A Little Disturbance Is Good For The Soul

In the world we live in today, there’s a general sense that, even if the legalisation of cannabis hasn’t quite crossed the Atlantic, our lives are pretty shocking compared to, say, the Victorian era. Children are no longer to be seen and not heard (though I travel on a school bus and I wish they were), and nobody bats an eyelid at a woman in short shorts, unless said woman is especially tattooed or especially hot.

It’s a rule of the same culture that most kids born into a ‘good’ home are, to some degree, protected from the darker sides of film and literature. This was not so much the case with me. My father, as an English teacher, took great pains to encourage me to read critically acclaimed books, regardless of their apparent suitability; I particularly recall reading, aged seven, Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines. There are some images in there that imprinted themselves into my brain even when I reread that book years later. It’s not overly violent, but it’s graphic, it’s nasty– and I believe it did me good.

A couple of times a book messed with my head so badly that I had trouble sleeping. A particular chapter in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, The Cave, gave me nightmares, and on rereads I always skipped that chapter. To this day I’ve only read it once. Then, at the tender age of ten, I discovered Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses books. For some reason they were in the library of my primary school. My good friend cheesybraincΒ turned me onto them- I was hooked- and I have vivid memories of the two of us sat in a freezing playground, leaning at horrible angles to read our one copy of the book at two different places.

Those books changed my life. I’m not saying they were great books- though I certainly thought so at the time- but they shocked me, and I needed that. Five years on, I still recall some scenes perfectly- there’s one where the narrator beats his girlfriend to death, and it was the most brutal thing I’d ever read. Me and cheesybraincΒ were gleefully horrified to find a sex scene that included the word ‘bum’. In the fourth book, there’s a scene with four naked men sitting round a table bagging cocaine.

As the years passed I realised just how lax my local library is about lending restricted books to tweens. I read A Clockwork Orange aged thirteen- at that point my mother finally caught on to what I was up to and confiscated my copy, but I’d finished the book two days before, agape with horror most of the way through.

What’s my point here? Just what it says on the tin- a little disturbance is good for kids. Books are not there to make us feel good- well, they sometimes are, but they shouldn’t all the time. There seems to be a notion amongst parents that children are fragile little flowers, withering at the first breath of foul wind, but I consider myself, at sixteen, a strong and whole human being. I am fully aware of the extent of human cruelty. I have not become used to it- that’s another stupid myth, that if kids are exposed to this shit too young they’ll turn into psychos.

Here’s the deal: we are not what we eat. Nor are we what we read. Kids can handle more than their parents think. Coming from a Christian background, I’ve heard of a couple of parents who ban their tweenage daughters from reading Jaqueline Wilson; this is disgusting. Frankly I think JW is a horrible writer, with the exception of The Illustrated Mum, but I used to love her books- and I know of kids who’ve been helped get over their parents’ divorces and suchlike by them. It’s idiocy to ban books because they portray parents in an irreverent manner. It’s idiocy to ban them because they encourage kids to hang their knickers on top of fir-trees. It’s idiocy to ban them at all- I don’t care whether they were written by Jodi Picoult or Adolf Hitler. People, and particularly kids, must have the freedom to make up their own minds. Otherwise they can never become strong adults.

I’m not saying that kids should be free to go out and read Fifty Shades Of Grey at the age of five. There are books that you naturally discourage children from, though I don’t personally view erotic fiction as harmful. (Aged fourteen I accidentally bought Anne Rice’s pseudonymous Sleeping Beauty Trilogy. I’d just finished Interview and wanted to read more of her. Imagine my surprise. On discovering my mistake, I did the obvious thing: I brought the giant white omnibus into my five-person music class and my friend George stood on a table and read out choice extracts while we all dissolved into laughter at sporadic intervals. I got two books in before deciding that erotica as a genre is predictable and boring- the experience left me more puzzled than scarred.) And clearly nobody’s going to want children watching gory horror films.

