Help Needed: How New Is TV’s Kids-Getting-Killed Obsession?

Hi Folks! This zftfrdrzss
article on tv.msn
talks about the trend of using kids in danger — or actually murdered — as the “newest” hook on TV dramas. It lists several of this season’s shows — “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad,” “American Horror Story,” “Dexter” — that feature poisoned, executed and/or potentially eviscerated kids, including baby twins.

I totally agree that these shows are using the ultimate terror as the ultimate hook. But I don’t see this as a spanking new trend. The handful of “Law & Order” episodes I’ve watched over the years involved kids snatched off the street to their doom. And certainly, in the movies, missing or dead children catapult a legion of righteous cops and crazed parents into action.

So I’m asking you, folks: Do you have any thoughts about how long this trend has been mounting? A professor friend I was talking to the other day, Leonard Cassuto, said that the very SIGHT of a dead child had been taboo on TV until recently. I’d love to hear from some of you who watch and digest TV fare: What are the trends on TV dramas right now, vis a vis kids in peril? Thanks for cogitating on this with me. — L.

Hello, children! Won't you step into my edgy TV drama?

P.S. And if you need a break from thinking such somber thoughts, you will LOVE this short video.

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78 Responses to Help Needed: How New Is TV’s Kids-Getting-Killed Obsession?

  1. Julia December 19, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    I don’t watch any of the shows you mentioned, and I if I did see a dead child on a TV show I would never watch it again. That, in my opinion, is sick.

  2. Tim Gill December 19, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    Lenore – different medium, but same topic: research has shown that press reporting of child murders has become more emotive, and more doom-laden, in the last 60 – 70 years. The relevant paper is by UK researcher Claire Wardle.
    I discuss this in No Fear.
    PS love the Xtranormal video!

  3. Matthew E December 19, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

    Well, Strauss and Howe’s generational cycle theory would probably put it at the early ’80s. That’s when they stopped making movies about GenX kids who were evil monsters and started making movies about kids that people actually wanted to have around. Not sure when the Millennial kids started being put in jeopardy in these movies, but no later than Home Alone.

  4. Peter Brülls December 19, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

    *Killing off* child characters is mostly only an extension of them (and dogs) dangling in front of the viewer as an emotionally charged plot devices. Which became terribly overused in the last two decades. Anyone remember Jurassic Park? The two kids in the first movie were excusable, but the inclusion of the kids in parts 2 and 3 was nothing but going for cheap drama. (At least a dog got eaten in Lost World.)

    Killing them off just takes it to the next level, especially as they could be avoided altogether.

    Well, in most cases. You can’t describe a zombie apocalypse and expect their not being some children and them being safe from harm.

  5. Rachel Banzhaf December 19, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    Killing off children is taboo but more and more shows thrive on breaking taboos left and right. In theory, small children and dogs are death-proof. I didn’t watch Lost past the second season but Walt and his dog were hanging in strong at that point. Viewers got so used to kids surviving that shows and movies started playing on that, killing them when it’s least expected. The old horror movie rules of who survives (kids, dogs, and virgins) no longer stand.

  6. kiesha December 19, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

    Yeah, “The Walking Dead” is about ZOMBIES killing children. Not your average, run-of-the-mill child murderer. It is the height of fantasy. Living during a zombie apocalypse would put you in “Worst First Thinking” automatically.
    It’s very different from “Law and Order’ which is set in a much more “realistic” world.

  7. Kimberly December 19, 2011 at 10:44 pm #

    Have you ever read real fairy tales – not the Disney sanitized version but the Grimm Brothers’ version? Kids in jeopardy is a storytelling trope as old as storytelling. We have lost a lot of our oral history because of government censoring of unpleasant things. With the rise of current technology, storytellers are able to tell their stories without the filter of publishers, ad men, and government. This is a good thing.

    I was visiting family in Canada when ET was out. One of my younger cousins was prohibited by law from seeing the movie due to the rating. I couldn’t believe it because she was right in the target range for the show. I asked why it had that rating and was told that the it was because the grown ups, especially the government officials, were the bad guys, and the kids disobeyed them. I thought disobeying misused authority good message not a bad one.

    I’m sick of retro sanitizing of things. Hans shot first. The government officials in ET had guns while they were chasing the kid heroes. The Walking Dead is about a Zombie Apocalypse – kids are going to die. If you think the TV show is too violent for goodness sake don’t read the actual comic.

    Even if a show is more “normal” you have to have drama. I don’t get why people want shows to be “true to real life”, why they get upset that CSI shows are basically Science Fiction, or ER is not accurate for today’s medicine. It is FICTION people. You don’t trust it for facts. For that you do actual research and use NONFICTION sources. My 2nd graders know the difference! Why don’t you all? I hated it when outsiders tried to censor what I read/viewed as a kid – I will fight you tooth and nail now that I’m an adult. If you don’t like it turn it off – but leave the fans alone.

  8. Ann in L.A. December 19, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    I used to watch “Perry Mason” all the time. I don’t think you ever saw a dead body, and certainly not a dead child.

    “Homicide” had a running story line from the first episode to the last about an unsolved murder of a child, and I think you did see the body.

    I can’t think of any “NCIS” episode with dead kid, but they have had kids kidnapped.

  9. Tyro December 19, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    I watch and “Dexter” and “Walking Dead” and I’d say that I like them _because_ they have the mystery and thrills without a lot of the stereotypical BS that most other shows tend to have. Kids occasionally get into trouble but no more so than the adults. In these fantasy worlds, _everyone_ is in trouble! That said, the fact that I have to avoid most shows just reinforces the hypothesis even if I think his examples are poor.

