Monday, March 11, 2013

Little Shadow Boxers

(This is a re-post from two years ago, but I just read an article [thanks to Mark Colvin for posting the link] about some of the absurd fallout from the Sandy Hook killings, in American schools, and, despite the horrific nature of that day -- and the very real tears I shed over it -- I still feel this way:)

My mother always was very much against guns. As a kid, I never had a toy gun, outside of the occasional water pistol. Mind you, I really wanted to have toy guns and I would greedily claim any available weapon at friends' houses before playing "war" or any other violence-based games. At home, though, I was, as they say on the mean streets, without a "piece."

At my wife's house, in her childhood, things were a little different. Toy guns were allowed, as were BB guns in the later years. Legend has it that there was a rifle incident in the back yard of their suburban home that left a tree somewhat worse for wear. Karen grew up with two brothers, both of whom own hunting guns and bows to this day. For the record, neither of them has ever killed a man. (Nor has my wife, to the best of my knowledge.) Both of them are throrougly nice guys and one of them is one hell of a dancer. (Just thought I'd mention that, in light of the wedding I attended last night.)

So, who was right -- my mom or my wife's parents? (As far as I know, my dad didn't have a problem with toy guns, though he has always had a thorough disgust for war.)

I think people may overreact to the violence issue when it comes to kids -- especially boys. I don't think it is violence boys crave so much as a clear metaphorical dry run at contending; a theatrical platform for practicing the attainment of glory.

I was not a violent kid. I never fought if I could help it and when I did, I was pretty philosophical about it. But, for a long time after having seen Rocky (a film I stand behind in terms of its artistic quality, despite the charicature Stallone allowed himself to become) I wanted to be a boxer. But the truth is, I didn't want to be a boxer. What I wanted to be was Rocky Balboa. I still do.

As a ten-year-old boy, I was entranced by the sharply-chiseled story of a genuinely nice guy with very little intelligence and nearly no moral support who did what he set out to by virtue of sheer tenacity and courage. I find Rocky to be a beautiful film. I am still moved by seeing Rocky tell his girlfriend, Adrian, on the night before the championship fight, that it doesn't matter if he wins of loses; if he can still be standing at the end of fifteen rounds, everyone will then know that he wasn't "just another bum from the neighborhood." And that's exactly how it ends: Rocky doesn't win, but he accomplishes his goal: he stays on his feet and proves he is not just another bum from a dirty Philadelphia street.

And isn't that what we all want to do? -- just prove that we are something more than a 98.6 degree sack of water lumbering from birth to grave with nothing extraordinary to contribute to the human timeline?

The fight in the film is life. Rocky is not about boxing -- it's about living. And I think that playing war is not about violence and killing. I don't really believe it makes our kids violent. I think it gives them a framework for playing at striving for the extraordinary.

Stallone took care to depict Rocky as a kind, loving, downtrodden fellow facing a world that is way too big for him. What he does is what we all do: he fights. Our kids stand four feet tall in the middle of a summer lawn, in the middle of a town, in the middle of a state, in the middle of a country, in the middle of a world, in the middle of a planet, in the middle of a universe, wanting, instinctually, to tell everyone that they mean something. If defeating evil enemy troops with fake guns helps them to do that, maybe we can overlook the pretend violence -- as long as we help them keep perspective along the way.

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