A Song of Adult Humour and Child Suitability
Weird things happen when you don’t go on the internet for a while. Sometimes you waltz back in to find everyone freaking out about the colour of a dress or a dictator’s eyebrows. Sometimes you get back to Facebook to discover that an insignificant high school in a small town in Manchester is trending because a schoolboy has dressed as Christian Grey for World Book Day and people are outraged at the school’s decision to take steps.
I won’t bother worrying about whether the decision to remove him from pictures and have him modify his costume (as the school state happened, rather than the commonly reported ‘sent home’) is the right one. I won’t worry who or what is in the wrong here. I know that schools will twist the truth to look good in the media, as much as parents and kids will do so for attention. I don’t wonder, on a fun day off timetable that won’t impact his education substantially, if anything could have been handled better.
What I’m considering is that the book is entirely unsuitable for the environment. Had the boy turned up dressed like that for a screening of Fifty Shades of Grey, he probably wouldn’t have got a second glance… but he also wouldn’t have got in. The film is, as it should be, rated 18. Books have no such constrictions on them, but it should be clear to anyone that the target audience isn’t year seven students. His mother even insists that he hasn’t read the book… but she allowed (perhaps encouraged) his choice of controversial costume.
I haven’t been on the internet because I’ve been busy. Today, for example, I went to a Baby and Toddler fair, hoping to find something cute as a treat for my son. Amongst the adorable vests and fluffy blankets I noticed a selection of t-shirts for small children referencing, amongst others, cultural phenomena such as Game of Thrones, The Godfather and Breaking Bad. All of those are shows that I wouldn’t let my child watch until he’s much older. The shirts seemed to be pretty popular. And why wouldn’t they? A combination of small (so automatically adorable) clothing and humorous puns that appeal to fans of cult TV shows and people who know that babies are smelly and noisy.
I don’t doubt for a second that most of the parents rushing to buy the stall’s wares would stop short of letting their toddlers settle down for an afternoon in front of the sex, swords and screaming of Westeros…
But somehow we didn’t feel that there was a problem referencing it all on the child’s torso.
It’s clear we have rules and guidelines about what is suitable for young people for a reason. Even if we, as children, didn’t see it that way, not a lot of good would come from universal access to this material. And since the adverts for the books, films and shows are everywhere (from our TVs in our homes to the buses that take children to school) we can’t assume children remain completely innocent and ignorant to the content.
We can’t stop children getting ANY exposure… but where should we draw the line?