    Child abductions are very common even though they’re relatively rare as actualy crimes. But frankly, the thing that really bothers me is the rampant misogynistism which pervades so many films and tv shows since it has become so expected and passes without comment. The monsters are almost always women-hating maniacs and the bulk of the show or movie is watching women get degraded, tortured, killed and occasionally rescued. Look at the top horror movies: Hostel, Human Centipede, Hills Have Eyes, even classics like Silence of the Lambs, and Psycho.

    Taboo aside, I’m grateful that our shows aren’t drumming up more irrational fears by showing a lot of dead children. I do wish that if there was violence (or threats of violence) then it would be somewhat more realistic and not always due to woman-hating serial killers.

    To that extent, Breaking Bad (which is about drug violence, a very real problem), Walking Dead (a family surviving in a zombie land, very unreal problems), and Dexter (an episodic drama focused on rare, isolated killers) serve as some of the better examples. Instead look at the shows which feature another serial killer, another abduction, another horror every week: Law and Order (especially SVU) and Dangerous Minds stand out as the worst of the lot.

  10. Michael December 19, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    kiesha couldn’t be more correct. Leave The Walking Dead out of it because if a viewer watches it and sees a cute little girl that had gone missing after being chased by zombies (a common occurrence in the US, or so I’m told) and that same little girl then turns up a zombie like five episodes later and the viewer thinks — that could happen to my little one — the viewer is beyond any hope.

  11. kcb December 19, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    I’ve watched Law and Order, L&O SVU, Cold Case and Criminal Minds. So clearly I like the police/courtoom dramas, but haven’t been able to stomach things like American Horror Story. I don’t know exactly when “kids in danger” became common…But I have noticed 3 trends:

    1) The stories are becoming more sensational and the plotlines less realistic. Early L&O dealt with a lot of larger “issues” such as race, poverty, etc. It dealt with children’s issues but (if I remember correctly) often in terms of custody disputes/children in custody of the state/child abuse – as opposed to serial rapists or kids “snatched off the street”.

    2) The majority of the new shows (that I will still watch) being created are entirely “police” dramas rather than “courtoom” dramas. That is a huge shift. L&O used to involve a lot of DAs expounding on arguments, dissecting the law and society, considering “guilt”. Now these shows are all about catching the (VERY) “bad” guy, who is a “psychopath”. It is exceptionally black & white storytelling; anything thought-provoking is gone, all that’s left is the provocative.

    3) Gruesomeness. Shows like L&O tell the story from the police’s point of view. They arrive to find a house burned down; they solve the mystery of the arson. But shows like Criminal Minds have big sections of story told from the point of the view of the criminal. So instead you SEE the arsonist torture his victims, torch the house, watch the people choke to death. It is a totally different experience. It makes watching anything involving children that much more visceral and upsetting.

    Just my 2 cents…

  12. K December 19, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

    Using violence against children in morality tales and as entertainment is not new (see Grimm’s fairy tales, as another poster mentioned). But, the notion of showing images, graphics, and details is becoming increasingly common and acceptable in print, on the internet, and in videogames, movies, and television.

    Images change our thinking in ways that written or spoken words do not. One is that we become desensitized to violence. The other is that we develop unrealistic impressions of the actual risk factors. Both of these effects are getting increased research attention by social scientists and they are chilling. This is just another reason to choose what little television I watch very carefully.

    I discontinued a weekly news magazine when the Oklahoma City bombing followed with a dead and bloodied child on the cover of said magazine. Pure sensationalism from what I had considered a relatively staid new source.

  13. Peter Brülls December 19, 2011 at 11:12 pm #

    Regarding the Grimm brothers: It has been shown again and again that oral and written stories get processed quite different from movies or even pictures.

  14. BMS December 19, 2011 at 11:32 pm #

    This trend is exactly why we don’t have a television or cable. My husband in particular just does not want to watch shows where kids get killed. Period. We would rather watch movies or selected sci-fi related TV on Netflix than see yet another ‘twisted criminals’ show. Not only are they disturbing to him, but to me they are BORING. The whole cop show formula has been beaten into the ground ten times over. There is NOTHING new or interesting in any of these shows. They have jumped the shark completely, and then the shark shot himself to escape this endless torture. I love mysteries, Agatha Christie is da bomb, but there is nothing mysterious or original about any of these shows. It’s like the entire entertainment industry has collectively run out of ideas.

  15. shafooey December 19, 2011 at 11:40 pm #

    IMO, I think people just use TV programs and movies as a target because they think it’s something they can control by complaining. People forget TV and Film reflects our world. It’s not supposed to be a rosily painted picture constantly.

  16. Donna December 19, 2011 at 11:42 pm #

    At work for awhile, we were watching old episodes of The Streets of San Francisco and Marcus Welby. Both date back to the 60s. We only saw a handful of episodes of each and yet saw episodes relating to child death from both. I also remember working in the video department in college when everyone freaked out over “My Girl” because the Home Alone kid died in it, including showing him in a coffin.

    Child death and child in peril movies and tv shows have always existed. We see more of it now because there is more tv now, but I don’t think it’s a new trend, particularly in crime dramas.

  17. Peter Brülls December 19, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

    I just looked around. I neither see shambling zombies, nor do I see time holes, through which dinosaurs travel. When I hang out with my wife, family or friends, we do not constantly exchange witty banter. We also have to look for parking space and look the car’s door.

