Have you ever wondered why it’s ok to use child actors in R rated films that they aren’t allowed in to see?
I did, upon recently viewing “Bad Words,” about an adult man who enters a spelling bee contest through the loophole that the only stipulation regarding age is that the contestant not have finished 8th grade.
In the movie, the man befriends a ten year old boy, gets him to say various “liberating” curse words, intoxicates him with liquor, spends time alone with him in his hotel room, takes him on a high-speed night-time drive and pays an overweight streetwalker to reveal her breasts to him - all in the name of comedy.
The reviewers were not aghast at this aspect of the movie or the notion that a young actor was being used unwisely and exposed to all of the above.
Other children in the movie were ridiculed with fat jokes and gags about the onset of menstruation.
This comes at the same time that we selectively protest the use of child labor to make sneakers, install bully-ing awareness sessions in schools and forbid the display of nude photographs in the workplace so as not to offend adult women.
Remember when Clarence Thomas’ suitability for the job of supreme court justice was seriously questioned for allegedly having joked about pubic hair with an empowered female employee who was a graduate of Yale Law School?
On March 15th, the NYTimes reported the first case of woman to woman transmission of HIV.
This was not in the Science section - it was in the first section of the news where I read the following unexpectedly detailed sentence: “While barrier methods for non-penile sex, such as dental dams, do exist, they are impractical for use with insertive toys and not popular for oral sex.”
I suddenly recalled the Times’ book review earlier in the week of a new “how to clean everything” book which offered tips for washing sex toys in your dishwasher.
We’re talking about the newspaper of record in this country, not the Enquirer of other samples of yellow journalism.
On the same day, the Ides of March, the Times reported the conviction of two men of conspiracy to “carry out gruesome fantasies of kidnapping, raping, torturing and killing women and girls.”
One of the convicted men is a 61 year old librarian who had previously worked at Stuyvesant High School, arguably the leading public school in New York.
The defense lawyers contended that these plans were just harmless fantasies, equivalent to alternate version of horror movies. Of course these convictions will be appealed and we will be reminded that freedom of speech is paramount in our democracy.
Shakespeare warned us to beware the Ides of March and indeed this conviction came on the appropriate day.
There is a connection between bad words and the horrific deeds that are on display in our popular culture, on the internet, in our media, on our tv screens and even in the newspapers we encourage our young people to read. Smut permeates our daily lives as steadily and invisibly as pollen in our pores. And the guardians of our culture, our critics, reviewers and reporters have become immunized and de-sensitized to a normal response of outrage.
When it comes to unconscionable vulgarity, exploitation of minors and tolerance for sadism, we need to stop defining deviancy down and loudly object when boundaries of decorum are violated.
The children’s verse is obsolete by now: Sticks and stones may hurt my bones but names will never harm me. We are deluged with an uptick of both harmful words and frightening behavior and the two are intertwined.
Though there is little physical violence in “Bad Words,” the critical acceptance of this movie betokens an atrophied moral gauge that tolerates comedy even when its situation and exposure of a young actor to sleaze is not at all a laughing matter. By mainstreaming bizarre sexual practices into our common journalistic parlance and using legal defenses of “entertainment” for plans to mutilate, torture and kill helpless women and children, we up the ante for what we’re willing to accept as normal.
And, when washing insertive sex toys in a dishwasher becomes flippant banter that is G-rated by the Times editorial staff, we are already drowning in the slough of despond.
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