I promise you this is about horror media.
It’s rare that I can just show you the media I’m talking about in a Story Pile. It’s rarer still that I might do so only to see how long some of you last before some part of your good taste shuts the experience down.
This is an episode of McGee & Me!, which I guess can be kind of explained as a ‘VHS TV Series’ from the late 1980s and early 1990s. In this episode, if you don’t have the stamina to watch it all, we learn Nick, our protagonist, wants to go see a scary movie as part of a school social event, and his parents refuse, and ground him. He makes a scheme to go see the movie, then returns home, upset by the movie he saw. He talks to his parents, who explain why they refused to let him go to the movie, then he’s punished off-screen.
It is Christian morality media for nine year olds. No horror is shown, only implied, the acting is wooden and stilted, and the animation demonstrate competence in only the most rudimentary of ways, so the ways it sucks stand out in glaring contrast. It is incredibly mediocre and meaningless in every way.
I want to talk to you about how this episode scared the shit out of me.
This is the paradigm I was left with growing up. I remembered watching it as a child along with other top-tier Educational Children’s Entertainment like Commander Crumbcake. The series was about an artistic, creative kid who’d just moved, and I was an artistic, creative kid who’d just moved, and the tapes were sold in the church’s bookstore, so they had to be okay and not full of devil music.
Meant I got to watch a lot of McGee and Me despite there being something like eleven episodes, in total. This one, though, this is the one that has, for lack of a better term, haunted me my entire life.
I’m assuming you haven’t watched the embedded video. I’m going to recommend that that’s a good thing. Cringe, as much as it exists, should not be weaponised against the unwilling, but it also might make it harder to grapple with the way that this stupid episode really upset me, and instilled in me patterns that haunted me my entire life.
Now, you might think, given that the kid said ‘can I go see this movie’ and his parents say ‘no’ the lesson might be about obedience or about how you need to accept and respect your parent’s wishes or something, you know, the obvious option. In the episode, Nick (our squirt of a protagonist) asks to go to the school event, there’s a bit of bad communication with his parents, he snaps at his sister and he’s grounded. At that point, the setup is in place where the parents can show a sort of loftier vision than merely focusing on the content of the movie, right? It doesn’t matter what you’re frustrated by, it doesn’t matter what the movie is, the problem is parents need to trust you’ll stay safe and you need to trust your parent’s good intentions for you.
Except it doesn’t take that route. The fact that the movie (that the parents have not seen and know nothing about, stated in the episode) is ‘bad’ is the moral lesson of the episode. The issue is that Nick wanted to see a scary movie – and when he goes to see it, his parents explain that they told him not to see it because ‘there are images in your mind you can never get rid of.’ I mean it’s not wrong that the media we partake on gives us ideas that we can then internalise and use to explain our experiences. What they were wrong about was that it wasn’t this simple ‘garbage in, garbage out’ lesson that the episode underscores. No, I absorbed a couple of other lessons from this show.
First of all, I learned that my ability to be happy is a byproduct of a mental state that is, fundamentally always being eroded by my experiences. Every sad or scary thing was to be stuck in my head, and that meant everything that scared me, everything that might scare me, had to be kept away. My mind had a purity, and it could be consumed, used up by just my experience of the world around me, and then what was I going to do?
What could I do?
There’s horror to the helplessness of it. I was a really high strung kid, if I saw something scary, I’d freak out for it, for years, and I didn’t really know why. I was terrified of not going to bed on time, I was afraid of the news, I was afraid of just mild cliffhangers, I melted down watching The Little Mermaid. It’s only after going back and watching this again and wondering about how the described idea mapped to my experience that I realise that this stupid show really fucked me up for my entire life. Because I reacted to I missed my bedtime with a panic attack.
My innocence was being used up because a cartoon showed me something momentarily scary. There was no lesson about growing, abou developing, about understanding things, about mapping the lessons of the media to the lessons my parents wanted. Indeed, why would you turn to your parents for help understanding things you saw?!
The fact that everyone in Nick’s life issues rules and not asks questions is a big one, too. Why do you want to see The Night of The Blood Freaks? Here’s why we don’t want you to see it. It’s not the reason you think. Talk to your fucking kids, god damnit. And then that means that when he’s feeling visibly upset at having seen a disturbing horror movie (a horror movie that his friends and peers visibly enjoyed), we get this mournful song about if you stick it in your mind, it’s gunna stay right there in your heart, a song lyric that I have had rattle around in nightmares for thirty years.
When he’s upset about an experience that they then assert would be traumatising, he can’t turn to his parents for comfort. He can’t run to his mother or father and tell them he’s afraid or frightened, or doesn’t understand, or hates his friends for pulling him along into the experience. There’s no support for him…
Well, unless you count the dad’s punishment.
And like, the dad hits him right?
That’s obviously why they don’t say it, or do it immediately in the living room. The dad doesn’t bend his kid over and beat him on the spot because that’s a ‘bad look’ to put on camera, so he sends him up to his room to wait. And at first when I saw him sent away I thought ‘oh wow, I remembered it wrong, he didn’t hit him,’ then the narration over it explicitly said ‘we didn’t just talk about my punishment.’
Which is I think some Very Deniable kid-hitting, a sort of yada-yada-yada over the line ‘that’s when Dad came up to my room and beat me, but saying it that way is upsetting.’ Which means, as with so many Christian things, the obviously bad thing happened, but also, you’re not supposed to talk about it.
It makes sense, of course, that this Christian Media is making the moral lesson of its story ‘hey, you should only ever watch more Christian media.’ It’s ‘buy all our playsets and toys,’ but you don’t even get a cool toy. And that’s kind of how all this Focus on the Family stuff works if you look at the lessons it tries to communicate.
Anyway, this show sucks, and the values it teaches kids are screwed up and actively hurtful.