    TV and filme do anything big reflect our world, which is kind of the point of Lenore’s post.

  18. Donna December 19, 2011 at 11:49 pm #

    @ Peter Brulls – Did you read the Jurassic Park books? The kids weren’t excusably added to the movie. They were in the books. If you need to blame someone for the kids in peril in Jurassic Park, you have to go to the original author and not the movie makers. To make the movie without the kids would have been very removed from the original work (not that movies don’t do that, just that it should not be encouraged).

  19. Cheryl W December 19, 2011 at 11:53 pm #

    When my daughter was born twelve years ago this weekend, I was home during the day and ended up watching for a short time, daytime shows. Being under the influence of maternal hormones, I found that I could not watch the “talk/scum” shows because several of them had as the topic of the day mothers who killed their babies. (Or were alleged to have done so.) It was very up setting and I had to turn off the TV. It seems like there were some Homicide shows with the same thing, and I just went to bed. Not long after having children we stopped watching commercial TV, except for the Simpsons. Before kids I hadn’t really noticed.

  20. Peter Brülls December 20, 2011 at 12:02 am #

    @Donna As I wrote, the kids in the first movie are excused. They had a plausible reason to be there. The inclusion of kids in book 2 is still baffling to me, as Crichton didn’t care about what the 2nd movie would be about. Also, Lost Park wildly differs from the book, much more than Jurassic Park did – dropping Malcom’s daughter would not have been a problem, as she didn’t really contribute to his machinations.

    The coup the grace was Jurassic Park III, though – a 12 year old boy surviving 8 weeks on a Velociraptor infested island, when armed men get devoured within hours? 🙂

  21. bdh December 20, 2011 at 12:03 am #

    If tv and film reflects our world, then they are doing so with crazy, fun-house mirrors.

  22. Peter Brülls December 20, 2011 at 12:03 am #

    machinations = motivation. Autocorrection subscribes to chaos theory.

  23. Donna December 20, 2011 at 12:10 am #

    Peter, but why should they drop the daughter from the movie as she was in the book on which the movie was based (albeit somewhat loosely)? If they had added the daughter to the movie as a character outside of the book, I could understand your argument, but I fail to see how deciding to keep in a character used by the original author is somehow wrong just because that character is a child. I never saw the 3rd movie and it was not based on any book so your point may be valid there.

  24. Peter Brülls December 20, 2011 at 12:19 am #

    @Donna The same cheap thrill applies to book, to. Also, the daughter wasn’t in the book – these two were kids unrelated to Malcom. They also dropped Dodgson from rival company BioSomething, Richard Levine the palaeontologist and changed the plot drastically from three people trying to steal eggs to a great-white-hunter. They also dropped the prion-subplot which doomed all the dinosaurs to death.

    I understand your point, but keeping the kid in “Lost World” simply cannot be defened by wishing to keep close to the original source.

  25. james December 20, 2011 at 12:27 am #

    As I recall, half the episodes of “Lassie” had the basic plot of “unsupervised kid nearly dies, but is saved by heroic dog.”

  26. pentamom December 20, 2011 at 12:37 am #

    “@Donna The same cheap thrill applies to book, to.”

    What about the possibility that Crichton didn’t put the kids in for a “cheap thrill?” In my mind, including the kids (in the original story) just drives home the point of the whole thing — that Hammond was a dreaming fool to think he could provide family entertainment by means of creating deadly predators that he didn’t know enough about to contain. The whole purpose of the place was to eventually bring kids in for entertainment, and Hammond’s shipping his grandkids in even before knowledgeable outsiders had signed off on the safety of the place, simply brings into relief his lack of understanding of what he was creating and dealing with.

    I have no defense of the kids in the subsequent movie — the second movie was ridiculous and the presence and behavior of Malcolm’s daughter gratuitous and preposterous, and I didn’t even bother to watch the third.

  27. jim December 20, 2011 at 12:42 am #

    “Woof, woof!” “What’s that,Lassie, is Timmy in that well again? Won’t that damn kid ever learn?” I thought that was EVERY episode!!

    Caught a few minutes of “Wizard of Oz” yesterday and THAT was a scary movie (my sister had nightmares about the flying monkees until the age of 27 or so) especially the early scene of the little girl befriending the scummy-looking fortune-telling man camped out by the side of the road. Being a male who is nice to strange children, I thought for sure he was going to turn out to be a molester!

  28. Peter Brülls December 20, 2011 at 12:46 am #

    @pentamom You are quoting me, so I’ll assume that you meant to address me. As I wrote, the kids in the first books had a good, plausible in story reason to be there and you are right: Their inclusion by Crichton does indeed reflect on his Hammond character.

  29. backroadsem December 20, 2011 at 1:03 am #

    I suppose in essence I have nothing against the concept. While I believe, for the most part, the movie/show “would never kill a kid!” that does make it all the more shocking and effective when it does happen. Rare occassions that emotionally get you, that’s fine with me in the storytelling world.

    But when it becomes that it’s no longer rare, then it crosses the line. It’s no longer in there for effect, but for some sick reason. It starts looking more of a concern than it is.

  30. Donna December 20, 2011 at 1:06 am #

    Why do you assume cheap thrills? Many of the movies involving children in peril, Lost World and it’s sequel included, were written with tweens and teens as the main audience. I know when I was that age, I preferred to see movies about other kids my age than adults. In fact, as an adult, I prefer to see movies about adults obeyed of children. A movie involving all the adults dying leaving the 12 year old to fight dinosaurs alone is a very fitting plot for a movie geared to 12 year olds (as that series became after the 1st movie).

