Who watches the Watchmen indeed

Apr 22, 2009 at 5:00 am

What’s childless, blind in one eye, smokes constantly, thinks truck-testicles are hysterical and is now going to tell you how to raise your kids? Yeah, it’s me. Apparently some of you parents need guidance, even from the likes of me.

My lady and I recently saw the film adaptation of Alan Moore’s landmark graphic novel, “The Watchmen.” While we’re both pretty average in our tolerance for Hollywood excess, and even though I’ve read and enjoyed “Watchmen” several times, the intensely graphic brutality of the movie made us uncomfortable in parts. We discussed leaving but ultimately decided to raise our desensitization shields to Defcon 4, in favor of what is a pretty good movie based on incredible source material.

One audience member absorbed fully 50 percent of our attention — although he was never asked if he was uncomfortable, if he would like to leave, or even if he understood what was being crammed into his visual cortex. He was about 8 years old and sitting with his dad two seats down from us. I was actually irate, and bored a hole in the side of the father’s head with my eyeballs during the incredibly violent three-hour killfest. But I failed to muster the courage to say anything to him. Shame on us both.

For those of you who’ve not seen the movie and wonder what would transform me into a concerned Victorian marm, let me briefly recount some of the sequences that earned this comic book movie it’s R rating:

• Repeated hatchet blows to the skull of a pedophile/child killer

• Multiple graphic (and ridiculous) sex scenes

• Repeated full-frontal nudity of a trans-dimensional blue superhuman male (thankfully his apparatus was blocked from view by some burning buildings in the scenes when he grew to be 300 feet tall)

• Rape

• Removal of convict’s hands with a circular saw

• Graphic obliteration of a large American city

• And, uh … gunplay and language?

It was too much, and I felt a little bruised afterward. But in an adult life of what I hope has been thoughtful participation in pop culture I’ve learned how to safely navigate around complete desensitization. It’s a nuanced and counterintuitive “talent” that is about as healthy as being pretty good at juggling knives, and one that — regardless of his rude education — Little Timmy cannot have learned yet.

I walked away from the movie knowing that, in spite of its disgusting, over-the-top indulgence in gore, it constitutes a damn-near genius appraisal of our concepts of good and evil as changeable, imprecise and matters of perspective at best. I’m only able to understand the story because — as an adult — I’ve had time to trace the arc of the Hero myth through master storytellers, from Homer to Melville, James Ellroy to Alan Moore, et al.

Our myths, in whichever form they assume, show us what we aspire to be while priming us for our inevitable and important failures to be that. But a kid needs to learn these ideas in some kind of sensible order. Besides, it’s just plain stupid and ridiculous to let a child see that kind of violence.

While it won’t heal the potential damage to that kid’s psyche, it’s been interesting for me to weigh the certainty of my reaction to the situation against the moral ambiguity so perfectly rendered in Moore’s story. It’s relieving to actually know something.

I know, intellectually and emotionally, that Little Timmy should not have seen the movie. I am certain that it was neglectful for his dad to bring him. It was a bad decision and it was wrong of the father not scoop up his boy and leave the damn building when it became clear how the film was going to play out. I feel so secure in my assessment that I formally throw down the gauntlet and challenge his dad, or any parent that has similarly taken their kids to see adult movies, to describe how willfully exposing your 8-year-old to this kind of material is beneficial to him or her, helpful to your families and by extension our community. I actually dare you to scrabble together a cogent argument in defense.

Kids are smart and, statistically speaking, it’s unlikely that this one in particular will grow up to be a monster as a result of seeing “The Watchmen” when he was 8. I just don’t understand how his development is benefited by it, and I hope that his dad will reconsider the education he’s providing his son.