Growing up, I remember my father taking my friends and I to the movies for birthday parties, where we’d see adventurous fare with occasional light swearing and mild violence. Today’s generation suffers from a bizarre dichotomy in moral policing. Dodgeball is outlawed in gym class and on playgrounds, and yet kids are at home blowing the heads off of hookers with semi-automatic weapons. Hugging is forbidden, but tweens are sexting each other and taking a spin on chat roulette. In films, smoking earns an R rating, but eye-gouging and head-lopping and nonsexual use of the F-bomb get a PG-13 rating. There’s no middle ground anymore — it’s either oversanitized or fullblown. As a kid, we actually had films with decent kids in them: The Sandlot, Goonies, and one of my personal favorite, The Monster Squad.
It was a ridiculous premise: the classic Universal Horror creatures — Dracula, The Wolfman, The Swamp Monster, Frankenstein, and The Mummy — came back from the grave to torment a small town, and only a group of middle schoolers could find the amulet that would stop them. Similar to those precocious kids battling criminals on a quest for hidden pirate gold, the Monster Squad actually FOUGHT the monsters, using an Atari roleplaying arsenal of silver bullets, crossbows, and shotguns. These were kids who jabbered about sex without getting graphic, euphemistically riffing on dorks and nards. It’s cheesy and cornball as all hell — but you still got kids dynamiting monsters and cocking shotguns. It addressed the fact that kids were still kids without shoving them facefirst into adulthood with nudity and explicit violence. The kids asked questions about the monsters like Brodie interrogating Stan Lee about The Thing’s dong. Everyone knows silver bullets kill a werewolf, but could it be destroyed by dynamite? What actually kills a mummy or a swamp monster? And, of course, does a wolfman have nards? Now, we’d see a digitalized wang flopping 3D through the red-misted air as the kids nuked the wolfman.
The script for The Monster Squad was penned by director Fred Dekker and screenwriter Shane Black, who went on to write some of the greatest R-rated films of our time. And yet, Monster Squad never felt like it was sanded down for safety. These kids crafted weapons, snuck out of the home to investigate, took matters into their own hands. It was always goofy and fun, intended for kids to watch. I feel like parents are mistaking kid heroes with kid characters from R-rated films. For me, there’s no greater joy than watching Hit-Girl murdering up baddies or hearing the South Park urchins singing along to “Uncle Fucker.” But that’s my joy, because those movies are R-rated and meant for me as an adult. I get concerned when I hear people commending the “cool parents” that will let their kids don a katana and a purple wig this Halloween as Hit-Girl. It’s not meant for kids to consume. Are you a bad parent for subjecting your children to explicit swearing and violence and sexuality? It’s not up to me to make that claim. I’m just lamenting the fact that Hollywood seems to have ignored the middle ground, exacerbating the tendency for kids to be thrust quicker and quicker into the adult mainstream. Kids should get a chance to be kids.
However, children aren’t made of glass. Just like kids are being forced to grow up, there’s a reverse policy in place that seems to be insulating and blandifying children. Children’s movies have become commercials — a means to hawk cheap plastic Happy Meal toys. When the Goonies was made, they weren’t trying to sell pirate swords, and nobody was buying crossbows after The Monster Squad. They’ve been boiled until there’s no edge — everything is couched in safe, vanilla, family-friendly messaging. Kids wouldn’t be snapping naked photos of their friend’s sister, smoking a cigarette, making bullies eat stomped on candybars, or assuredly letting anyone do the Truffle Shuffle. Nowadays, the Truffle Shuffle as a concept alone would result in expulsion and probably lawsuits for sexual assault.
It’s a very different world today than when I was growing up. We’re either wrapping our children in layers of pillows and armor and tracking every movement through microchips like a shelter pet, or we’re giving them a shotgun, a pack of condoms, and a prescription for Valtrex. I long for the days when a kid could say “shit” without having to follow it up with “-eating cockfucker.” When a plot point could be about an older sister’s virginity counting without having the ubiquitous scene of her servicing her boyfriend in the basement while smoking pot. Can we get back to that place?