This post was written by the guest blogger – Simon Western. Thank you Simon for your thoughtful contribution!
Reel Parents…… unreal babies
Parent baby cinema groups – what they tell us about societies view of babies
Reel parents is one of the names given to the parent and baby screenings now showing at cinemas. This is an interesting idea, parents can take babies under 1 year, and watch a movie together with other parents and babies. A good business idea for the cinema and a good for parents who often can’t get out in the evenings. However, I was shocked to see 12 Years A Slave as a Parent And Baby Screening, and realised other films with loud and violent scenes were being shown. I wondered what this says about our social attitude towards babies? What it says to me is that babies are considered as some sort of pre-human object, rather than being treated as human subjects in their own right.
I have seen no social comment on this practice, except something in Poland which I will return to. Do we imagine babies are unable to engage with the sounds of screaming men and women being whipped, or affected by brutal images on large screens in front of them, or too the emotions stirred in the mothers and fathers watching? The IMD film company warns parents of older children that this film shows “A naked woman is shown being savagely whipped. At one point, 12 Years A Slave is a very brutal, cruel film. It is extremely emotional and some viewers may find it hard to watch. Lots of torture, violence and abuse is shown realistically. Some people may be disturbed by the sexual abuse of one of the female slaves. A mother is also sold and separated from her children.” And they mark it 9/10 for being disturbing.
I don’t claim to be an expert on what babies can see on big screens, but I do know that my 9 month year old converses with me on Skype when I am working away from home, and enjoys watching the Jungle Book on You Tube. I therefore imagine young babies can see something of what is happening on huge screens and I am certain babies take in the sounds of screams and violence. One thing is for certain, that babies are completely in touch and sensitive to a parents emotional reactions (hence attachment theory). So parents watching images or rape and whippings, and reacting to disturbing narratives on screen will be passed onto the infant is some form.
The question this raises for me is are babies emotionally neutral objects who are numb to the emotional lives of their parents and their environment, or are they human subjects from birth, with deeply sensitive emotional lives? One place where there was protests against such films being shown was in Poland where I heard that the Catholic conservative right, prevented a showing Nymphomaniac at a parent and baby screening. Of course this fits with their conservative political agenda (sex is sinful, films like this destroy family values etc etc). What I found interesting is that ‘progressive mothers’ argued that it was their cultural right to see any film they chose, and they shouldn’t be prevented from this liberty. This so-called progressive voice is in fact the opposite. It was the Victorians who treated children as emotionally neutral objects ‘who should be seen and not heard’ and packed them off to prep-boarding schools and outsourced them to nannies as quick as possible (not unlike the Royal family today). Zizek speaking to radical protesters said “Don’t be afraid of words like work, discipline, community and so on. We should take all this from the right wingers. Don’t allow enemy to take from you to determine the terrain of the struggle.” (Zizek 2011) This is true of progressive parents who should not take a self-righteous narcissistic view ‘I have the right to see the film whatever it is’ as this is a reactionary and conservative position. The progressive position is to stand up to social norms that demean the humanity of a baby.
The issue of parent and baby screenings of violent films, highlights two disturbing social trends. Firstly, it’s the parents that matter not the babies, reflecting our increasingly narcissistic society. Secondly how babies are increasingly becoming commodities, passive objects of desire, a nice thing to have a push around in a designer pushchair.
Both trends seem to forget that babies are deeply emotional human subjects and need to be engaged with as such, by parents and by wider society.