  31. Donna December 20, 2011 at 1:08 am #

    I’m not sure what autocorrect did there but I meant “adults instead of children” and not whatever the heck posted.

  32. pentamom December 20, 2011 at 1:39 am #

    Yeah, I’m not sure it’s really sound to go back and see for how long there have been stories about children getting killed, and form that somehow concluding that there’s been a “rising tide” of child horror on TV.

    I mean, though I watch very little TV, I gather from what I hear that it’s pretty out of hand at this point. But tracing it back and including every instance of a child murder as being somehow part of a “trend” to be “obsessed” with it seems going a bit far. The reality is that drama is supposed to be dramatic, and kids getting killed is more dramatic than stories about children playing with puppies, or even most stories about adults being harmed. Besides, kids getting killed *is* a real horror that happens, so to some extent drama is going to reflect that even if it’s not going for cheap thrills or coming out of some kind of sick or paranoid mentality.

    It’s fine to argue that we have too much of it now, that it’s unrealistic and fueling a paranoid society, but I’m dubious about this project of looking back and trying to make some kind of case that it’s been “building” as a problem. What’s the benchmark for “the normal amount of stories you’d expect to see about kids getting killed” changing to “the beginning of an obsession with it?” It’s too murky to be of much value.

  33. gina December 20, 2011 at 1:56 am #

    Not too long ago, my husband wrote a screenplay that was based on the death of a real person. The plot line was fiction because nobody really knows how the person died. When the movie came out, “critics” (read: viewers) were appalled because the “facts” were wrong. No amount of arguing could convince these people that this was NOT a factual biography. Point being: no matter how “realistic” something seems, what you see on TV and in the movies is not what is reality. Even reality shows are not real. Nobody acts the same in front of a camera as they would in private.
    That said, I do think that the media plays on the fears of rational people to the point that viewers believe that any plot line “could happen to me”…and they forget to add the part where, while that may be true, the chances are infinitesimal. This, is turn, results in the parents who believe their child at great risk of being abducted at any given point in a day.
    However, as a parent and an intelligent human being, I abhor censorship. As stated above, people who use TV shows to determine the risks and realities of life are lacking in the common sense department. That should not determine what the rest of us can watch.

  34. J.T. Wenting December 20, 2011 at 2:10 am #

    just because they didn’t openly show dead kids doesn’t mean they didn’t feature them, they just used symbolism.
    An empty cod with crying parents and a broken doll for example.
    And everyone knew what was meant.

    That’s how taboos work.

  35. Library Diva December 20, 2011 at 2:13 am #

    I’d also argue for leaving “American Horror Story” out. Not a single thing about that show is meant to be realistic. It’s not just kids that die on that show. It’s everyone. I was counting the other day: the house has 22 deaths that we know of, as a result of everything from childbirth to gunshot wounds to drowned by a ghost in a tub of bobbing apples on Halloween. There are lots of ulitmate terrors on there, including things you didn’t know you had to worry about, like being raped by a ghost (there are very good reasons it’s shown only after 10 p.m). But even the non-horror parts don’t really make a lot of sense or follow closely. That’s the real secret of how they get people to watch that one: by giving you just enough each week that you think, next week, it will all make sense.

  36. Miriam December 20, 2011 at 2:17 am #

    Since I gave birth, I can’t watch kids getting hurt. Older shows really did hold by they “no one kills kids or pets”. Watching an old Hawaii 5-0 episode where a child is kidnapped isn’t scary since you know mcgarret will save them and they won’t get hurt. Nowadays you’re never quite sure and there is a lot more indirect evidence used to show you how the child is being hurt or frightened. Real people will go out of their way not to hurt a child except in duress– there was even that carjacker that abandoned the car after they figured out there was a kid in it.
    I don’t like watching kids get hurt and a lot of shows do it as a cheap way to ramp up the tension.

  37. Sean December 20, 2011 at 3:06 am #

    Kimberly, you took the words right out of my mouth with regard to fairy tales. Kids in danger is as old as…..Leviticus 26:22 I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children , and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your high ways shall be desolate.

    Yep, still scary.

  38. Heather P. December 20, 2011 at 3:38 am #

    Dogs and kids are death-proof? Is that why Old Yeller was so noteworthy, it was a first?

  39. Andrea December 20, 2011 at 3:43 am #

    I can think of two very old films in which children are murdered — Fritz Lang’s _M_ (1931), a classic stranger-danger abduction tale,
    and Sergei Eisenstein’s _Alexander Nevsky_ (1938), in which some invading German knights (or something like that) throw some children in a bonfire. I’ll bet a search through classic films would find quite a few more morbid child deaths. Television may have been prudish about child death for many years, but film (especially international film) goes way back in exploiting the fear.

  40. Brian December 20, 2011 at 3:48 am #

    What you could point to is that we currently have a historically low rate of murder, there were far more murders in the 14th-16th centuries at which time murders began to taper off into the 18th and 19th centuries. We now have a tremendously low percentage of childhood deaths from “natural” and unnatural causes. The question is whether as a percentage of media consumed those deaths have increased.

  41. Brian December 20, 2011 at 3:49 am #

    Battleship Potemkin features that stroller going down the steps. Perhaps the most well known moment in film history.

