Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Movies for teens?

By the time I turned fourteen, I had seen all three Star Wars movies, Back to the Future, Short Circuit, Grease, Superman, Superman II, WarGames, Romancing the Stone, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Flash Gordon, and probably a few more movies the names of which escape me at the moment. My family didn't go to movies much, that I can recall, but I saw them in trips with my summer camp, or at birthday parties.

I won't deny that listing those titles brings twinges of nostalgia, but I can't see showing those to my kids.

First, there is the halachic issue of looking at certain things. The Torah warns us not to stray after our eyes, and that includes having a male see a female in states of undress. Even back in the sheltered 1980's, what passed for a PG in the theater would not Please Gd in halachah. This one is pretty straightforward.

More, though – Even if you could skip any given scene, a teenage boy is going to face enough of a challenge dealing with his sexuality within the bounds of halachah; do we need to feed it by promoting a world in which it's all around him, a world of strapless dresses and bathing suits, a world of jokes about appearances and sexuality, a world in which the music swells as the characters kiss?

Nope; I don't see it.

Do you?


  1. After discussing the prohibition of Moshav Leitzim, the Igros Moshe (YD vol. 4 11:1) also brings up the problem of the nibul peh.

    So there's something else to add to your list.

  2. Everyone must see The Ten Commandments. Period.

  3. This applies even to cartoon movies intended for kids. I would love to put my (young) kids in front of a Disney cartoon, but there's this same problem. Not only that, the way the characters talk to each other (words like "idiot", etc) simply isn't something young kids should be internalizing.

  4. and yet the world is out there abd they will be dealing with their sexuality.

    good luck.
    Joel Rich

  5. Why leave it at movies? Ever walked or driven through a busy commercial district? The ads and billboards and window displays are just like those movie scenes you want to avoid. Look at the ads on buses and taxis. Look at the ads in newspapers and magazines. If untsniusdik dress is the problem, the boys can't leave their home unless wearing blinders--have you seen how people dress and act when on the streets? They can't even be taken to a supermarket--check out some of the images on the packaging there. You then have to avoid the Internet and radios.

    In short, it is impossible to isolate the boys so that they never are exposed to things that would promote the "wrong" message for them.

    When our kids were much younger we closely monitored what movies they could watch. Some that were otherwise okay might have a scene we didn't want them seeing. Since we were watching the movie TOGETHER we fast forwarded past what we didn't want them seeing. Where some things couldn't be fast forwarded we explained that what they were seeing was not our practice to say/do and why and if they should run across this somewhere else they should turn their heads or skip it.

  6. Adam: the book is much better than the movie. :)

    Joel and ProfK: אין דנין אפשר משאי אפשר. Consider a biological analogy: we each are exposed to a certain amount of background radiation, but you're not going to say that therefore you'll comfortably live downwind of a nuclear plant.

  7. but I might say it's healthier to expose a child to some germs rather than have him live in an antiseptic bubble and then set him out in the real world with no antibodies.
    Joel Rich

  8. ba, Jenny-
    Worthwhile points, thanks.

    And the ervah in it?

    Joel, ProfK-
    And are movies such a good pedagogic tool for this? To me, the real need to prepare my children for the world is not served by popular movies.

    Anonymous 8:41 AM-

  9. no clue, I just described the challenge, the answer is on a retail basis (i.e. each parent knowing each child)
    Joel Rich

  10. I don't disagree with anything you wrote, but I want to point out that the actor who played the scientist in the (circa 1980) movie Flash Gordon that you mentioned was Chaim Topol --that is, Salach Shabbati AND Tevye the Dairyman! And when he explains how he survived Ming's mind-destroying machine, he says that in part it was because he focused on the Talmud (as well as shakespeare)! (I am not making any of this up.)

  11. Shmuel-
    I remember it well (the line about the Talmud, that is; I wouldn't know anything about Salah Shabbati for another 10-15 years...)

  12. I prefer the book to the movie also.

  13. Just curious: what do you think about secular novels? How closely do you vet your children's reading? Books can still promote the same world of sexuality (and I don't just mean through explicit passages), even if the impact of prose is not the same as the impact of seeing something in the cinema or on TV.

    No need to answer if you don't want to, I'm just being curious.

  14. I think parents err in expecting their kids to be middle aged adults, with the ta'avot, needs, and wants of middle aged adults.

    You saw movies and you turned out ok. Odds are your kids will, too. I reject the counterargument that all parents have said for millenia that "it was different when I was a kid". It wasn't different. What's different is that now you're middle aged.

    Would you have turned out better had you been denied movies? Would you have appreciated that sort of rule? Would it have been helpful to your relationship with your parents?

    I have no doubt parents of your parents generation thought Grease was terrible shmutz, worse than the movies of their days. But you survived. And I'd argue you're probably better for the challenges you faced.

    It was ok for me, but I want my kids to be holy temimim. I reject that as unreasonable and unrealistic and counterproductive. What parents really want is for their kids to be miniadults.

  15. Daniel-
    It's usually my Rebbetzin rather than me, but we do vet reading material, too.

    I think your projection of what I and other parents want for our kids is off-base, likely because you have a different definition of "coming out okay" and being "better" for the challenges I faced.
    By my definition of "coming out okay" - for myself or for my children - I faced hurdles I would have preferred not to have faced, and I don't believe I am better off for it.

  16. The Argument from Hypocrisy
    1. Lots of Orthodox Rabbis say that X is wrong.

    2. But these Orthodox Rabbis almost always do X.
    [i still remember the poster war in mea shearim. One day i walk by a poster so and so appered on TV horror of horrors. they next day a new poster appeared "How did you know that I was on TV? Were you watching?" This went on back and forth for a few weeks until a new poster war started and i got tired of reading this stuff.]
    3. Therefore, even Orthodox Rabbis don't really believe X is wrong.

    4. So X probably isn't really wrong.

    This is needless to say not an argument at all.
    But still there is a basic question about movies. However this is the unstated reasoning behind why many people ignore the law. and there is some sense to it. It goes like this. I respect the Talmud. but i don't have time to learn it thoughtfully. I work for a living. And i cant trust the people claim to speak in the name of the Talmud because of the argument from hypocrisy. So i have to act as reason dictates.

  17. I am obviously not going to argue that watching Grease is a mitzvah or laudable. Obviously the ideal is to strive to be perfect and to realize we are inadequate for not being perfect.

    And watching Grease obviously doesn't make someone a better person and certainly not a better Jew.

    I am not saying that I want my kids to watch Grease. But nor do I think that imposing middle-aged desires on a kid is not without pitfalls. I have zero ta'avah to watch Grease now. But that is very different than forbidding a teen who has that desire.

  18. Melech-
    1. I wish you would stop putting "middle age" on me!

    2. My point is less about forbidding and more about not introducing. I'm not yet at the stage of forbidding...

  19. My point is less about forbidding and more about not introducing.

    But if you don't introduce things yourself, you're running the risk that someone else will introduce things first, without your knowledge and your guidance...

    Unless your kids lead VERY insular lives, and even then...

  20. tesyaa-
    I believe there is a middle ground between introducing things I think are inappropriate, and creating "VERY insular" lives for my kids.

    Maybe I'm naive, but I think kids can read the "The Hunger Games" series without watching it...