The following was originally published (The Boise Weekly) July 8, 1999
Invasion of the Fun Snatchers
I saw something slightly sad in my daughter’s eyes the other night. The family was watching a rented movie—sorry, but I can’t tell you the name—and it had Bruce Willis in it. Or maybe it was Arnold Schwarzenegger, I can’t remember. Could have been Nicholas Cage or Travolta. Or Mel Gibson. Heck, everyone looks pretty much alike when they’re shooting up bad guys.
Anyway, the movie had a bunch of bad guys who were taking over this big building. Maybe it was a city bus or a space shuttle. Wait a minute, now that I think about it, they weren’t taking over anything. They were spreading a deadly virus around so that everyone in the world would die.
No no. Now that I think about it again, that was another movie. Had that guy … what’s his name? … in it.
Whatever, these bad guys were doing something bad and it was up to old Bruce, or somebody, to stop them before all the people on this cruise ship, or something, got blown up. Or poisoned. Or wrecked. I can’t exactly remember.
So what’s old Bruce (might of been Kenoo … Kenew … Canoe … your guess is as good as mine … Reeves) supposed to do? Talk was out of the question. That’s how bad these bad guys were. Of course he had to shoot ‘em up. Good gravy, who’d rent a movie where ol‘ Bruce is sitting around a conference table negotiating a deal, huh?
Besides the shooting, there were a couple of knifings, one strangulation and a middle-management bad guy fell off what was either a verandah or a diving board onto what was either a hay rake or a sea urchin. Jeez, there was blood everywhere. Anytime something wasn’t exploding, someone was bleeding like a cheap sausage, and each and every time my wife and I sensed a violent moment drawing nigh, one of us would tell our daughter, “Cover your eyes, Honey.”
Poor kid. If it weren’t for the credits, she’d never know she’d seen a movie.
It was about the 30,000th time one of us said, “Cover your eyes, Honey,” when I saw that sadness thing in her eyes. Just before she covered them, I mean. If I’m any judge of eye expressions, at that moment, my daughter was thinking, “Gad, it’s gonna be one looooooong childhood.
* * *
Even before Columbine, our little girl was perfectly used to us sending her out of the VCR room anytime we thought movie characters were about to get naked, overly romantic or, worst of all, naked and overly romantic. By now, the kid has instincts so finely tuned, she heads for the kitchen without us telling her to every time she hears a zipper. She just sighs and says, “Tell me when I can come back in and don’t leave me standing out there until the end of the movie like last time.”
Nor have we ever let her watch any over-the-top video violence. You know what I mean—the kind of movie where, if it weren’t for the gore, there would be no plot at all. Because of that, I haven’t thrown a Texas Chainsaw Massacre party in years.
But kids like action in their movies as much as the next thrill seeker—probably more—and what’s an action movie without a few shoot ‘em up scenes? A madman or two lurking in a dark hallway? A greasy monster dripping alien saliva over an unsuspecting shoulder? Even kids can take only so much The Parent Trap or Flubber before they’re ready for some white-knuckle stuff. Some excitement. Some fear.
(Hey, don’t look at me like that. I was a kid once and so were you. So which movie were you dying to see when you were a kid? The Shaggy Dog or Psycho?)
Generally speaking, my daughter likes to watch the same movies I like to watch, and for the same reasons. I used to let her. Now, along with the rest of the country’s adult class, I’m nervous. I’m thinking, “Did those two Columbine boys watch just one too many Bruce Willis movies? Did they play just one too many shoot ’em up videos? Did they listen to just one too many Marlyn Manson tunes? What?”
* * *
We now have our girl on a violence free diet. Call it “Columbine nerves.” As soon as the gun clears the holster, as soon as the ditz leaves her friends and starts down that dark hallway, as soon as the greasy monster starts slathering its alien saliva, it’s, “Cover your eyes, Honey.”
She sighs and does it. Every time. She’s a good kid.
But more and more, I see an exasperation there. A quiet desperation. If I’m any judge of eye expressions, she’s thinking, “Can this be the same man who taught me the lyrics to ‘Great Big Gobs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts?’ The same man who told me how he used to stay up late and watch Creature Features until he was afraid to go to the bathroom by himself? The same man who had dirt clod fights with his brothers, went swimming in the irrigation canals when he was two years younger than I am now, rode on bicycle handlebars before those helmets were ever invented, shot ketchup bottles off rocks with a .22 before he was old enough to shave, loved dirty jokes, scary stories, weird facts, Mad Magazine and The Three Stooges?
“Nah … can’t be. Oh no, my father’s has been replaced by a pod chicken from another planet!”
July 8, 1999