Violence and Death in Kids’ Movies

Arguably one of the most heartbreaking scenes in cinematic history

Arguably one of the most heartbreaking scenes in cinematic history

An interesting recent article in The Atlantic explores the prevalence of violence in G and PG-rated movies. It details the results of a study which compared the most successful animated children’s movies from 1937 to 2013 with the two top grossing films for adults from those years. The result? “Two-thirds of children’s movies depicted the death of an important character while only half of films for adults did, [and] the main cartoon characters in children’s films were two-and-a-half times more likely to die, and three times as likely to be murdered, when compared with their counterparts in films for adults.”

More specifically, they discovered that “in children’s movies, parents, nemeses and children were most likely to be killed off first, while in adult-geared films the movie’s protagonist was most likely to die first on-screen.”

cinderella

Cinderella loses her father and mother as well, but offscreen

So why is there so much death in entertainment for kids? Parents.com offers one explanation: “It’s natural for children, at various ages, to worry about being less loved than a sibling, starting school, and perhaps worst of all, being lost or abandoned. “Nothing is scarier than the thought of getting separated from your parents or having your parents die,” says Lawrence Sipe, PhD, a professor of children’s literature at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education in Philadelphia. Rather than instilling these fears in children, fairy tales actually help kids face the fears they already have — and vanquish them.”

What do you think? Were you disturbed or fascinated by death in stories when you were a child? And is there a difference between secondary characters being killed as opposed to the protagonists, who are often children themselves?

Thanks to Assistant Director Josh for the Atlantic article! 

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LE THÉÂTRE DU GRAND-GUIGNOL

The theatre was located in an alley off the Rue Chaptal in Montmartre

The theatre was located in an alley off the Rue Chaptal in Montmartre

Le Théâtre du Grand Guignol (literally, “theatre of the great puppet”) has come up a few times in conversations about the aesthetic for SHOCKHEADED PETER, and I don’t think it’s hard to see why. Grand Guignol (pronounced Grahn Geen-yol) has become a general term for entertainment dealing with macabre subject matter and featuring over-the-top, graphic violence. It stems from a theatre in Paris, founded in 1897, famous for its horrifying productions featuring gruesome scenes of murder, torture, and death.

“Audiences flocked to see the shows, at times screaming out if the drama went too far. However, some have claimed that these shows allowed Parisians to feel something, anything, in a way their ordinary lives did not. The Grand-Guignol was popular up until just after WWII when the real horror of the war brought a decline to the public’s taste for brutal, bloody fictions.”

What do you think about this interpretation? Are humans drawn to horrific, but fictional, stories and images because they allow us to experience emotions more strongly than we do in everyday life?

Find more gruesome pictures here.

Special thanks to Army of Broken Toys member Meff for these links!

First Thoughts & Impulses: Director’s Notes

Steve read this document to the cast, creative team, and guests at the first cast meeting and read-through on November 25, 2014.

Some First Thoughts & Impulses: Notes from SHOCKHEADED PETER 1st Rehearsal

— Steven Bogart, Director

We’ve abandoned our children, we’ve abandoned ourselves, we’ve abandoned our inner child; suffering emotional trauma and fear of abandonment. Shaming and critical self talk. The angry/defiant child. The vulnerable child.

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Members of The Army of Broken Toys

The inner child has gone into hiding deep inside. In other words, it has been repressed or disowned by the subconscious mind in order to protect us from the pain and fear of the abandonment it carries.

The main problem with repressed and disowned parts of self is that they don’t stay repressed…they get triggered just like any other part of the self. When they do is when we have “reactions” that are grounded in the fear of abandonment.

An excerpt from The Uses of Enchantment (1977) by Bruno Bettelheim:

“A child needs to understand what is going on within the conscious self so that he/she can also cope with that which goes on in the unconscious. Understanding, however, is achieved NOT through rational comprehension of the nature and content of the unconscious, but by becoming familiar with it through spinning out DAYDREAMS—ruminating, rearranging and fantasizing about suitable story elements in response to unconscious pressures.

