk. That it is okay to let your friend rape someone. That it really isn’t a big deal if you are assaulted, as long as your prince shows up in time. That you should probably just stay home, if you’re a girl.
My kids need to know about rape at some point. But they need to know that it is a serious crime. If seeing depictions of violence in movies desensitizes viewers and makes it seem “normal”, then seeing sexual assault depicted so casually must have a similar effect.
I can’t avoid the subject for much longer with my 11-year-old. Our studies of history and the terrible things that people have been doing to each other for centuries is already requiring occasional censorship on my part. We recently had to stop reading a children’s novel because of a scene of sexual assault on a 10-year-old girl. To protect herself, the protagonist stabbed her attacker with a shiv. After several instances in which an adult male character was “leering” at the child protagonist, I did a little reading ahead and found the scene. There is such a thing as too much realism in fiction. We took it back to the library.