02/04/2001

Hey, hey, give ’em what they want
If lust and hate is the candy
If blood and love taste so sweet
Then we
We give ’em what they want

–10,000 Maniacs, “Candy (Everybody Wants)” from Our Time In Eden, 1992

What’s the matter here? (Warning: mature subject matter.) My mom asked me a disturbing question yesterday. She went to a high school play last night. The storyline went something like this: a young lady with no self-esteem meets a young man. His attention turns her around. They have an affair. She continues the affair, but decides to have one-night stands with whoever comes along, just for fun. In the meantime, the guy meets another girl, who’s a lesbian but admits being attracted to him. He’s devastated when he finds out his girlfriend is sleeping around, then becomes enraged, so he rapes and kills the lesbian, then commits suicide.

My mom’s question was this: Was this subject matter inappropriate for high school students?

My answer was absolutely. Were this storyline made into a movie, it would probably get at least an R rating right off the top because of the subject matter alone, regardless of language or nudity. In high school, there are people aged 13 in attendance–unless it happens to be a 3-year high school (I don’t remember if high school starts at 9th or 10th grade there). At any rate, this isn’t appropriate subject matter for 14-year-olds.

For another, it’s one thing to talk about rape for instructional purposes–here’s the definition, here’s why it’s bad, here’s how to avoid it. Sure, a 14-year-old needs to be aware of that. So I should probably clarify. This isn’t an appropriate form of entertainment for 14-year-olds. Not to mention younger, pre-high school siblings who might be in the audience for whatever reason. A high school production needs to be appropriate for general audiences, or at least rated PG–particularly in a day and age when school newspapers are censored. Though I suspect the objectionable material in many school newspapers is not of social issues, but rather calling the administration into question (that was the case when I was editing my high school paper some 5 years after the Kuhlmeier v. Hazelwood decision ). But the courts have decided high schools don’t have freedom of the press, so appropriate editorial material continues to be why chewing gum in class or running in the halls is bad. Meanwhile rape and murder are appropriate forms of entertainment in school plays, because that’s not journalism. It’s art. (Supposedly. Though as I read Kuhlmeier v. Hazelwood, the case applies because the play, like a newspaper, is a school-sponsored activity.)

But legalities aside, what I’d like to know is why anyone would choose this subject matter for entertainment, period. It’s sick. But then again, so is our society.

But just because we have loose politicians and loose civic leaders and we’re losing our sense of morality, does that mean we have to use the combination of rape, murder and suicide as forms of entertainment? Give me a break. If someone were to record a rock album telling this story, Tipper Gore would be up in arms. If a mainstream movie or TV show were to take this subject matter, there’d be protests on both the left and the right. I believe in art and free expression as much as the next guy (I’m a professional journalist, after all, and I’ve dabbled in fiction writing and songwriting as hobbies) but I also believe in observing the boundaries of good taste and age appropriateness.

But what do I know? I’m just an old-fashioned Christian with a sense of decency, whatever that means, who understands insecure people because he’s been one himself, who fails to understand the purpose of parading the story of two very insecure and unstable people plus a confused lesbian in front of a bunch of teenagers, many of whom are probably insecure and confused themselves (because isn’t that the definition of teenager? It was when I was that age, and that wasn’t all that long ago–the song I quoted was a popular song when I was 17).

You know what? I don’t think I want to understand.

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