“The child fits unconscious content into conscious fantasies, which enable her to deal with that content. The unconscious is a powerful determinant of behavior. When the unconscious is repressed and its content denied entrance into awareness, then eventually the person’s conscious mind will be partially overwhelmed by derivatives of these unconscious elements or else he/she is forced to keep such rigid, compulsive control over them that her personality may become severely crippled.

“But when unconscious material is to some degree permitted to come to awareness and worked through in imagination, it’s potential for causing harm—to ourselves or others—is much reduced; some of its forces can then be made to serve positive purposes.

“However, the prevalent parental belief is that children must be diverted from what troubles them most: their formless, nameless anxieties, and their chaotic, angry, and even violent fantasies.

“Many parents believe ONLY conscious reality or pleasant and wish-fulfilling images should be presented to children—that they should be exposed only to the sunny side of things. There is a widespread refusal to let children know that the source of much that goes wrong in life is due to our very natures—the propensity of all humans for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly, out of anger and anxiety.

“Instead, we want our children to believe that, inherently, all humans are good. But children know THEY are not always good; and often, even when they are, they would prefer not to be. This contradicts what they are told by their parents, and therefore makes the child a monster in her own eyes. The dominant culture wishes to pretend, particularly where children are concerned, that the dark side of man does not exist, and professes a belief in an optimistic meliorism.”

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The cast, during the read-through.

Shockheaded Peter is a hallucinatory expression of our fear of monsters, born from the abandoned child within.

Two Tracks:

  1. The main story holds the justification for all the other story/songs. Without this main story then, the show would be a series of vignettes.

The story is of the abandoned child, literally and metaphorically repressed, thrown into the basement of our adult psyche, motivated by shame, and the pathological cycle of abuse.

A manifestation of the abandoned child, crying out a warning to our adult selves. Repression, repressed impulses, feeling thoughts, desires, etc., cannot remain hidden.

  1. The stories (songs) are about the behavior that the adult world/dominant culture must control.
  • Fear of monsters.
  • Fear of ourselves
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Fear of the future and of death
  • Fear of dreams, of unconscious states
  • Fear of loss of control
  • Fear of hallucinatory states of mind

The physical expression of the play through the design elements, the band, and various juxtapositions of acting styles contributes to the unconscious dream state in which the abandoned child-within lives.

The physical space of the play is the place of nightmares and the ID. The place where we have locked away our inner child. It is the inner abandoned child’s prison playground.

Another element is the plays absurdity and satirical effect, which is achieved by combining playful humorous rhymes of childlike lyrics with the gruesome punishment and outcome of each story.

All these stories illuminate behavior that stems from obsessive parental control, shame, and fear of abandonment. In this case, the fear of abandonment is two-fold.

The child’s fear that they are monsters in their parents eyes and will be thrown away, tossed out, discarded, punished and in Shockheaded Peter—killed, or left to die.

Motivated by shame, adults fear disapproval, rejection, and ostracism by the dominant culture which includes religious and spiritual expectations; the child represents all that is good with the world, all that is godly and one of the entrances into the afterlife. If the child is good, the gates to heaven are open to us.

There is a third major tension running through Shockheaded Peter; In the original Hoffman stories, the children were punished but not killed. In this case, the stories were used as cautionary tales to enlighten parents and children to proper behavior.

Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott wrote Shockheaded Peter partly as a critique of the Hoffman stories. Our perverse delight in the outrageous treatment of children reflects a deep concern for their welfare by drawing attention to the crazed manner in which adults want to save the young from themselves by destroying curiosity and adventurous spirits.

The appropriateness of Shockheaded Peter is, ironically, what Shockheaded Peter is about, then: a warning, if not a wild expression to the dominant culture about over-protective practices in education, motivated by a culture of fear that silences and seeks to control wild unchecked imagination.

As we work to stage Shockheaded Peter, we struggle with our need to protect children and ourselves from the theatrical violence of the stories. But the piece itself is a monster of our own creation; an expression of our unconscious festering needs, desires, and fantasies that scream for freedom.

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Band, cast, and director.