Emily Bazelon laments what happened to her younger son when she inadvertently let him watch Star Wars with her slightly older son while he was laid up in injury:

Wrong. Our younger son, Simon, who was not quite 3, couldn’t sleep that night or for many nights over the months that followed. He was obsessed. He talked about the movie to any relative, friend, or baby sitter who would listen and plenty of shopkeepers who wouldn’t. He relived the trash-compactor scene. He worried over Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Jedi sternness and Darth Vader’s glittering malevolence. He sniffed out plot twists in the rest of the endless six-movie saga (who knows how) and tried desperately to work out why Darth Vader could be Anakin Skywalker and Luke’s father—and could also cut off Luke’s hand. Here’s a little girl sweetly summarizing the Star Wars plot. Simon wasn’t sweet. He was feverish. He was short-circuiting. Thanks to our two hours of stupid indulgence, Paul and I concluded, his neurons were melting.

Having no children, I will confess up front that I cannot fully appreciate her description of a child’s neurons melting. Nor can I understand the parental exasperation of watching such a thing unfold. I only barely have a clear idea of what a three year old looks like (under a certain age, they’re all just tots to me). So it’s possible that when I do have a three year old kid whose this overwhelmed by something, I will change my tune remarkably.

All of that being said, it seems to me that exploding with excitement over something is one of the real jewels of being a kid. Fretting over the details of fictional characters in a fictional universe and the sensory overload that comes with that is something that diminishes with age, experience, and perspective. It’s important to gain that perspective, of course, but there the world is such an exciting place before its arrival. I find her concern over that to be as problematic as the kid’s actual behavior.

She consulted a child psychologist who said that it’s a bad idea to let kids that young watch violent movies. My wife’s background in medicine and psychology broadly concurs. I can’t argue with the experts on this except to suggest that there is a difference between exposure and overload. Letting a kid see Star Wars before they’re really ready for it can’t be the worst of all sins. Letting them watch it and things like it all the time, though, I could see warping perspectives. Letting them watch it once and letting their mind envelope it and letting their imaginations run wild, though, is a different matter. Maybe I say this because I had an imagination that always ran more freely than that of my peers, but I thank God that my parents were never worried or concerned with that.

Nor were they concerned with my interest in pedestrian things, which I can’t help but feel is part of Bazelon’s reaction. Bazelon seems pretty luke-warm on the whole Star Wars concept. Viewing it as a nice little thing and failing to understand the hold that it has on children’s (mostly boys) imaginations across the country and across time. To be honest, I share her appraisal. I’ve never been a big Star Wars guy. I’ve never understood how it became as popular as it did. I enjoy it, sure, but I was never fully engulfed in it. I wonder if part of the reason that this is the case is that by the time I actually saw it, I was too old to fully appreciate. I saw the second one when I was young, but the first time I watched all three was in the re-release during the run-up to Episode 1. I still believe that a lot of the negative reaction to that movie is that a lot of people watched it for the first time with 30-year old eyes rather than five year old eyes.

So maybe part of my reluctance to embrace this article is because, by virtue of luck and my father’s terrible experiences the first time he watched it*, I didn’t get to watch it “before I was ready”. I wasn’t exposed to it when I had the free-ranging lack of perspective that let me fully engross myself in the movie. As such, I feel like I really sort of missed out on something. Maybe I wouldn’t have liked it anyway (I’ve never been a big sci-fi person), but maybe I really would have. Maybe my thirst for more would have lead me to read the accompanying novels (which would have helped my development far, far more than some temporary brain-melting would have hurt it). I’ll never know. Her kids, though, will. If, that is, she ever lets them watch it again and indulges their interest in silly things.

* – My father first watched the movie with a bunch of aerospace engineers. They heckled and complained throughout the entire thing about the inherent inaccuracies of the movie. “There’s no sound in space!” they’d argue.


Category: Theater

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11 Responses to Introducing Kids to The Dark Side

  1. Kevin says:

    I think her concern was not that her son got into Star Wars, but that it affected his sleeping patterns. As the parent of two young girls, ages 4 and 1, I can attest to the power of small kids to make your life a living hell when they don’t sleep well. Obviously, the kid’s fascination with Star Wars goes beyond something innocent if it’s keeping him awake at night.

  2. Webmaster says:

    Star Wars is much the same as many other thematic things that have entranced kids’ minds over time – Sherlock Holmes, the works of Homer, Cowboys & Indians western-style stories, Murder on the Orient Express, or similar fare for girls (think “Pride & Prejudice” or “Little House on the…”).

    It’s an open playfield. Once you set a kid’s mind free within stories like that, they are free to go wherever. They can extrapolate. They can make-believe. They can come up with stories that have nothing to do with the main characters… Bazelon had this reaction, not because anything is more wrong with her kid (or inherently more wrong with letting him see Star Wars as opposed to Star Trek, or some old cowboy western show, or anything else similar), but because her reaction was “OMG my kid likes something I don’t, what did I do wrong?”

    Let’s face it – as columnists go, Bazelon is one of the snootiest out there. Her columns are half puff piece, half left-wing snootiness, and almost universally just plain awful torture to try to read through.

    If she had her way, the song “Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys” would be rewritten to read “star wars fans” at the end instead. That’s all the column tells us, nothing at all about children or childrens’ development.

