This past weekend, some friends of mine got together and watched that Cartoon Network miniseries Over the Garden Wall. Talk about DARK. But the darkness and outright horror of the miniseries is not to prove how “edgy” somebody is. It’s there to explore very important concepts such as fear, misplaced emotion, naïveté, danger and regret. Ideas that I believe that children are constantly learning and yet many adults aspire to “shield” children from in the media. It scares me because the sanitized, squeaky-clean desires of many adults do not match up to the psychological complexity of young people’s minds.
Adults keep lying to each other about what children *should/shouldn’t* be exposed to, I think. I have read that this is something of an English-speaking cultural tendency.
And don’t get me wrong, I was a total scardy-cat as a little kid! But that doesn’t mean that it’s categorically wrong to challenge children.
That said, still not a fan of what most people call “dark and gritty,” I believe that things like Frank Miller, Mark Millar and other similar stuff reflect a very incomplete conception of the world. At this stage in life, we tend to become aware of complexity for the first time in our awareness and become skeptical of much of what we have learned as children. The aforementioned whitewashing and sanitation of reality by adults leads adolescents who are perceiving complexity for the first time to mistrust everything because they feel lied to for their entire lives to date. This is why I believe that teens love sad endings. That and hormones. But the mistrust of authority stems, in my estimation, from having previously trusted authority only to learn that there was a realer reality underneath the sunny surface that well-meaning guardians presented.
The big problem is that PG-13/learning-stops-at-18-years-old mindset that we have in our culture. In this, we make the twin sins (“Twin Sins”) of promoting the idea that education in all senses of the term is optional after a certain age; meanwhile, we also tailor our mainstream cultural output to target that narrow and ultimately transitionary age group as the ideal age and maturity for “that which is mainstream.”
We are culturally suspended in a mid-step. Arrested development as the societal ideal of maturity.
The problem with Miller, Millar, Zack Snyder, Quentin Tarantino and all the rest isn’t that their work is “adolescent.” It is and it should be. The problem is that societally, we don’t allow culture to graduate onward to higher levels of maturity.