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It’s Different With Kids

What you see in movies (and the wider culture) changes when you become a parent.
dreher kids culture

Recently in this space I mentioned how Atom Egoyan’s movie version of The Sweet Hereafter was one of the finest films I’d ever seen, but that I had not been able to watch it again after I had children. The film deals with the death of children, and how one makes sense of that. For me, it is simply too nerve-wracking and painful to watch films about children in peril.

It’s not just me. Christopher Bonanos, writing at New York‘s website, says having kids changed the way he watched movies. Excerpt:

Steven Spielberg once said that, after he had children, he changed his mind about the way he’d ended Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The dad who joins the aliens to head off into the galaxy, he said, was created “blithely …  Today, I would never have the guy leaving his family and going on the mothership.” The fact that he’s abandoning his children never crossed my mind when I saw that movie as a young person, and I suspect it would puzzle me now.

Yes, I suspect it would do the same for me. Parenthood really is like emigrating to another country, at least if you’re doing it right.

Parenthood changed the way I related to popular culture in a more subtle way, too. I found that I naturally developed — I mean, without thinking about it; it was an intuitive thing — an aversion to certain modes of thought, behavior, and expression in film, music, and suchlike. This was not because these films, etc., involved children in peril, but because I found myself confronted with this question: What kind of world to people who think, talk, and act like this create for my children?

To be clear, I’m not simply talking about the world in which they will spend their childhood. I’m talking about the world in which they will live as adults, and raise kids of their own. Here’s what I mean: my TAC colleague Alan Jacobs is a lifelong gun owner, but he’s also a Christian, which is why he said he’s thinking about whether we ought to desire to live in a culture in which the citizenry was armed. As Alan wrote the other day:

I’m a Christian, and as such I am enjoined to pray and hope for the coming reign of the Prince of Peace. Christians might disagree about how and when that Kingdom is going to come about, but we must pray for it and seek it without all our hearts. We should look forward always to the the reign of shalom, as laid out in Isaiah 65. It is not, then, intrinsically desirable that we should be armed; it is, rather, intrinsically desirable that we should all live in the Kingdom of God where no weapons are needed because we live in mutual love and have our needs provided by the Lord.

Maybe that doesn’t even need to be said; maybe nobody really thinks an armed society is ipso facto a better society, even though some folks can sound that way at times. If so, then please just take this post as a reminder that if it is, or becomes, necessary for Americans to be regularly and publicly armed, that’s a sign of the tragic brokenness of a world populated by fallen people.

Along those lines, we Americans are so focused on what we desire, and on our “right” to that desire, that we rarely stop to consider whether we ought to desire those things. We’re all implicated in this. I was listening in the car the other day to one of my favorite rock albums, and the thought occurred to me that if my kids were riding with me, I wouldn’t play it, because the lyrics are pretty dirty. And then I thought: should I be taking pleasure in this? Do I want my children to grow up in a world in which sex is treated in popular song so coarsely? I do not. But I have helped to create that world for them.

I’m not saying that all art must be safe for 10 year olds. Not at all! What I’m saying is that we contemporary Americans are so focused on satisfying our own pleasures, and so passive in our consumption, that we lose sight of our role as stewards of culture. Failure to exercise that role intelligently and discerningly is a choice, and we are responsible for that choice.



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