  42. Angie December 20, 2011 at 4:12 am #

    Actually killing kids might be new, at least doing it commonly might be new, but putting kids in danger is very old. Remember the old Lassie TV show, where Timmy fell down a well or something every other episode? And the kid in Flipper (Sandy?) was always getting in trouble too. Back in the 19th century, crowds of people thronged the docks (New York harbor IIRC) in the middle of one of Charles Dickens’s serials, shouting up to the approaching sailors, “Does Little Nell die?” And the scene from “A Christmas Carol” where Scrooge sees the future where Tiny Tim is very clearly dead was meant to yank at the heartstrings.

    And as Brian pointed out above, we live in an era where childhood deaths are at an all-time low. We’re not used to children dying, as people in every other time and place in the world were, so the idea of a child dying is much more shocking to us than it would’ve been to our ancestors a century ago. It used to be a rare family that didn’t have at least one or two young children in the cemetary; now it’s a rare family that does. That changes our view of what’s normal or thinkable, which is going to change our ideas of what is or is not acceptable in our fiction, in whatever medium.


  43. Heather G December 20, 2011 at 4:19 am #

    There are a few things bouncing around my head, forgive me if I present them kind of jumbled. I don’t think kids in mortal danger/dying horrible deaths is new at all. Grimm, and pretty much most literary history is ripe with examples. Yes, visual images create a different reality than spoken or written word, but showing (and to a point implying) these things is fairly new. Growing up I watched a lot of older movies and shows based on crime and death with my grandmother. Maybe her tastes were warped, but I didn’t notice any lack of child victims. I also didn’t notice many explicit images of *any* victim. Not saying it didn’t exist but that it wasn’t as common as it is now. Now not only do we see fictionalized crimes in progress, but we see real life crime scene photos splashed across the news and true-life crime shows. It really doesn’t seem to matter the age of the victim as they all are now portrayed in a way you didn’t see 20, 30 or 50 years ago as a common occurrence.

    This kind of touches on a dilemma I am currently having. A friend of mine was murdered almost 3 years ago. This summer the man charged with killing her goes on trial. Part of me would like to be in the courtroom during the trial. Another part of me does not want to see the evidence or the photos because I don’t want that to be the lasting memory I have of her. I most likely won’t go for that reason.

  44. Ines December 20, 2011 at 4:32 am #

    Here is why I am so confused:

    Why is it so hard for so many people to differentiate between TV/ Movie and reality. I do not mind any type of animals, people, or kids being killed IN A FICTIONAL SHOW.
    I still understand reality and statistics even if I watch those.

    It is bad too me if people “cannot watch movies where a kid gets killed” just because it is a kid. It is fiction afterall. Somebody made up a story. Somebody laid out a plot. Nothing else, nothing more.

    I read Little Red Riding Hood — a little girl eaten by a wolf.

    I read Hansel and Gretel — two kids abandoned by their parents.

    And so on, and so on…

    It is not news that people write and listen to stories that involve crimes against children. It is however news that people are so oversensitive that they cannot even bare the thought of a fictional story.

  45. Donna December 20, 2011 at 4:55 am #

    Heather G, you may not see photos at a trial. Remember, the attorneys are showing them to the jury not the audience. All the screens, etc are pointed at the jury, judge and attorneys. This will obviously depend on the set-up of the courtroom, but the audience is very much not the focus of the trial and nobody cares if they see anything at all.

  46. KD December 20, 2011 at 5:00 am #

    I happen to be a L&O fan and the one thing I have noticed is that the majority of the time when they do feature a child being molested or murdered they are on track with the perpetrator being a family member or someone the child knows OR they habe taken the story from a real life event and then fictionalized the account, so the basic facts are true to the real issue. They also tend to show differing viewpoints on these issues in terms of the individual police officers feelings. For example, one detective has no issue with vigilante justice in terms of registered sex offenders while another detective points out that they are registered for something like public urination and therefore don’t belong on the list at all. Of course it is sensationalized, but I am a big crime drama fan and L&O has always been my favorite.
    As far as American Horror Story and The Walking Dead, those are so fictionalized and in the case of AHS well acted but cheesy I don’t really have a reaction to the storylines other than watching them for entertainment, but can see how they might be upsetting to others. I am very based in reality, so can sometimes lose some of the chill that can come from these types of stories.

  47. Uly December 20, 2011 at 5:16 am #

    I don’t watch any of the shows you mentioned, and I if I did see a dead child on a TV show I would never watch it again. That, in my opinion, is sick.

    Well, if you’re watching a crime show, people are getting hurt on screen. How is it more sick if it’s kids getting killed instead of grown-ups? Murder is murder.

    Miriam, it wasn’t just that one carjacker. Every time somebody steals a car that happens to have a kid inside, the kid is returned home safely… though whether that’s good intentions or the fact that kidnapping and/or murder are definitely a bigger crime than car theft, I’m not sure. Probably each equally.

  48. Lollipoplover December 20, 2011 at 6:25 am #

    Not a big tv watching family here, but my all time scariest kid dying was the scene in Jaws where the little boy on the red raft never came back, only a red pool of blood. There was no dead body, but the death was implied.
    I don’t know why the have to show dead kids. How does a kid get that kind of gig, and as a parent how do you tell friends and family that your child is playing the dead kid on the upcoming L&O? I guess it’s equal opportunity corpses, but

  49. Angie December 20, 2011 at 6:32 am #

    I don’t know why the have to show dead kids. How does a kid get that kind of gig, and as a parent how do you tell friends and family that your child is playing the dead kid on the upcoming L&O?