A word on this. Due to the mixed blessing of an overactive imagination, I rarely watch horror films. The Supernatural episode Bloody Mary messed me up so bad that I couldn’t look in mirrors for weeks; I still freak out in the middle of the night sometimes. But worse than this was a film that I was forced to watch in school aged thirteen- The Woman In Black. It’s rated 12, but I’ve seen 18s that didn’t scare me like that did. I really had nightmares after seeing that. On going to the bathroom at night I would get so creeped out- we have this light-switch that swings menacingly to and fro- I’m serious- and the shower curtain is translucent- so, obviously, I was always glimpsing dark shapes moving behind it. In fact, three years on, this still affects me.

Would I rather that I hadn’t watched the film? No. I firmly believe that when we experience something, second-hand or otherwise, that leaves that kind of impression upon us, we discover something about ourselves on some level. The Woman In Black has had an effect on my writing, I’m sure. I know what scares me now. It’s hard to explain- but I feel a little less naΓ―ve for having watched it.

What I’m saying is that children should have the freedom to decide for themselves what media they want to consume. People seem to think there’s some kind of toughening-up process that happens during adolesence. Yes, there is, and you know what it’s called? Independence. Freedom. The responsibility to choose for yourself.

There’s an awful lot of moaning among adults about the illiteracy of kids these days, and it seems to me that they have no-one to blame for themselves.

Give the kids a chance. Take it from one of them: we’re stronger than you know.

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99 thoughts on “A Little Disturbance Is Good For The Soul

  1. Well you are certainly proof that early reading of advanced material is good for you! I agree that children are stronger than we think. I think parents that let them read above their level are good as long as they monitor the responses to make sure they haven’t been scarred for life LOL

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  2. I’m of the mind that chooses to let my kids watch, read and listen to most genres, yes exceptions are made of certain varieties. We do not watch or read hard or soft porn that is shown late, late at Night on Skinamax/ Cinemax. I’m giggling like mad that you read the Sleeping Beauty Trilogy so young. I’ve read it when I was 24, had a child and Still I got the skeevies about some of the things I read in those books, even after having watched on HBO the show Real Sex.
    It’s a whole other ballgame to Read explicit erotica…. I know you had several Really’s, Ewww’s & Not a freaking chance in Hell moments, maybe even more than several…Haha.
    For the most part I let my kids choose what they like to read, write, watch and listen too. My Mom let me do the same. Though I love horror, SyFy and old monster movies since I was little, I still have a few that creeped me out to give me the willies.
    The books and movies that gave me nightmares or the creeps were.
    Books:
    IT… Stephen King
    Whispers. ..Dean Koontz
    Swan Song. ..Robert McCammon
    Movies…
    Jaws…I wouldn’t swim in lakes for years, and still have a phobia of ocean. Cause, well sharks are real that’s why.
    Salems Lot… my parents watched this on TV when I was 7. I begged, pleaded and made a nuisance of myself cause I thought I could handle it. For 3 days my parents said no, mom went out and Dad let me watch. It happened to be the night little Danny Glick was scratching at his friends second floor window sing songing let me in. OMG.. nightmares for weeks. My mom had to sleep with me for 2 weeks, and though I was never afraid of the dark. I had to have a nightlight for several months after. And I couldn’t have any curtains open after dark. .. my windows were blocked with beach towels also.
    From Beyond…this one gave me disturbing dreams and gave me the chills. Why not sure…but it did creep me out.
    The Original Nightmare on Elm Street Freddy walking down the street with his long, long arms scraping the walls 10 feet apart, and killing people in their dreams well it was creepy as fruck.

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    • “Books:
      IT… Stephen King
      Whispers. ..Dean Koontz
      Swan Song. ..Robert McCammon”

      Wasn’t Swan Song great?? And of course IT-great book as well. Whispers-scary!

      I actually own Salem’s Lot on DVD. Love it! That Danny Glick scene scares me as an adult!

