Light from the Tragedy in Aurora

As some of you have asked—what is the 9 days of the month of Av (which began last Thursday night and culminates with a public fast day this coming Sunday) and its relation to mourning and a heightened awareness of harm? There has been a long standing Jewish tradition, “When Av enters we diminish in joy.” There is a notion in Jewish tradition, amplified in the Kabbalistic teachings, that certain times of the year are more propitious for certain energies. In the winter month of Adar, the month in which Purim falls, the energy is the exact opposite—“When Adar enters we add joy.”

This 9 day stretch of time mandates certain actions: not buying or using new items (clothing, cars, etc.) not starting new business ventures, not travelling, not celebrating publicly and curtailing entertainment. There is a combination of somberness, diminishing enjoyment and a hyper-alertness for safety. It is a time that is propitious for things to go wrong.

Is this merely a superstition or are there times, both personal and collective that require attention to the energy present? In the collective unconscious of the Jewish people so many tragedies are aligned with this time period, especially the 9th day of Av itself, it is hard to not pay attention. Among many other ancient and more recent tragedies, both Temples were destroyed on the 9th of Av. There is a well known teaching that what infused this time period and day for future sorrow was the Israelites lacking faith in God to enter the land of Israel under Moses’ guidance. In accepting (on the 9th day of Av) the spies’ report that the inhabitants of the land of Canaan were too powerful to overcome, the Israelites then were destined to wander in, and die in, the desert. That marks the start of this time period being inauspicious. Its start is from our own human reaction—a fear that paralyzed and sunk the people into despair—a despair that is realized again and again, each year at this time, unless we overcome it.

In this week following the tragedy in the Aurora movie theater, it is fear that can paralyze us or we can overcome our fears, not by denial (isolated incident) but through action. Many have taken up the task of comforting those in grief and calming the nerves of those traumatized by the murders. Others have increased security measures or cancelled showings of the Batman film.

I would like to suggest that we dialogue on how to address issues that go deeper to the core of our society. Taking a Kabbalisitc approach it is important to start at the “scene of the crime” and that draws us to “The Dark Knight Rises.” Whether the murderer drew from the movie’s themes (which appear likely) or not, the trilogy of this Batman series takes us deep into the psyche of Batman and his nemesis villains. I have not seen this third installment, but I can tell you that I was sickened by the sadism portrayed in the second movie (The Dark Knight, 2008), upset that we had gone to see it and even more upset that my teenage children thought it was such a great movie. Perhaps this third installment is also a “great movie” but we do have to wonder what appeals in our society to depictions of cruelty.

I have been wondering for a few years about the need to protect young children from images that are frightening both on television and in the movies. I have thought about trying to interest legislators in enacting some safeguards to protect children from the assault of images that are scary, cruel and overwhelming to them. I believe no one would argue that the scenes in any of these Batman movies are well beyond the ability of children less than 11 years old to manage emotionally.

I would like to propose two measures that will safeguard children. The first is less controversial and yet would likely face huge industry opposition. In the late 1990’s television adopted for the first time a rating system (similar to the already extant movie rating system). My proposal would be that television commercials need to undergo a similar rating system and can only be shown on a television program that parallels its rating. Of particular concern are commercials that show quick trailers to movies (such as the Batman series) that are extremely violent. The producers of such commercials show very fragmentary scenes and therefore have to be creative in flashing quickly to and from images that are extremely frightening for younger viewers. Of course there is no ultimate safeguard from aligning commercials with their companion rating (or below) unless parents and adults take an active role in monitoring their children’s viewing behavior (on television and the internet). If parents are not sensitive to the shows themselves then the commercials on those shows are a moot point.

The second proposal is to take away parental discretion in the public arena when it comes to movie going. Films such as the Batman series carry a PG-13 rating. This means that, if accompanied by an adult, a child under the age of 13 can watch these movies. I am proposing that a limit be set on the age that allows a child to be admitted to see such a movie, regardless of who is accompanying the child and giving them permission to attend. I am not an expert on what that age should be, but I cannot imagine the vast majority of children under the age of 11 being able to integrate the violent and sadistic images portrayed in movies such as the Batman series.

I am not addressing the challenges such movies (and the commercials for them) may have on our society as whole—I am only addressing the need to safeguard children.

You may have other worthwhile ideas to suggest. Please share them and any comments on my proposals. I welcome your thoughts and possible collaboration.

David Sanders

P.S. What local legislators do you think would have an interest in introducing legislation that will address safeguards for children not viewing images that are overwhelmingly frightening?


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