Orlando Sentinel

From laughing hyenas to crying for the stupidity of it all

By Kathleen Parker
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on June 11, 2000

Parents may as well toss in the towel, throw out the baby and find a drive-through sterilization clinic. There's nothing you can do right.

In Britain, child advocates are trying to ban musical chairs because it encourages aggressive behavior. You may remember fondly the game in which children walk to music within a circle of not-enough chairs, then scramble to grab a seat when the music stops.

As the jungle would have it, the biggest and strongest usually win, leaving the weakest member dangling in a circle of ridicule like a chained goat in the T-Rex paddock. Researchers are concerned not only that children might learn aggression from such clearly competitive designs, but that they might also, uh, lose.

"Musical statues is better because everybody wins," said the author of a booklet distributed by Britain's Labor government that urges teachers to ban the game.

In the United States, where the Buddhafication of children has become the new rock 'n roll for aging hipsters, we're worried about something even more sinister than birthday-party games: Animated G-rated films, wherein bad characters behave badly and violence is sometimes used to chilling, even humorous, effect.

Researchers, apparently having exhausted the insignificant, have turned their data blasters on the only token left to weary parents at long day's end - the videocassette recorder. Responsible parents long ago abandoned all but the most benign television shows, preferring to divert children's attentions toward the little black box with the blinking red light where they can control programming.

The peace that passeth all understanding is that precise moment when the flat rectangular box with the Disney label is slurped into the video player, signaling that parents have exactly 87 minutes to breathe deeply and possibly make eye contact with another human adult. Or not, as one's preferences go.

Forget it. That slurping sound isn't the VCR after all. It's your child's moral character being swept away by those immoral masters, the Disney cartoonists, whose secret mission is to ensure that your child will grow up to become an amoral, dispassionate serial killer or, alternatively, president of the United States.

Well, the Harvard researchers, who published the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association in May, didn't say that exactly, but any good guilty parent, which is most of us, can read between the lines. While adults were enjoying the bosom-swelling, whole-life message of The Lion King, the little darlings were drawing this conclusion:

"Hmmm, I don't have to kill Uncle Vinny personally. That's bad. But I can stand back and let the hyenas do the job. `Hey, I was just standin' here minding my own business!'"

Other films targeted by the research included Snow White, Pinocchio, Toy Story, Rugrats, and Quest for Camelot. Statistically, the study's findings qualify as, well, statistical: All 74 films contained at least one act of violence. In 46 of the films, researchers tallied a total of 125 injuries, including 62 fatal injuries.

Though this is doubtless only the lethally sharp tip of the heinous iceberg, even the researchers offered enough disclaimers to make this study little more than an exorcism of the academic libido. They note in the Journal of the American Medical Association article, for instance, that violence could have been anything from slapstick to premeditated murder. In the name of scientific integrity, one might avoid placing serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in the same control group with Larry, Moe and Curly Joe.

Nevertheless, they warn with just the hint of a Church Lady pucker, parents should more carefully monitor animated violence and preferably watch videos with their children, using such opportunities to discuss more constructive methods of conflict resolution.

Hyenas -- they're never around when you need them.

Kathleen Parker welcomes your views and suggestions. Mail: The Orlando Sentinel, MP-72, P.O. Box 2833, Orlando, Fla. 32802-2833. Her e-mail address is kparker@orlandosentinel.com

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