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    • Jenks- every. single. freaking moment I was there like, what even is this book? What am I reading?? Why am I reading this?? Haha I did NOT have the most mature reaction to say the least… though my music class found it very entertaining. I remember certain especially weird quotes word for word. I am BRANDED with that knowledge lol.
      And IT has been on my reading list for about four years. I still don’t dare pick it up because I KNOW it would give me nightmares.
      Laughing at your Salem’s Lot story. The only King I’ve read was Carrie, which I wasn’t massively impressed by, but I know it’s nowhere near as good as a lot of his other stuff.

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        • The Stand.. Captain Trips, Mother Abagail, Randall Flagg (Dark Tower!) Stu and Fanny, Nick and Tom (Tom who reminds me of Wolf from The Talisman) I loved this book, caused me no creepy crawlies. Another Epic King Book, Great choice!

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            • Meh… I liked it, but I forever prefer reading the books, than watching. There’s magic in Reading the book that is completely lost in viewing. Sometimes I prefer my imagination than what is shown through another’s eyes. Most times…there’s a few movies that has either perfectly matched my imagination or took it one step beyond.
              1 movie is the first HP movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone was a beautiful adaption and was perfect. It gave me a Real View into that world, and it was how I imagined it would be.

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                • Yes, again Meh… though I loved….LURVED Tim Curry as Pennywise. His voice is now what I think when reading the book…lol! The kids were great, the adults not so much. John Boy Walton is not what I ever thought of as Billy. .. and they made the terror much less and screwed the pooch with how absolutely terrifying IT really was. The final battle was just Blaa… I was disappointed that they didn’t show the Turtle and other tidbits (forgot that you haven’t gotten the courage up to read IT yet G…lol). Though I’ll miss Tim Curry’s Pennywise…I’m hoping the new movie is much more like the book and when leaving the theater; your looking at all the storm drains sideways hoping to not hear ” We all float down here…. you can float too.” *shudder*

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                  • Right?! I remember when the novelettes came out. They were way too short. I used to stalk the book store for the next one. The movie was really great. At first I wasn’t sure about Tom Hanks but he was perfect. And Joe Coffee, he was fantastic. I cried quite a few times in that movie -and reading the book too.

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                    • Right? The waiting killled me, I’d be all excited reading the new novelette, and done in less than a hour, then dying cause the next issue wasn’t for 30 days. 😞Hahaha. ..stalking the bookstore the kids nowadays don’t realize the real struggle. πŸ˜‚
                      I remember waiting impatiently for mine, ALWAYS I’m line 50 people deep. Every stinking time! Thank the good Lord I prepaid for all mine, cause they never had enough.

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              • I think the first HP movie is kind of awful in several ways, but I’m totally with you about the magic of it. It captured the Hogwartian feel. I actually like all the movies, but it’s particularly true of that one, I think.

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                • I thought all HP movies past 4 were meh, they changed to much, or deleted certain things and it ticked me off. The only thing I really liked about the first movie is they kept to the book. I don’t expect the movie to match the book perfectly, but they shouldn’t change it completely by deleting pertinent details. Dobby got a raw deal and was totally cut out from several key things that he did for Harry. But that’s a whole other whine. I just thought that they kept true to what was written, though some changes were made they didn’t veer to far off the beaten path.

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                  • I like the movie for 5- Order of the Phoenix is my favourite book and Imelda Staunton NAILED Umbridge- and I just love Alan Rickman deadpanning ‘Yes. Obviously.’ when she’s trying to interrogate him.
                    But I so agree about Dobby- and freakin’ WINKY.

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      • IT. ..excellent book. There’s some spots that might give you the creepy crawlies, maybe a few willies; but when you do pick it up this epic Classic King Novel you’ll move fast. I really enjoyed it, even while some chapters gave me pause, I couldn’t put it down. Though I’m sorta immune to being terrorized anymore. I haven’t watched or read anything in fiction that creeped me out in years. The real world is enough for that. πŸ˜‘

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