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Making Children “Hostel”
It’s Child Abuse to Subject Children to Horror Films

[Carol Platt Liebau] 1/16/06

It’s disappointing, though perhaps not surprising, to learn that The Hostel has been #1 at America’s box office. The Quentin Tarantino film – featuring torture and sex to a degree that causes even grown men to cover their eyes – is the apotheosis of plot-free gore and pointless, explicit sadism.

Certainly, it’s the filmmaker’s right to create this stuff, and Americans’ manifest right to spend $10 to watch fictional fellow creatures being abused past the point of comprehension. But that doesn’t make their choice to do so a good one.

Carol Platt Liebau - Senior

Carol Platt Liebau is editorial director and a senior member of tOR and CRO editorial boards. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. Her web log can be found at [go to Liebau index]

It’s worth wondering both whether exposure to this kind of garbage desensitizes its viewers to deviant violence – and whether that desensitization will have an impact on their behavior in the real world (how lovely for the rest of us!). Certainly, the movie’s popularity forces the question: Have we become so jaded that it takes extreme stimuli like The Hostel (and by all accounts, the movie is nothing if not extreme) to provide a frisson of excitement?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes once analogized the mind to an attic, with its owner having the responsibility to decide what material should be stored there. What, in our culture, is missing that so many would decide that the images purveyed by The Hostel are appropriate mental furnishings?

But if there’s anything more disheartening about the movie than its popularity (which guarantees that more of the same will be coming soon to a theater near you), it’s the reports that parents are bringing their young children to the film. What in the world can they be thinking?

In a more innocent time, the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West or Snow White’s apple-bearing evil queen or “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”’s supremely creepy Child Catcher provided plenty of fodder for childhood fears. How, exactly, are little children – not yet fully equipped with the skills that allow them to separate fantasy from fact – supposed to process a grisly movie filled with graphic depictions of sexual torture? Do parents not understand the harm (emotional in the short term, possibly psychological in the long) that such images can inflict? Or are they just too selfish to care – either unable to withstand an older child’s importuning to see the film, or unable to wait three months to watch it at home on DVD after the little ones are asleep?

Over time, our cultural understanding of what constitutes “child abuse” has expanded. At first, it was defined as physical mistreatment, but then was extended to include verbal abuse. Perhaps it’s time to expand it yet further. We would fault parents for failing to protect their children from anything that would physically hurt them, especially if such harm could be readily prevented. Shouldn’t the same standard be applied for mental or psychological harm?

No one wants the government interfering any more than strictly necessary in the parent-child relationship. So let’s hope that parents who are exposing their young children to the most deviant, degrading and frightening portraits of human nature will realize that the mental harm they’re enabling can leave scars every bit as painful – and possibly even longer lasting – as those attributable to physical abuse.

There’s an argument to be made that The Hostel is unwholesome entertainment for anyone, of any age. But at least the adults flocking to the theaters have made an informed choice to see it for themselves, and, hopefully, have the strength of mind and emotional maturity to process the most disturbing images. Children, by contrast, haven’t – and don’t.

The nightmares of childhood were frightening enough even in the days long before The Hostel. Give the little ones a break – take them to a Disney movie instead. Believe me, they’ll thank you later. -one-


Columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst, commentator and tOR / CRO editorial director based in San Marino, CA. Ms. Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. Her web log can be found at

copyright 2006 Carol Platt Liebau


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