    I have to admit this made me laugh. 🙂 From the POV of the kid, playing a corpse would probably be totally awesome. Kids are into gross, scary stuff, and a chance to get covered in blood and play dead would have kid actors lined up to do it for free if they didn’t have parents and agents making sure they had a good contract.

    Adults are the ones who get the most traumatized by this stuff. Kids know what make-believe is, especially when they’re the ones playing. Littler kids watching the resulting TV show or movie might need some support in remembering that it’s just pretend, but for the kids doing the acting, I’m sure they’re having a great time.


  50. Metanoia December 20, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    I like the reference up there about Grimm Fairy tales. It used to be the norm that you needed to birth 10+ kids because most of them would die before they reached their teenage years and because of that kids featured just as prominently in stories. These days death isn’t as much of a big part of life… in first world countries at least…

    I must admit I stopped watching tv about 4 months ago because it was the same old repackaged stuff. It was driving me mad. I am reading much more than I was though, and bad stuff happening to kids is alive and well in the books I read. Take George RR Martin (as I’ve just finished his 5th book)- within the first chapter of his first book a child is greviously hurt by an adult, and the macabre scenes get more and more gruesome and intricately described Every character you become close to dies. I love it! It is gritty and real. I can’t stand a Spielburg ending…

  51. Connie December 20, 2011 at 9:44 am #

    Thank God I don’t watch any of the junk on TV. We live without having our TV on at all. I’m ready to deep six it!

  52. Maureen December 20, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    We’ve become, in a sense, completely desensitized to death being a fact of life. It’s completely tragic when a young person dies – it always is and always has been – but back in the day it was much more common. For most of us, the majority of funerals we’ve been to are for older relatives who lived a long life. Again, not that it isn’t tragic when a young person dies, but it when it was more common, it was much more accepted as a fact of life. Now it’s taboo to even talk about it.

    As far as showing it on TV – there was a lot they didn’t actually show on TV back in it’s infancy. That doesn’t mean it was necessarily taboo – it was just the medium was completely different. They showed people smoking constantly back then. They don’t now. Times change and what we expect from our story-telling mediums changes.

    And if you want the real deal – not made up TV, do a Google search for “Victorian Death Photos.” Back when photography was new, this was the thing to do. Most people in today’s world would be appalled if anyone whipped out the digital camera at grandma’s funeral for a final photo shoot.

    Times change.

  53. Taradlion December 20, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    Skipped some comments b/c of blackberry issue (sorry if someone mentioned)….

    But CREEPIEST tv show I ever saw as a kid was an episode of Little House on the Prairie with the mime rapist…googled it – that was 1981…

  54. KD December 20, 2011 at 2:08 pm #


    I completely agree with you. My middle daughter is into all the gross stuff and also the science behind creating special effects and her dream is to be on Bones….as a corpse so they can cover her in ketchup and corn starch and she can she how its all done. She loves to explain to us how they make all of the gory stuff look real. Her other dream? To be on Mythbusters….

  55. ebohlman December 20, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

    Maureen: To amplify on your point, we (in the developed world) have a much harder time coping with the death of a child than our ancestors from 100 years ago would have, simply because it’s so rare. 100 years ago, parents who lost a child would have plenty of friends and relatives who also went through the same thing; they would have felt plenty sad, but they wouldn’t have felt alone and the absolute last thing that would be on their minds would have been “what will the neighbors think of me?”.

    Today (again in the developed world) nobody really knows what to say to a parent who’s lost his/her kid, simply because the experience is so remote to our existence. And you’d probably have an unconscious tendency to shun them, for the same psychological reasons that when a teenage athlete gets injured, his teammates will tend to “unfriend” him, namely a fear of “this could be me”.

  56. Lollipoplover December 20, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

    @Angie- I agree that kids are into the gore, but still wouldn’t be proud if my kid put “child corpse on L&O” on his college application.

    My son came home last week with an assignment where he had to draw an example of “give someone a hand”. Obviously, the teacher wanted an example of helping, but my son drew a corpse with blood and a hand missing and then the “hand” was on a new person. A hand transplant! We do a charity run for organ donation each year, so I can see where his mind was going. “Interesting” was the comment by his very sweet and understanding teacher.

  57. Lisa M December 20, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

    Loved the short cartoon. I feel like I have had that same conversation many times with other moms at the playground!

  58. Momof4 December 20, 2011 at 11:03 pm #

    The real Brothers Grimm stories were extremely violent. My kids love them and can appreciate that they are cautionary tales. Also, as far as kids in peril on TV goes, Wizard of Oz comes to mind. Dorothy gets left unsupervised and is swept away in a tornado. I don’t watch much TV but several classic books come to mind- Lord of the Flies, Pippi Longstocking, Julie of the Wolves, The Jungle Book, etc etc. It would seem that kids were quite able to handle themselves in a crisis a few generations ago.

  59. kiesha December 21, 2011 at 1:01 am #

    “Where the Red Fern Grows” (the book, never seen the Dave Matthews film) has a chlid getting killed by falling on an axe. I haven’t read the book in a few years, but I seem to remember it being pretty gruesome. Especially the bit about a red spit bubble forming in his mouth…

  60. EricS December 21, 2011 at 1:26 am #

    It’s TV/Movie, it’s NOT real. But the more macabre, the more it sells. More and more, people are getting desensitized to death on TV or the movies. It adds to the realism of the storyline. When it comes to children dying on the screen, they still do limit the graphic depiction. And the censor committee approves it. That’s why more and more, writers and directors push the boundaries. It’s all about the money. People need to realize this, and that it’s NOT REAL. Only the individual mind makes it as real as they want it for themselves. It’s that same mentality that causes these same people to hang on to every word they read or watch in the media.