  3. trumwill says:

    Kevin,

    When I first started reading it, I assumed that she was going to talk about how it messed up her life. No first-hand experience, of course, but I am informed on the importance of sleep schedules. But instead she made it sound like it was some great developmental sin on the level of letting your children watch hours and hours of TV on a regular basis. But from my perspective, the downsides are temporary and the upsides (the awakening of the imagination) much more enduring. That she fails to appreciate the latter causes me greater concern for his welfare than does some overexcitement and missing sleep.

    Web,

    The thought occurred to me that if he had been this overexcited about some nature documentary, she would better be able to see the upside to his excitement. But Star Wars is pedestrian material for lesser minds in her view. I think it’s a shame that she sees it that way.

  4. Webmaster says:

    Will,

    put it more bluntly: instead of Star Wars, for one summer for me and my friends down the block it was Tron. We spent 8 weeks throwing frisbees at each other and running around the yard.

    Yeah. We had fun. And Bazelon would go “OMG what did I do to those poor kids’ brains” all the same. The article is still more about exposing what a stuck-up idiot she is, than anything to do with her son.

  5. Barry says:

    Bazelon seems pretty luke-warm on the whole Star Wars concept.

    (That was pretty good, Will)

    I saw Star Wars when I was 10. 10!!! I’m not sure there was a better age to watch the original trilogy – the more mature Empire at 13, and Jedi at 16. I ate, lived and breathed SW when I was a kid.

    For this mom to blame Star Wars for disrupting her kid’s sleep patterns – there has to be more to it than that. I think it’s pretty obvious they’re looking for a scapegoat to explain behavioral problems that already existed, or were brought on by something a lot closer to home. I can’t imagine a 3-yr-old could even comprehend anything of what Star Wars was about, other than funny monsters and flashing lights?

  6. trumwill says:

    For this mom to blame Star Wars for disrupting her kid’s sleep patterns

    I don’t know about that. I’ve never had children, but from the stories from those that do, the idea that Star Wars could have that effect doesn’t surprise me. If simple diet can, it seems reasonable that adrenaline could.

    Now, what could be significant here is that if Ms Bazelon has been shielding her children from anything that resembles exciting-for-boys that the first exposure to it could send him into a talespin that it wouldn’t send other kids.

    I can’t imagine a 3-yr-old could even comprehend anything of what Star Wars was about, other than funny monsters and flashing lights?

    Here’s a three year old girl with some ideas. I actually watched the video to remind myself what a three year old was like. I agree with Bazelon. Too young for Star Wars. But not so young as to be horrified by a lapse as she apparently is.

  7. Sheila Tone says:

    So maybe part of my reluctance to embrace this article is because, by virtue of luck and my father’s terrible experiences the first time he watched it*, I didn’t get to watch it “before I was ready”.

    Your reluctance is because you smell bullshit. This article is a pile of rambling, self-congratulating, delusional bullshit, particularly in regard to what a not-quite-3-year-old is capable of.

    My son is 3 or 4 months younger than hers. Most of his words are not even intelligible. He says stuff like “Nah noo SHEWZ!! Bah! Bah!” Or, “I gick you mommy!” Or, “Wheh mah cheh go?” And he’s *advanced* for his age. But he’s a very long way from what this delusional momster is describing. He watches Noggin. He laughs when Wubbzy steps in a puddle. No way is he going to identify plot twists in Star Wars any time soon. No way is he going to be traumatized by a science fiction movie. No way will he even sit through it.

    Of course, a lot can happen in 3 months. But I know several other, actual 3-year-olds up close and in person. I see the ones at my kid’s day care. I’ve known three who have two Yale graduates for parents. As gifted as they appeared by 5 or 6, none at that age were anywhere close to being able to provide the level of description, analysis, or even clear speech described here. Toddlers are all babbling idiots, no matter what their potential.

    This lady is either nuts or full of crap. She may be lying to enhance her story. Or like many parents (and grandparents), she imagines her child to be doing and saying much more than he actually is.

  8. Sheila Tone says:

    P.S. Just in case I buried my point: Emily Bazelon is a fucking liar.

  9. Sheila Tone says:

    I still believe that a lot of the negative reaction to that movie is that a lot of people watched it for the first time with 30-year old eyes rather than five year old eyes.

    Yes, my husband and I just finished fondly reminiscing about when we saw “Star Wars” in the theaters. I never thought of it as a violent movie.

    To put things into perspective, my brother saw “The Shining” in a theater when he was 4 1/2. No child therapists were ever called in.

    Check out this Bazelon nut’s bio on Wikipedia. She’s exactly the type of rarified, inbred hothouse flower whose spawn you’d expect to go into shock upon a whiff of the everyday world. Some highlights: Double Yale; cousin of Betty Friedan. Yikes.

  10. Barry says:

    So, just to clarify, Sheila – you won’t be inviting her to tea anytime soon? 🙂

  11. Sheila Tone says:

    Here’s a three year old girl with some ideas. I actually watched the video to remind myself what a three year old was like. I agree with Bazelon. Too young for Star Wars. But not so young as to be horrified by a lapse as she apparently is.

    For comparison, the three-year-old in the video appears closer to four years old. A lot can happen in even half a year. Remember, Bazelon said her son was “not quite three.”

    I’d give odds that much of what the little girl is saying, she’s repeating from others.

    So my point isn’t forgotten: Emily Bazelon is a fucking liar. I’m so sick of these rich-brat Slate-type writers trying to pass off their kid stories, little personal experiments (“I took BUSPAR for three weeks! It was WILD!”), and jazzed-up social experiences as reporting.

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