CHENNAI: As she grew increasingly uncomfortable, she shifted her rifle so that it was in her hands and at the ready.”
Who do you think the she is in the line above? Lara Croft Tomb Raider? The Widow from Marvel? Geena Davis in the Long Kiss Goodnight? It’s Little Red Riding Hood. Armed and ready for the dangers of the 21st Century.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) in America has rewritten classic children’s stories in which the heroes and heroines no longer use just their wits and presence of mind to save themselves. Oh no, they have a nice Kalashnikov to help them out. To quote the website nrafamily.org.
Most of us probably grew up having fairy tales read to us as we drifted off to sleep. But how many times have you thought back and realised just how, well, grim some of them are? Did any of them ever make your rest a little bit uneasy? Have you ever wondered what those same fairy tales might sound like if the hapless Red Riding Hoods, Hansels and Gretels had been taught about gun safety and how to use firearms?
So of course my initial reaction to the article was shock and horror. The idea of reading a story to my kids in which a young child waves a gun around. And given the number of news articles we read about young children finding their parent’s gun and accidentally pulling the trigger. Often with fatal outcomes.
But then I thought back to the previous night. I’m currently reading my sons Frank L Baum’s The Wizard of Oz at bedtime. And it’s not entirely as cute and wholesome as I thought it would be. The Tin Woodman’s transformation from man to tin is nonchalantly described (limbs severed and decapitation) and in another instance, the woodman (after all he does have an axe) beheads a creature that’s about to attack the group as they meander on the yellow brick road. They watch Star Wars in which Anakin Skywalker massacres an entire tribe of Sand People as an act of retribution.
Of course the violence in these situations is perpetrated by an adult or ‘grown up’ character, not children. But I realise that I watch or read these scenes with and to my children. There’s the occasional twinge of discomfort but mostly I am desensitised to the casual violence on television and in books that they consume.
I’m not suggesting to myself or anyone reading this that we should wrap our children in cotton wool. Indeed, at times I think we have sanitised childhood far too much already. But to tell children through stories that a gun in their hand is a good idea, that it will keep them and their loved ones safe and protect them doesn’t sit well.
Our children are growing up in a constantly changing world. Messages are mixed. Who are the bad guys? Who can we trust? Should we be open and accepting or view other with distrust?
I read this story on the same day newspapers reported the gutwrenching news of the bomb blasts in Lahore. Many of the victims were children playing in a park. What should they arm themselves with against the enemy? What tale can we twist for them?
(The writer is a former copywriter whose parenting philosophy is: if there’s no blood, don’t call me)