By: Matthew Holland
For those of you who do not watch Gravity Falls on Disney X D, A) you are missing out on something wonderful, so start from the beginning and B) weird stuff went down in this past week’s episode. While I don’t want to spoil anything, a man’s face was rearranged and Louis C.K. voiced (and I’m serious here) “The Horrifying Sweaty One-Armed Monstrosity.”
Considering this is a children’s animated TV series, these images may not strike you as horrifying. But for a child, it’s at least questionable. Part of horror is showing us that which we either don’t want to see, or shouldn’t see. It exploits our imaginations to create fantasies that- if nothing else- make us feel uncomfortable.
Gravity Falls is not the only one to do this. There are films such as Coraline (2009), The Witches (1990), Watership Down (1978), a handful of kid’s flicks from the 1980’s from Disney’s Return to Oz (1985), The Neverending Story (1984), to The Dark Crystal (1982), and let’s not forget that tunnel sequence in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). All these films have weird elements that may be somewhat frightening to younger audiences.
There are numerous reasons why one might find these films terrifying. For myself, I would not describe kid-friendly animatronics as “comforting.” However, horror is like comedy, in that they are both highly subjective. That which terrifies you may not terrify me, and this rule applies to these children’s stories as well.
My question is not whether or not these stories are scary, but whether or not we should censor such imagery from our children. Or perhaps, should we introduce horror to children by subtlety inserting it into their programs?
While I don’t have an answer to this, I do have some food for thought.
To begin, different cultures have different rules of censorship. While most modern cultures would agree that it is probably a bad idea to show children an R-rated horror film, there were some cultures that believed it to be acceptable to frighten the youth. Grimm’s Fairy Tales are perhaps most famous for their dark nature. While some stories, such as “Cinderella,” have become associated with joyous songs, anthropomorphic animals, and happy endings, not all of them originated so. Many depicted violent acts and gave warnings about the cruelties in life. Is it good to show our kids horror, if it teaches them a lesson?
Secondly, our rules (specifically modern American rules) of censorship are somewhat fickle. For example, the 2013 Martin Scorsese film The Wolf of Wall Street, was almost given an NC-17 rating for its sex scenes. While the film did make certain cuts to obtain its R-rating, it narrowly avoided an MPAA rating that would have drastically reduced the audience size. However, pay-per-view channels such as HBO have mature rated shows (which are more or less equivalent to R-rated films), like Game of Thrones, which depict violence, nudity, rape, and incest, often with no discrimination as to who the victim is (the victim could be a despicable villain, or an innocent child.) Nowadays, parents have the ability to block their child’s access to channels such as HBO. But if horror is being introduced in shows that are rated “child-friendly,” how do parents know what to block? And if the rating industry is as fickle as it seems, how can parents trust it to give them the information necessary to decide whether a show/movie is too scary for their children?
And finally, we must consider the effect of media on its audience. The debate as to whether or not media can influence audience actions has sparked controversy throughout the years, but has had heightened attention with current day mass shootings. A definitive answer to this question has yet to arise. Depending on who you ask, you will get very different responses, academic and non. Would introducing horror to children desensitize them to violence and make them more capable of committing acts of violence?
I adore Gravity Falls, and while I don’t want a single thing to change, I am forced to ask myself- this show is made mainly for kids, so are my own desires impeding on the best interests of others?
WatchMojo video: “Top 10 Creepy Kids Movies” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3_1cLWREIY
League of Super Critics video: “Should We Scare the S#*% Out of Kids – Nostalgia Critic” (note: contains some explicit language) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ej_gAWacmiY