Bad-child movies and Gen XPosted: Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Slate has a great article on the “bad-child” movie genre: “Why are we so fascinated with horror movies about homicidal children?”
Recalling my reading of Strauss & Howe, I had always thought the bad-child movie trend peaked in the late Sixties and throughout the Seventies, when my generation was being birthed to the soundtrack of screams from The Omen, The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby (family rumor long has it that my mother went into labor with me while watching this last one on TV Correction: Mama Icepick tells me it was a viewing of 1963’s Children of the Damned on TV that sent her into labor with me; somehow, that seems to explain a lot, but I digress).
Strauss & Howe describe parenting in those years as hardly as celebrated as it later became — parental attitudes toward kids and young adults (more than they had been before or after, in recent times) were that they were inconvenient and unruly, if they were thought of at all, a somewhat lost generation that would grow into teen-agers and young adults as “an army of aging Bart Simpsons, possibly armed and dangerous. … wandering through a suburban wasteland of drugs and anomie in Bret Easton Ellis’s 1985 novel ‘Less Than Zero.’ Instead of Woodstock, they had MTV,” in the dated words (from 1990) of a nevertheless historically relevant New York Times piece (quotation h/t Strauss & Howe’s Generations, p. 317). So a generation of latchkey kids was born (with a nod to my fellow blogger, Wek) in the Sixties and Seventies. “Devil-child” movies were popular in those decades. If I remember it correctly, Strauss & Howe pointedly noted that Roe v. Wade was decided in the midst of this worldview of children and parenting, while parental divorce hit many of our childhoods with full force.
The generational authors contrast the bad-child movies of the Gen X birth years with the “good-child” movies of the Eighties as the next-generation Millennials were being born: the execrable Look Who’s Talking series and the equally execrable Three Men and a Baby were big hits in those years (curiously, I think Strauss & Howe left out the Chucky/Childs’Play and Problem Child series of the Eighties, and 1984’s Children of the Corn, but perhaps they were weighing these films based on popularity, box-office receipts and the effect they had on those times, but I digress).
The rise of the then-ubiquitous “Baby on Board” signs fit in with the culture of the Eighties, Strauss & Howe wrote. Those would have been greatly out of place in the two decades prior. But it’s a trend that’s continued on to the present day, with an attitude of protective parenting perhaps even stronger now than it was in the Eighties (and even with some needed corrective push-back; witness Lenore Skenazy’s great Free-Range Kids blog).
Anyway, the Slate article does a good job of tracing the bad-baby genre to the Baby Boom years of 1956’s The Bad Seed, so there you have it, late-Boomers. And while Hollywood still loves it’s bad-seed flicks (from remakes like 2006’s The Omen to this summer’s Orphan, which provides the entrée to the Slate article), it seems to me that none of them had the cultural impact of the demon-child movies of my generation’s introduction into the world.