The other day I was watching Puppet Master on TV. An ’80s classic to be sure. I remember watching it with my sister when it came out on cable. I was probably 10 or 11, which would have made my sister 9 or 10 at the time. You could say that we might have been a little too young to be watching a movie in which a bunch of creepy puppets murder people, but hey, it was the late ’80s/early ’90s. We were allowed to do that back then.
The question came up on Twitter once about what were you not allowed to watch as a kid. While other people are listing R-rated movies and TV shows like South Park and in some cases The Simpsons, I really had to think about it because we didn’t really have restrictions on the TV we consumed. The best I could come up with was we weren’t allowed to watch anything with excessive sex. That’s it. Excessive violence was fine. We were allowed to watch horror movies with the understanding that we were not to wake up our mother if we had nightmares. We made this choice. We got to deal with the consequences.
This is why I went through a period of sleep deprivation one summer after watching Creepshow 2 and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4. I was afraid to sleep because I was afraid to have nightmares. It turns out I don’t remember having any nightmares about the movies when I did sleep and as I’ve gotten older I realize the my nightmares act independently of anything I watch. They just are.
As a result of this lack of parental supervision, I watched A LOT of horror movies when I was more than likely too young to be watching them. I can remember sitting on the couch when I was really little watching Poltergeist and V: The Mini Series with my dad. Of the two, it turns out V was the one that scarred me for life. Fucking lizard people.
The best part was that this lack of parental supervision extended to grandparents on both sides. In the case of my paternal grandpa, you could say it was even encouraged. He might make us rent stuff like The Journey of Natty Gan and The Princess Bride from the video store, but then we’d go back to the house and he’d say, “Oh, look! There’s a Maximum Overdrive/Duel double feature!” and then we’d watch that (my sister still hates driving alongside semis).
At his place I can remember watching Halloween II and Halloween III: Season of the Witch; The Hitcher; Aliens; Poltergeist III; and Trilogy of Terror (I was convinced the Zuni doll lived in the bookcase after that viewing).
At my maternal grandmother’s house, I’d sometimes go off to watch TV in the den. There I remember watching Jaws 2, Cujo, and Motel Hell.
Most of these movies were consumed by my eyeballs before I got through junior high (some of them before I got to junior high).
And it wasn’t just horror that we were allowed to watch, either. There were some more adult action and comedy flicks we were consuming at tender ages, too. I don’t know how many kids in fourth grade watched Fatal Beauty, but for a period of time, I could quote it. Ditto for Police Academy 3, but that was one of those things where the adult jokes kind of fly over your head and you just laugh at Proctor walking into a room full of people while stark naked.
TV shows were the same way. Do you want to watch Unsolved Mysteries and America’s Most Wanted? Go for it. Pro wrestling and Beverly Hills 90210? Enjoy. 21 Jump Street and Cagney and Lacey? By all means. Cartoons? Okay then. Cartoons are for kids anyway. Just no Wile E. Coyote impersonations.
Did I watch age-appropriate stuff? Sure. All the time. Did all of this unbridled media consumption warp me? I dunno. I think if it did, it’s probably way down on the list.
Did it help form my tastes in regards to the media I consume as an apparent adult? Yeah, I’m sure it did. I wouldn’t have watched all of those horror movies as a kid if I weren’t fascinated with them and wasn’t willing to face the potential nightmares to experience them.
Am I saying that parents should let their kids watch whatever? Of course not. They’re your kids. Warp them in your own unique way.
I’m just saying that for me, I’m glad I wasn’t so supervised.