My parents had a somewhat unusual policy when I was growing up. Essentially, they didn’t believe in censorship of any form. I was allowed to watch whatever TV shows or movies I wanted, and certainly delved into non young-adult books as a child.
And while I mostly cherished this policy, sometimes it backfired on me. I had to learn early on what I could and could NOT handle as a kid. I clearly remember watching Alien for the first time in primary school, and being terrified of an alien bursting from my chest. I was a big fan of some of the more supposedly violent, raunchy, or “adult” cartoons of the ’90s, including Beavis and Butthead, Dr. Katz, Ren and Stimpy, and South Park. Of course, I also watched these alongside more kid-friendly shows like Animaniacs, Bobby’s World, and Rocko’s Modern Life, so I guess it all balanced out.
By middle school, I had seen more “off limits” movies than anyone else I knew, and my references to The Godfather‘s bloody horse head or Silence of the Lambs‘ Hannibal Lecter were met with blank stares. I developed a reputation for being rather morbid, though I thought I was simply being cultured.
I do remember a period of time when I simply went to far. My dad had a collection of Stanley Kubrick movies, including titles like A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Lolita, and Full Metal Jacket. Though I had seen Kubrick before, and enjoyed Dr. Strangelove’s hand with a mind of its own, I was unprepared for the sheer violence in the rest of the batch.
I managed to make it through The Shining without too much trouble, and it remains one of my favorite horror movies. Lolita grossed me out, seeing as how I was in middle school at the time, and could barely process feelings about boys my own age, much less ones old enough to be my father. Full Metal Jacket scared the crap out of me, and I had nightmares about classmates shooting themselves for weeks. But none approached the psychological damage wrought by A Clockwork Orange, during which I saw a penis for the first time. It was middle school, and I was a shy thing. To see graphic gang rape and full frontal nudity, all to the tune of Singing in the Rain was too much for me. I sat there, slack-jawed but unable to turn away.
Before I had taken the tape off the shelf, I had asked my mom if she thought the movie was any good. “Oh, yes,” she replied. “Quite good.” “Do you think I should watch it, then?” I asked. She answered in the affirmative. Now whether you believe in censorship or not, this is still an intense movie to see alone as a 14-year-old. Drugs, rape, and violence paraded across the screen in a seemingly endless loop. Even when Alex is taken to be “rehabilitated,” the horror continues in that dark conditioning room.
I finished the movie, and sat stunned for a while. Then I came out of my room, thrust the tape in front of my mom, and asked what the hell she had been thinking. “Well, you asked me if it was good, and I told you! You didn’t have to watch it. That was your own decision.”
Oh, well. The no censorship rule benefitted me much more than it harmed me, so I still think it was a good policy. As it turned out, I could take a lot more as a kid than society expected or thought was “appropriate,” and I think it made me a better, more open-minded person today.