Rate some adults N -- for negligent

All the talk about movies harming kids is for naught if parents refuse to keep them out of the wrong theaters.

July 04, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,Sun Film Critic

To whom it may concern:

This is an open letter to the women who brought what appeared to be two 10- to 12-year-old children to an advance screening of "Summer of Sam" last week.

What were you thinking?

Maybe you were thinking that, since "Summer of Sam" is being released by Disney, it would be family fare like "Tarzan," the animated blockbuster that was showing across the hall at the Owings Mills cinema.

Maybe you missed the posters, the ads and the controversy. Maybe you thought "Summer of Sam" was about a Dr. Seuss character.

Or maybe you figured that Spike Lee, the director of "Summer of Sam," a man who hasn't directed a PG-13 rated movie since "Crooklyn," had decided to tell the story of serial killer David Berkowitz using no foul language, violence or graphic sexuality.

But once the movie started, how could you possibly think that "Summer of Sam" was anything but inappropriate viewing for the children you had escorted into the theater?

Haven't you been reading the papers? Haven't you been watching TV, listening to the radio, or gotten out of the house at all? The national cultural debate these days is all about violence, the coarsening of American culture and the confusing tangle of media, social disintegration and shaky values in which children find themselves today.

And here you were at ground zero, bringing two youngsters into one of the most graphically violent, sexually raunchy and profane movies to be seen on screen all year.

Had "Summer of Sam" anything resembling a message or theme of social value, it might make for a legitimate discussion about values -- you'd be standing on your tippy-toes, but I'd buy it. But Lee doesn't offer redemption of that sort -- as he did, say, in "Do the Right Thing" -- instead, he uses his explosive visual style to make a weirdly sexual movie about murder, punk rock and the New York Yankees.

You could have hustled those kids out of that theater any time you wanted, if you'd had the awareness or the moral spine. But you stayed through the very bitter end, no matter how appalled or frightened or confused the children were.

So I'll ask the question again: What were you thinking? And what do you think now? Do you think "Summer of Sam" is the kind of movie parents can bring their kids to, or look the other way if their children sneak in? Because I don't care how many hands are wrung at the White House, or how many self-serving announcements emanate from Hollywood about guns, or how many self-serving announcements emanate from the NRA about Hollywood; I don't care how many Commandments hang on the schoolhouse walls, or how many theater managers check kids' IDs at the theater door: You are still the problem.

There, I've said it.

I've been dying to get it off my chest for a long time, ever since 1997, when I sat through a preview of "Con Air" more outraged by the 5- to 10-year-olds sitting next to their parents than the profanity and fetishized violence on screen. That's when I began to notice the increasing number of adults coming to inappropriate movies with their kids.

And don't give me the "couldn't get a baby sitter" excuse. If you can't get a baby sitter, skip the movie. Or maybe you are the baby sitter, in which case your license should be revoked. Maybe you're a professional caretaker, or an aunt or a godmother, in which case the term "in loco parentis" would have to emphasize "loco."

Whoever you are, you're not the only ones. "Summer of Sam" was also being shown in the theater next door to ours, and even more grown-ups with children were there. In recent years colleagues have shared with me their horror at watching adult guardians bring kids to such grisly fare as "Gang Related," "Showgirls" and that recent exercise in perversity, "8 Millimeter."

Is this about being too exhausted to care? Is it about a culture so coarsened that no movie could possibly show kids what they don't already see on TV? Is it about preparing them for the grim realities before them? Or is it what I suspect: Laziness. Simple moral and intellectual sloth.

The culture is coarsening all right, and it's because of you. As long as you buy the products they're selling, not only for yourself but for your offspring, then the merchants of sleaze have an ever-growing market to exploit.

If you recognize yourself in this column, please write. Tell me why I'm wrong, and why you were doing the right thing by forcing your precious cargo to sit through "Summer of Sam." Tell me you only had their best interests at heart, and that those interests were served that night.

If enough of you write in, we'll print your responses in this space. Maybe it will help untangle the web of blame we've lashed ourselves into. Maybe you can explain to us all just what you were thinking. Or if you were thinking at all.

If you can't get a baby sitter, skip the movie. Or maybe you are the baby sitter, in which case your license should be revoked.

Pub Date: 07/04/99

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