Chicago is a cruel city.
Back in 1967, Roger Ebert, a leading citizen of the City of Broad Shoulders, wrote a review of theater owner's decision to show Night of the Living Dead at a Saturday children's matinee. Ebert didn't actually review the movie. He reviewed the audience, and the consequences of showing a film that many adults find unbearable to a room full of children:
Well, the kids came early, as I said. There were a few parents, but mostly just the kids, dumped in front of the theater for the Saturday matinee (admission 40 cents). A lot of kids were racing up the aisles on urgent missions, and other kids were climbing over the backs of seats, and you'd see a gang of kids passing a box of popcorn back and forth. Occasionally some kid would get whacked by his big sister because he wouldn't shut up.
There was a cheer when the lights went down. The opening scene was set in a cemetery (lots of delighted shrieks from the kids), where a teen-age couple are placing a wreath on a grave. Suddenly a ghoul appears and attacks the boy and the girl flees to a nearby farmhouse. The ghoul looked suitably decayed, with all sorts of bloody scars on his face, and he walked in the official ghoul shuffle. More screams from the kids. Screaming is part of the fun, you'll remember….
Then things picked up. A television set is discovered, and the news commentator reports that an epidemic of mass murder is underway. The recently dead, he says, are coming back to life in funeral parlors, morgues and cemeteries….
The young kid will drive the truck to the gas pump, and the Negro will hold off the ghouls with a blazing torch until the truck's tank is filled. The kids' girlfriend insists on coming along. When they get to the pump, the ghouls start advancing and the torch accidentally sets the truck on fire. The Negro escapes, but the truck blows up and incinerates the teen-age couple.
At this point, the mood of the audience seemed to change. Horror movies were fun, sure, but this was pretty strong stuff. There wasn't a lot of screaming anymore; the place was pretty quiet. When the fire died down, the ghouls approached the truck and ripped apart the bodies and ate them. One ghoul ate a shoulder joint with great delight, occasionally stopping to wipe his face. Another ghoul dug into a nice mess of intestines….
The next scene takes place the next morning. The sheriff's deputies are conducting a mopping-up operation, shooting ghouls and burning them. They approach the farmhouse. The sheriff looks casually into the charred wreck of the car, sees what's left of the two bodies, and says: "Somebody had himself a cook-out." Inside the house, the Negro hears help coming and looks out the window. He is shot through the forehead by the deputies. "That's one more for the bonfire," the sheriff says. End of movie.
The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying.
I don't think the younger kids really knew what hit them.
Ebert was arguing for voluntary censorship by filmmakers and theater owners, the program that eventually became the MPAA ratings board that's given us such wonderful film reviews as G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17. Sure, the ratings board is something of a joke. It's done little to improve the quality of movies or the tide of violence movies depict, but at least Chicago children aren't intentionally subjected by strangers to lurid simulations of mass murder.
For that, they have to go to school.
The simulation will take approximately 15-20 minutes, during which time teachers will secure their rooms, draw curtains, and keep their students from traveling throughout the building. Please note that we will be firing blanks in the hallway in an effort to provide our teachers and students some familiarity with the sound of gunfire. Our school resource officer and other members of the Cary Police Department will assist us in sweeping the building to ensure that all students are in a secure location during the drill. At the conclusion of the drill, we will take some time to process what occurred and then we will return to our normal classroom routine.
That's from the desk of Cary-Grove High School Principal Jay Sargent. Sargent, in conjunction with the Chicago Police Department, is about to subject his students to a simulated murder spree with guns blazing. There is no opt-out provision. Evidently if parents don't want their children exposed to guns firing in the hallways, they'll have to pretend their kids are sick.
Though Sargent admits that attending the "drill" may actually make students sick.
I encourage you to discuss the drill with your student both before it happens and after. These drills help our students and staff to be prepared should a crisis occur, but it may cause some students to have an emotional reaction. In those cases, your voice may provide reassurances of the drill’s importance. Additionally, we have trained social workers on staff who can speak directly with your child should he or she need added support.
Questions for Principal Sargent:
1) How is this exercise fundamentally different from showing your students a movie that can't be rated due to its violent content?
2) Please explain in detail exactly how this exercise will be helpful to anyone? Your answer must be specific, and must exceed 500 words.
3) In the event of an actual school takeover and mass shooting, do you believe that your students and faculty will face death with calmness and bravery as a result of this exercise? Explain.
4) What is the policy of the Chicago School Board on paying for extended psychological care in the event students suffer lasting trauma from this exercise?
5) Do you genuinely believe, in an era where students can watch Night of the Living Dead and similar movies on Youtube, that any of your students don't know what a gun sounds like?
And for extra credit: Assume for the purpose of this question that the murder rate in Chicago is approximately equal to that of smaller cities such as Aleppo, Fallujah, and Mogadishu. Explain, in symbolic logic, the utility to the city of using police officers to conduct murder drills in one of the few areas of the city where actual murders are not occurring, rather than deploying said officers to areas where genuine murders are taking place.
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