power over harry potter, or, it’s a very harry christmas

Last week at the library, we checked the first Harry Potter movie on a lark.  I had read the first book to the kids last year (I read all the books when they were coming out, adored them) and Luc has the Lego Harry Potter game on the ipad, so they were familiar with the world and the beginning of the whole story, and I knew what was coming.  So, in spite of there being some concern that the later stories get kind of scary, we settled in a watched.  Big surprise, we all loved it.

So, back to the library we went, totally stoked for the next movie, only to find, to our delight and surprise, they also had Harry Potter 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.1.  A moment’s consideration and yep, we got them ALL.  Plus, 7.2 is on its way from Netflix.  We’ve been watching part of a movie a night, finished the Order of the Phoenix (5) last night, and, at our current rate, will sit down for the last installment, 7.2, on Christmas Day.

Full on Harry Potter Christmas Marathon for the win!  Woo hoo!

But it’s tricky.  One of the (many) cool things about the Harry Potter series is, of course, that the stories age and mature as Harry does, in both complexity, depth, and intensity.  This means, however, that the books about Harry as a sixteen or seventeen year old really aren’t written for the eight or nine year olds who might have loved the first books when Harry is eleven or twelve.  I hear parents talking about “holding off” on Harry because they are worried that the stories are too scary or intense for their kids in the later books.  But, of course, the readers (the kids) often want to blast through them, no waiting.  What to do?

Luc particularly can get scared by something in a movie and then be troubled at night by visions of monsters or just feeling spooked by the dark.  But he really, really wants to watch these movies, is totally into the story at this point.  I can’t blame him!  Our approach has always been power over media, rather than media having power over us—and couple that with a strong conviction that a person should decide for themselves what they want to think, learn, experience, read or, in this case, watch, and what we have here is an opportunity to help Luc watch Harry Potter in the least scary way possible for him.

Because here’s the thing.  I really wanted to see Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because, although I haven’t read the book, I had heard amazing things about the main character and the actress playing her (all true)—BUT I also had heard there were several intense scenes of sexual assault.  NOT something I want to see, at all.  But imagine how silly it would sound if Paul were to say to me “I don’t think you can handle this movie.  You aren’t allowed to watch it.”  I’d laugh, or slug him maybe.  How dare he think he can decide what I can watch?!  He knows better, haha.

Luc, a human just like me, deserves the same freedom to watch Harry Potter and not be impacted by the bits that are too much for him (his choice what those bits are) just as much as I should be able to watch the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and not watch the bits I don’t want to (my choice, the sexual assault scenes, too dark for me).  And I want to help him do that.

So, how does one have power over a movie?  Easy.  First and foremost, the Pause button.  If a scene gets too intense, we pause, get up, get some snacks, thus breaking the emotional build up created by the images/sounds.  We talk about what is going on in the story, or about how the effects were made, or how the acting, or the camera angles, or the color palette, or the sounds, or the set design, create the mood, and the talk breaks the trance of the movie, which automatically makes it less scary.

Also, for Luc, talking about the CGI artists who make a monster (like the Basilisk, say) puts it right in the world of Luc drawing on Tux Paint, something he does almost every day.  He starts thinking about the choices they made for, say, the scale pattern on a dragon, or how its leg joints work, decisions he’s faced when drawing his own dragons on the computer, and he gets it.  He’s a digital artist too, who loves to draw spooky monsters.  And digital monsters aren’t really scary.

Basically, when the emotional impact of a scene isn’t something you want, you don’t have to just succumb to it.  Choose and pick the bits you want. Leave/break the rest.  Power to the viewer!

Other tricks….watching an intense bit with the sound off reduces the scary a LOT.  It’s surprising how much of the mood of a scene is created by the music and the sound effects.  Once Luc knows what’s going to happen, the shock factor (a big part of being scared in movies) is gone, and we can rewind and rewatch with the sound back on.  Another way of diffusing the intensity.  The scary bits are usually only a few minutes long, it’s really no big deal to rewatch a little bit.

Or you can reverse that approach and just listen—the classic Cover Your Eyes strategy.  Luc will sometimes listen only and have me tell him what is happening.  Then, when he knows what to expect, he can rewind and watch the scene.  I did this with Dragon Tattoo (being, as I was, in the theater and unable to pause)—I covered my eyes for a couple of scenes and got the gist from the dialogue (or the, um, screaming. ugh.).

We could skip whole scenes, too, but usually reducing impact is enough.

Sound like a lot of work?  It’s not.  And for Luc, if he wants to watch, I want to help him do it in a way that makes the whole thing a success for him.  I loved Dragon Tattoo, amazing acting, powerful character (Rooney Mara ROCKS), but, in the theater, I wished for a pause button when the tension was getting too high.  At home, we have all the power, and we use it.

“So, would you just let your kids watch anything?”

Yes, if they wanted to watch something, if the desire came from them, I want to help them do that.  That isn’t the same as having R rated movies running in a room they are in, and it isn’t the same as them watching silently, on their own, without our help in processing whatever it is.  They don’t WANT to watch just about any adult movie they’ve ever catch a bit of as they scroll through the channels.  They aren’t interested.  Harry Potter is an example for Luc, just as Dragon Tattoo is for me, of a story we want, even though some parts are more intense than we want.  So far the Harry movies haven’t been a problem for Sophie at all, who is sucking them up, just like me.  And Paul was untroubled by the violence in Dragon Tattoo.  Everyone is different.  Everyone gets to pick for themselves what their boundaries are.  And we all help each other with our choices, because why not?  We’re all friends.  We’re all on the same team.

Huge upside: the four of us have had some amazing conversations as a result of our Harry Potter Marathon.  School (Hogwarts), corporal punishment (Snape, and then Delores and her quill that writes in your blood), changing views of children by society (how beating children used to be the norm, for example), the press (the Daily Prophet), slavery (Dobby and the house elves), racism (mud-bloods), economic disparity (the Weasleys vs. Harry), the afterlife (Nearly Headless Nick and other ghosts), sports culture (the Quidditch cup), and friendship and loyalty (Ron and Hermione)—all these topics and more have been discussed, sometimes heatedly, over the last few days in the yurt.  Not to mention the story, and the art, writing, and meta-level of creating the movies.  I wouldn’t trade these conversations for anything.

Really, anyone who thinks watching tv/movies is a “passive” activity has not watched anything at our house, that’s for damn sure.  The idea of it is downright laughable.

I’m sure 2011 will go down in our memories as the Harry Potter Christmas, haha.  It has been a tremendous amount of fun.  I bought Luc a Gryffendor hat yesterday for a last minute Christmas present.  Heck, I dreamed I was at Hogwarts last night.  We’re all in deep at this point.

Half-Blood Prince tonight.  If it really gets to be too much, we’ll put it aside for another time, but so far everyone is loving it, including Luc, who knows he has all the power he needs to control his experience of the movie.  Which, if you ask me, is a heck of a lot better than seeing him as a potential victim who needs protecting (who wants to be seen, or see him or herself, as helpless?), and much better than controlling him (saying no) and thus setting us up as adversaries.  This way I’m his ally in watching as much as he wants, in the way he wants, and he gets to feel powerful, AND watch Harry Potter with his family. It’s a win for us all.

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