Sunday, July 26, 2009

Are You Affraid of Children?

The Associated Press recently wrote an article detailing why children are such effective devices in horror films. We may recognize the character of Damian from The Omen, Anthony from the classic Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life," or the kids in Children of the Corn and Village of the Damned. According to experts, this phenomenon may not be all that new, and in fact the fear of children (pedophobia) may be the result of something more deeply ingrained in the adult psyche.
"You see the idea in 'Angels with Dirty Faces,' the Dead End Kids, and in the postwar years, the teenpic or 'juvenile delinquent' film of the Cold War that poses the teenager as internal threat to adult values," Sharrett explains.

"Children are seen as 'blank slates' to a degree, and also as essentially 'unknowable,' because they live in a world very different from the adult world, in which fantasy and reality intermingle," he says. "Parents wonder what their children will become, and while they wish the best for them, they often feel as if they have no control over them. It is this essential lack of knowledge, and the fear that the children have a secret world which adults can't enter, which drives our fear of childhood as a separate domain."

"It's a little bit of 'Body Snatchers.' They look somewhat like you and even act a bit like you and eventually, they come to replace you."
The idea that children are scary is, like most attributes ascribed to children, a concoction dreamed up by adults. Adults perceive children to be helpless and innocent with the subtle "in joke" lurking in the background that they are indeed not, and that because of this they pose a threat to the adult world. In reality, children are not helpless or innocent, but neither are they necessarily poised to kill off their parents or endanger society, but this fear isn't anything new. Noted psychohistorian Lloyd DeMause wrote, in The History of Child Abuse, that this primitive fear of children is seen in all cultures and throughout all of history up to the present, and that it has always been the main cause of both the suppression of children and child abuse:
"The main psychological mechanism that operates in all child abuse involves using children as what I have termed poison containers--receptacles into which adults project disowned parts of their psyches, so they can control these feelings in another body without danger to themselves."
DeMause goes on to describe a tradition in Greece whereby it is believed that when an adult is infested by a "demon," the only way to release this demon is to relegate it into a child, because children are thought to be pure or untainted. Once the demon was supposedly harvested inside the child, he or she would have to be bound up to prevent them from "tearing their ears off, scratching their eyes out, breaking their legs, or touching their genitals," because it was believed the child would surely act out the violent projections of the parent. He also points to the rituals surrounding child sacrifice from all corners of the globe as being a further expression of attempting to control this universal fear.

The western world doesn't believe in demons by in large, but the same underlying principle still applies. Instead of subjugating children to counteract the demon threat they pose to adults, youth in the 20th century and the present were and are often subjected in more social ways to counteract the projected threat they pose to adult social values. The AP article goes on to describe the youth threat in post-war America where a whole new cast of demons were praying on children and corrupting them to destroy adult society:
"In a way, this can be seen as a reaction to the nascent rise of juvenile delinquency in the late 1950s -- when American youth culture was first firmly established, along with the rise of rock 'n' roll, as a perceived threat to then normative postwar values."
And this continues to the present day. The fact of the matter still remains: regardlesss of what adults project onto children, children are human beings. They're not "Body Snatchers," beings who resemble adults slowly working to replace human society and they don't absorb adult "demons" either. It all goes to show you how fallible the human psyche is--fantasy and reality always intermingle, whether you are two or twenty.

1 comment:

  1. This is quite interesting. I would also mention Henry James's story The Turn of the Screw - probably the best psychological study in English/American literature of the link between anxiety for the sake of children and actual paedophobia. The film of the novella, The Innocents (1961), has of course had a huge influence on other films with scary movie-moppets such as The Sixth Sense and The Others.