Sixteen students. Arms raised. Every eye fixed on the front of the classroom where I stood holding a plain white hockey mask. The year was 1985 and the mask was part of a Halloween costume purchased at Spencer Gifts. I asked the class, “Whose mask is this?” Some leaned forward against their desks, frantically waving their hands hoping to be picked for the answer. Others gushed, “Ooh! I know! I know!”
The students could have guessed the name of any major hockey star, but didn’t. Instead, when I called on Leah, she answered, “That’s from Jason!” With unbridled excitement, she detailed several episodes of the Rated-R Friday the 13th series which were among her all-time favorite films. The students came alive with giggles, squirms and nods as she described how Jason killed people.
Keep in mind Leah was ten-and-a-half years of age. Quick to offer some colorful commentary, one classmate added, “Jason sometimes uses a big machete or a hatchet from the kitchen and chops off people’s heads until they’re all croaking and stuff.” The sheer–or should I say “shear”–delight on his face was unmistakable.
Eleven-year-old Alex told me his favorite character was Freddy Krueger, the star of Nightmare on Elm Street. Curling his fingers into a claw, Alex admitted he liked how Freddy slashed people. With a smile so big that her face struggled to contain it, Erica added, “I like the way the people look like when they’re dead.”
I noticed the teacher at the back of the room watching this exchange in stunned silence. I sensed her wall of denial was crumbling before her eyes. She shifted in her chair, unsure whether or not to allow me to continue my guest appearance. And yet, as I later learned, she hesitated because her students were demonstrating a level of enthusiasm over a classroom discussion unlike anything she had witnessed before.
Compared to the rigors of math, science, or history, which she admitted typically produced a sleepy-eyed trance- like response, this discussion about movies had ignited a passionate engagement. The teacher struggled to understand how her students knew the correct answers to my pop quiz . . . on a topic that wasn’t taught at their school.
On a subject they had never studied. Think about that for a moment.
You see, I had requested an opportunity to quiz the students about their favorite films. I was preparing a presentation for President Reagan’s Child Safety Partnership pertaining to juvenile delinquency and the impact of sexualized violence in horror and slasher movies. The teacher assured me I was wasting my time because “there’s a zero percent chance” her students would have a clue about that genre.
She was dead wrong.
Admittedly, this encounter occurred decades ago, back in the digital Stone Age–that is, pre-iPhone. Actually, that’s the scary part. My classroom quiz was given long before the advent of the internet or high-speed cable with movie streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. Blockbuster was King. Bulky video tapes with late fees were the norm. So was the ability to restrict kids from renting R-rated movies.
Even with those hurdles, 80% of students I surveyed in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, from Pittsburgh to Pasadena, had watched R-rated horror and slasher movies. You might want to read that again. Did I mention these youngsters were all attending private Christian schools? I’m not picking on Christian schools–they don’t show these movies at school. Which begs the question: How did these kids gain access to watch slasher movies back then?
Where were the parents?
Clearly troubled by these insights, the teacher stopped me in the hall afterwards, and said, “Bob, I’ve been in education for eighteen years, and unless I had been present to witness what took place today, I would have never believed it.” Her reaction is on par with literally every other educator and parent who has watched me interact with students on this topic over the last three decades.
Sadly, this cultural obsession with violence, torture, and death has only deepened in recent times. Set aside the fact that Americans will spend roughly $8 billion this year1 on the ghoulish-fixation known as Halloween, or that between 2005 and 2020 the average U.S. consumer expenditure on Halloween has increased 90%.2
The more troubling trend is the level of sexualized violence, gruesome human brutality, serial killer flicks, cannibalism–even necrophilia–all of which has become easily accessed today by any kid with an internet connection. Whether they use a computer, cellphone, TV streaming service, or Amazon Prime videos, the dehumanizing depictions of human depravity is beyond the pale.
What’s more, using the recently developed APP called Teleparty, these days viewers of any age can form a “Watch Party” with dozens friends–each separately viewing and commenting in real time on the same movie, all in the privacy of their own homes on their device of choice. Not surprisingly, this Halloween various streaming services are promoting watch parties binging on horror and slasher flicks.
With a wave of the hand, there are those who dismiss any concern about a generation raised on a steady diet of gore and dismemberment. We’re told that realistic and multiple decapitations, or mutilating people with axes, power drills, assorted knives, nail guns, broken glass, machetes, or flamethrowers, is really no biggie.
Harmless entertainment. All in good fun.
In these matters, I prefer to see what the Author of Life has to say about our fixation on violence and death rather than popular opinion or what’s selling. This might come as a surprise, but do you know what the primary reason why God sent the flood? The answer is found in Genesis 6:11-13:
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.
So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.” [Emphasis added].
Did you catch it? Not once or twice. Three times God said that the earth had become corrupted. How? Mankind was obsessed with violence, so much so that God said, “the earth is filled with violence because of them.” This begs the question: If a righteous and holy God was so offended by mankind’s violence that He sent a flood, do you think He just winks at our obsession with graphic violence today?
That’s a fair question.
If God doesn’t wink at violence, why do we enter into the celebration of death that’s at the heart of Halloween? Why would any parent dress their kid up like an axe murderer or a cast member in the Walking Dead?
In a society already struggling to maintain a modicum of civility, why fixate on brutality? Is it possible that a generation raised on images of death might be less sympathetic to pro-life issues? Furthermore, what role might violent films be playing in the shaping of the minds of 10-year-old children who feed on them? Does violent depravity have an upside for the individual or society at large?
According to Genesis 6, the Almighty didn’t think so. Believers are encouraged to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” which begins when we refuse to be “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). The goal? To celebrate “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
Imagine the kind of world students like Leah, Alex, and Erica would be living in if we shunned the siren call of violence and, instead, practiced the pursuit of purity, nobility, and all things praiseworthy. Talk about a revival. Let it begin in my home with the choices we make.
Will you join me?
2 https://www.statista.com/statistics/274295/americans-planned-expenditure-on- halloween-related-items/