Latest Permission Slip: So Susie Can See THE MATRIX at School

One of Susie’s winter semester classes at The Graham School is “Utopian and Dystopian Literature,” and earlier this week she brought home the latest of many permission slips her mother and I have signed since her first day of preschool.  This time it asked permission for her to see The Matrix, which is, I suppose, an example of a dystopia.  I signed it, because I have never been one for censoring what Susie wants to read or watch.  (I have never seen the movie, but Susie may whet my interest enough that I’ll borrow the DVD from the library sometime in the near future.  I’m still enough of a typesetter to think of a matrix as the die on a Linotype machine that shapes the character.)

Currently, they’re reading Anthem, Ayn Rand’s only tolerable writing.  My guess is that soon they’ll be proceeding to 1984, and when that happens, I plan to buy the DVD of the movie, starring John Hurt and Richard Burton (in his final appearance).

John Hurt as Winston Smith, rewriting history in the Ministry of Truth, in  1984.

And I’m sure The Matrix will hardly be the most violent film she will encounter before she reaches adulthood.  Recently, as part of my revived interest in Stephen King’s epic novel The Stand (a Lord of the Rings-like tale transplanted to 1980s America), I’ve been lackadaisically making my way through the 1994 four-part miniseries.  I’ve gotten some heat for not shooing Susie from the room when I watch it, or for not watching it only after she’s nestled all snug in her bed.  She’s watched parts of it, and has read some of “Captain Trips,” the first volume of Marvel Comics’ excellent adaptation.  Apparently, letting a 14-year-old girl watch any Stephen King story other than Stand By Me guarantees that she’ll turn into the next Aileen Wuornos.  I’m willing to take my chances–if Susie is uncomfortable with a scene, she’ll bury herself in her journal or the latest book she’s reading.  The worst that can happen is nightmares, and if they happen, you wake up, switch on a light, and maybe get a glass of water, and that’s it.

A high school English teacher emphasized the point that in a good horror movie or story, the grossness is kept to a bare minimum.  Where they get you is with suspense.  Susie didn’t fully understand this concept until she saw Jaws for the first time a week or so ago.  I brought it home from the library, and all that she had known about it previously was the F-F sharp tuba music playing whenever the shark is in the vicinity.  She was afraid that she would be totally grossed out by the movie, but she was able to watch it and enjoy it thoroughly.  There is only one scene where we actually see the shark’s teeth actually touch someone.  Susie expressed the appropriate outrage at the blindness and callousness of the small town’s movers and shakers to the danger the shark presents, which will give her an advantage if she ever reads or sees Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.

And no, she did not have nightmares about sharks for several nights afterwards.  The other night, we watched the first half of Jaws 2 (which was not as good as the original, but which never received the proper respect), and will probably watch the rest of it over this long weekend.

When I was younger than Susie, only television stations had access to video tape, and seeing movies at home was rare indeed, except on TV.  (I remember one friend of mine saving money from his paper route for months so that he could rent 16-mm movies and a projector for a New Year’s Eve sleepover.)  Until my mother left us, it was rare indeed that I got to see a movie downtown, and when I did, it was usually a Disney movie.  I remember how much I had to plead for my dad to take me to see Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Once she left, that was when I began watching movies that were for a more adult audience.  Since Dad was gone from before the time I got home from school until I was nodding off in front of the TV, I had oodles of unchaperoned free time.  The first “grown-up” movie I saw (I am not saying “adult” movie for the obvious reasons) was a 1970 horror movie, Count Yorga, Vampire.  I saw it in the auditorium of Thomas Hall, the classroom building at Marietta College where my dad had his office.  On Friday and Saturday nights, they featured “Cinema 75,” so-called because the admission price was $.75.  During that same period, however, my dad refused to give me money to see The Trial of Billy Jack with a friend.  Seventy-five cents, on the other hand, was a pittance to pay, and the movies at Cinema 75 were usually quite good.

The first movie I lied about my age to get into was Saturday Night Fever, although I told people for years it was The Exorcist.  The theater owner would not let anyone under 16 in to see Saturday Night Fever, and this was an occasion when I appreciated my dad’s uncanny ability to turn morality and ethics on and off as though it were a light switch.  I was 15 when the movie came to town, so he told me to tell them, if they asked for my age, that I was in my 16th year.

Dad also went to bat for me when I got in trouble for using foul language at school.  When I was in sixth grade, a boy named Rex was taking too long (in my estimation) at the water fountain.  I said, “Hurry up, Sex!”  (I’m sure every kid named Rex has heard that one a few times.)  When the teacher who busted me explained this to my dad, he asked, genuinely puzzled, “What ‘bad word’ did he use?”  So I got a walk on that one.

I paid it forward a few years later.  During Fire Prevention Week in high school, our homeroom teachers handed out fliers about how to escape the house if it was on fire, and it featured drawings of the inside of a house, showing where fires can start, etc.  Before class, I had told a friend of mine that I had seen my first porn films at a guy’s house the previous weekend while his parents had been out of town.  I was unnecessarily graphic in describing the films (as if they actually had plots!), and he had asked me if I enjoyed the films.  I seesawed my hand in a comme ci comme ça gesture, and added, “Now, the guy and the pig… I could have lived without seeing that.”

My friend thought this was hilarious, and, out of boredom, he was doodling on the fire prevention flier, and got in trouble with the teacher.  What was the offensive doodle?  In the bedroom, he drew a man’s head on one pillow, and a pig’s on the other.  Neither were anatomically correct–only heads.  I mentioned this to a teacher, who grudgingly let it slide.

Since Susie will probably be spending the summer in Florida with Steph, my major project will be restarting the book-cataloging job I had underway when my other laptop was stolen from Weinland Park.  That may involve organizing the DVDs as well.  I am sure some parents would not be happy with the fact that Porky’s and Se7en are on the same shelf as Despicable Me.  (I will never underestimate anyone’s ability to zero in on the sketchier titles in my video or book libraries.  When Steph and I were first married, we had about 200 VHS tapes, of all genres, including many classic movies and TV moments, and the title that a guest could spot from a mile away was something like The Sadist or She-Devils of the S.S.  (The latter is more of a sex farce than an actual porn movie.)

And yes, if Susie wants to see The Exorcist or Porky’s, she can.  The disks are not under lock and key.  The only restriction I have placed on anything is that if she chooses to see JFK, I have forbidden her to use it as source material for any paper on the Kennedy assassination she may turn in during the course of her academic career.