  61. Sean December 21, 2011 at 1:33 am #

    Let’s not forget Bugs Bunny. Shoot him now, shoot him now!

  62. jenn December 21, 2011 at 1:51 am #

    Lord of the Flies, Bridge to Teribithia, Where the Red Fern Grows, Gone With the Wind, Interview With a Vampire…just a few good BOOKS with child characters who die violently. This isn’t a new thing–but the tv shows are keeping up with trends by showing certain details that used to be left to our imaginations, as if we were incapable of picturing it ourselves. I do agree with an earlier poster–that episode of Little House with the masked rapist is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever watched.

  63. J.T. Wenting December 21, 2011 at 2:06 am #

    “t’s TV/Movie, it’s NOT real. But the more macabre, the more it sells. ”

    problem is every other movie or TV series will claim to be “based on real events” even when they either are complete fabrications or pull things so much out of proportion they may as well have been.

  64. Alyssa December 21, 2011 at 2:40 am #

    Taradlion, totally agree. Saw that episode where all you saw was a close up of the guys eyeball as hes watching the victim *shiver*.

    I think what makes a difference for me is how the death is presented. Do we just get told a kid died, do we see the body, if so is there alot of blood or no, was it a quick death or no, do we see the act carried out, what are the sounds that the victims are making. And honestly I react the same to seeing a simulated death or a torture scene wheither the victim is a child, adult or animal. Scenes from The Tudors still haunt me.

    I think the reason is because my mind tries to put itself in that person’s situation and just imagining that kind of pain makes me want to barf. Do I think those scenes are common or that Ill ever face them? No not at all. The fact that their so unusual is what makes them so disgusting.

    For some reason though when a child dies in a show or film I don’t react that much to the death itself, but the grief of the parents.

    Like Gone with the Wind, you don’t see the child die but what makes it so powerful of a scene is Rhett’s reaction. Heres this big strong confident man broken over the death of his little girl.

  65. Megan December 21, 2011 at 2:46 am #

    I remember watching Stand By Me and being so afraid to see the boy they’d been looking for. I still peek through my fingers, probably more out of habit than being genuinely scared. In that case, it was simply an accident. But I think any image can be a template for you to imagine your own child in the situation. I have always had an overactive imagination and can see that in my son already, but I think I’m realistic to know how rare it is for any certain tragedy to occur.

  66. ThatDeborahGirl December 21, 2011 at 3:50 am #

    I’m pretty sure our favorite show, Law & Order broke, this taboo. I remember clearly a few years back the first episode where they justified the killing of a child and showed him being shot. The child was portrayed as a sociopath, only his therapist knew it and he just HAD to kill the kid to keep him from killing other children, which the child had already done with no remorse.

    I remember thinking then that we had reached a new era in tv, where killing a kid was no longer going to be off limits.

    I was also deeply disappointed and angered with SVU’s “ripped from the headlines” version of the Leiby Kletzky murder. I had a feeling that this story had been too popular for them to leave alone yet I was hoping that they would or at least wait a few years.

    But just when I think they can sink no lower, they do, and to have this child’s murder acted out on tv so soon after his death was tantamount to making a Korean animation of it. The torment it must have caused Leiby’s parents can only be excruciating. I hope whoever greenlighted that episode gets an especially warm spot in Hades.

  67. ThatDeborahGirl December 21, 2011 at 3:55 am #

    BTW, the first kid’s book too tackle child death directly was “A Taste of Blackberries” where a child dies from an allergic reaction to a bee sting. They ripped that off that storyline directly in the movie “My Girl”

    There’s also Little Women, which is kind of reaching back, and Beth isn’t exactly a kid, but she is still a teenager and portrayed as the youngest, least mature, least wordly teenager ever. I never really think of her as a woman dying, but a child.

  68. ThatDeborahGirl December 21, 2011 at 3:57 am #

    That came out wrong. “My Girl” ripped off “A Taste of Blackberries, not the other way around.

  69. Myles Cloutier December 21, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    I think as long as we’re aware it is fiction it shouldn’t matter. People get caught up in the drama of shows like CSI and Law & Order and mix it with real life stories like Casey Anthony. They end up being scared for their kids and voting in politicians who take advantage of that fear, pushing their own propaganda like “tough on crime”. It’s sad really. Learn to separate fiction from reality.

  70. Myles Cloutier December 21, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    @Julia the first commenter…

    I think you’re just as radical as the people who won’t let their kids out of their site. The entire point of this website is being level headed and using your reasoning skill to separate real threats from bogus ones.

    Like you admit yourself, you haven’t seen any of the shows mentioned. Way to judge them as sick without any actual insight into what was shown. Maybe if you watched you would know the purpose is to illustrate the importance of life.

  71. Ray December 21, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    I usually read but don’t comment here but since you specifically asked for readers views and I have an opinion on this topic I thought I’d add it for what it’s worth.

    Firstly, I’m not sure it can be argued that any sane parent would see the children in Dexter and The Walking Dead, the two shows the original article seems take most issue with, in danger and equate that to danger for their own children. I watch both shows and the context in which the children are in danger is clearly not related to the world the majority of the us live in. The child in The Walking dead is killed by the undead. That would be zombies. Zombies. In Dexter the kid is the son of a serial killer and is in danger because his father is hunting down other killers himself. How many parents are likely to find themselves in that situation?

