The other evening I was frequenting my Facebook parents group and a post caught my eye. A mother had introduced her four year old to Batman. “Good for her!” I thought. She went on to say she was “horrified” by her son now calling her “stupid,” and to “zip her lip,” and he was becoming more prone to poking and fighting. She was fearful what she’d started in her son, and at any request to remove the Dark Knight from her kid’s clutches was met with tantrums a’ plenty. She turned to the group for support and advice. I couldn’t help myself…
What this mother faces with her tot is what I think many creators of all ages material – myself included – fear the most: parental disapproval. When the gatekeeper that stands between you and your target audience deems you inappropriate, the likelihood of a sale diminishes exponentially. It’s a fine line to skate.
Much like a stand-up making the promise to not work blue, an all ages creator is tasked with entertaining without crossing the ever-creeping line of acceptable limitations. That entails language, violence, adult themes, and sexual activity. Show a drop of blood, a hint of boob, a mention of drug usage, or a slander on any deity being honored today? Get out, and don’t let the door hit you on the keester on the way!
That being said, as a creator, I am first and foremost about the quality and maturity of the finished product, blind and deaf parents be damned.
When I think to my childhood – likely between the ages of perhaps seven or eigth through to 12 or 13 – the media that stands out as the most beloved all contained shades of brilliance beyond the bright colors and fart jokes. Shows like Exo-Squad, the Transformers, and Disney’s Gargoyles all layered mature themes between the animated lines. And while my parents weren’t apt to purchase comics for me, no doubt any number of titles published at that time dealt in the same sandbox with aplomb. Ultimately as a creator, my responsibility is always to the book, as I said abov because if a scene demands brutality, it’s my choice as a creator to show it. How I choose to do so is what separates me from someone unrestricted.
In far too many cases, it’s often those creators who think beyond the predictable who end up elevating themselves to a better class of creation. Forgive me for reaching high, but like Seinfeld has said “…working blue is easy. Telling the same joke without having to swear doesn’t make you better. It just makes you that more appealing to more people. And how is that bad?” At the end of the day, as a creator, I see it as my duty to seek that balance, to make a book where a thirty year old and an eight year old can find common ground. To layer bits of mature themes in between the action, in an attempt to elevate the prose to exist with depth beyond the Photoshopped effects. To ultimately entertain the widest audience possible, not for profit in the monetary sense, but the spiritual one.
On the flip side to this argument comes my parental side. You see, I’m not just a creator of books. I’m a creator of life. My two and a half year old is just starting to shape his personality. With it, come those pieces of media he loves so much that he can’t live a day (truth: one hour) without re-consuming ad nauseam. Sometimes, he has impeccable taste – like his love of Peter Gabriel and They Might Be Giants. And yes, he also loves things I just can’t seem to understand – for example, videos where they repeat the same sing-songy chant about the alphabet until I want to jam a finger straight through my brainstem. But with all of it, I can’t help but put myself in the shoes of that aforementioned mother. When my boy eventually catches a love for Batman (or any comic related property) and he begins to emulate the sights and sounds, do I panic? Simply put… not one bit.
My personal parenting motto (thankfully shared by my wife) is that it’s not the fault of the media, it’s the fault of the parent. Now, let’s be clear: I’m not a dunce. It’s inevitable that my child will emulate something I don’t want him to. And when I will eventually explain that to him, his kneejerk reaction will be to repeat the undesired action until I’m yanking my beard out in anger. But the fact remains that as the parent it’s my responsibility to consume what my child consumes and to then interject perspective before, during, and after the consumption.
I’m a firm believer that children are smarter than the world at large deems them to be. I’ve come to this firm belief every time I’ve told my son that an apple is actually a french fry and he hurls said fruit back at me at terminal velocity. When Bennett eventually stumbles upon something that would otherwise scar him emotionally, that’s the time Dad needs to be there to explain that the zombie werewolves on the moon were only computer made monsters. And he’ll then soon learn that The Doctor will outsmart them too. Natch.
The reality is that we can’t shield our children from the world at large. And thanks in large part to how easily media can be obtained and consumed now, there’s no fighting the tide. As both a creator and a father, I think I know how to sail through choppy waters. By being honest, by communicating in terms my son will understand, and by helping him sift through the silt to find the best pearls to enjo, I’m doing the job I was meant to do.
For the poor mother whose kid is storming throughout the house declaring a personal vendetta on crime? The response I left her on Facebook stands: It’s a phase that you’ll have to deal with. Next time, stick to Superman. Your son will have a much harder time flying.
(Editor’s note: the story about the kid who wrapped a towel around his neck, shouted “I’m Superman” and jumped out the window is apocryphal.)