    As you correctly pointed out there are more realistic settings in which children are put in danger, Law & Order: SVU and ER being long running and popular examples. These types of shows have been around for a long time and it doesn’t seem to me that the peril of the children in them has increased recently.

    The MSN article also includes the quote, “whether harm could come to kids who watch them is an open question.” Which is, frankly, ridiculous. Clearly these shows are not suitable for children to watch. That’s why they air after most children are in bed. If a parent is permitting their child to watch shows like Dexter then that’s a poor choice on their part and not a reason to want to censor a show aimed at an adult audience.

    Finally, more to your question of how long children in danger have been featured in movies and TV, I would say it’s certainly nothing new. What is explicitly seen rather than implied may have changed and the graphic nature of the danger is probably also different these days but it’s been there for years.

    Lots of films I grew up watching featured children dying or in danger. My Girl; Macaulay Culkin dies from an allergic reaction to bee stings. Oliver Twist; That kid is in constant danger but not from zombies or serial killers. Home Alone; Macaulay Culkin again, this time chased by burglars who want him dead. Simon Birch; a whole bus load of kids are put in danger and the lead character is, at best, neglected by his parents from the beginning. Labyrinth; the baby is kidnapped by a Goblin King and will be turned into a goblin if his sister doesn’t rescue him in time. Jumanji; those kids are chased by everything from elephants to a rifle wielding maniac and Robin Williams character has been trapped in a board game since he was elementary school age. These are all movies aimed at kids that rely on the death or danger of a child to make the story interesting. All hugely popular movies and made in the 80s or early 90s, the original Oliver Twist was made in 1948! Mostly the danger the kids are in is, like that in The Walking Dead and Dexter, ridiculously unlikely in the real world. The difference, of course, is that these are kids movies and therefore much less violent. I would argue that being kidnapped by a Goblin King is no less likely than being killed by zombies, the former is simply less graphically violent because it occurred in a kids movie not a TV show aimed at adults.

    At the end of the day we equate danger to thrill and most of us would not watch a TV drama with no danger in it. I don’t think this is anything new and I personally don’t believe it causes any harm. It’s fiction provided for entertainment, if you don’t find it entertaining, don’t watch it!

  72. ThatDeborahGirl December 22, 2011 at 3:29 am #

    Myles Cloutier, on December 21, 2011 at 12:06 said:
    I think as long as we’re aware it is fiction it shouldn’t matter. People get caught up in the drama of shows like CSI and Law & Order and mix it with real life stories like Casey Anthony. They end up being scared for their kids and voting in politicians who take advantage of that fear, pushing their own propaganda like “tough on crime”. It’s sad really. Learn to separate fiction from reality.

    I think that separating fiction from reality is easier said than done, espeicially when crime shows purposefully blur the lines. Particularly “Law & Order” who blatantly claim to “rip from the headlines,” dramatizing real life tragedy for entertainment.

    Is it fiction if we KNOW that they’re taking it from a case in reality? Does changing the names and a few facts really make that big of a difference? I don’t think so.

    Anyone else find it ironic that it’s normally Lenore is arguing for expanding boundaries, and the one area where she thinks things have gone to far is the one where people shrug and think it’s no big deal.

  73. Michelle the Uber Haus Frau December 22, 2011 at 8:36 am #

    I didn’t bother reading all of the above as of posting this, but anyways…

    Using the death of children as plot hooks definitely is not new, Shakespears’ MacBeth, MacBeth orders a whole family/household be to slaughtered, including the kids. Myths have babies getting their heads smashed in…I can go on for a long time with examples, only recently it’s actually been “taboo” if you think about it. Oh hell, shows and movies from other countries are more lax about it, you don’t wanna know how many Japanese comics or cartoons I’ve read feature at least one child being killed. Honestly, it depends on how it’s presented and if it’s relevant to the story. Once asian movie I saw featured a child death that was pretty random and graphic, and even though the movie itself was meant to be a violent gore-fest, I still felt it was uncalled for(and I’m a hard core horror fan!).

  74. Michelle the Uber Haus Frau December 22, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    Lollipoplover, “”My son came home last week with an assignment where he had to draw an example of “give someone a hand”. Obviously, the teacher wanted an example of helping, but my son drew a corpse with blood and a hand missing and then the “hand” was on a new person. A hand transplant! We do a charity run for organ donation each year, so I can see where his mind was going. “Interesting” was the comment by his very sweet and understanding teacher”””

    I haven’t laughed so loud at a post in a long time, your kid has an awesome sense of humour!

  75. Sera December 22, 2011 at 9:39 am #


    Fiction is make believe. Made up. Not true. Not representative of fact.

    Nothing in fiction should be taken as anything more than a plot device used in a story. A COMPLETELY MADE-UP STORY. Seeing something on a crime drama does NOT mean that it:

    – Has happened in real life
    – Means that similar crimes are happening now/more often
    – Is a common event

    Seriously, it creeps me the fuck out when I see, even on these boards, any reply to one of Lenore’s posts that contains an example of something from Law & Order or similar show presented as a fact or example scenario – by somebody who is an adult with children of their own. IT IS NOT REAL. IT IS A STORY. LEARN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FACT AND FICTION.

    The only facts you can possibly draw from a fictional story (in any medium, including books) is about the popularity or effectiveness of a plot device, or the “buttons” of the society that the story is presented to – not about anything in the story itself.

  76. kymlee December 22, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

    I stopped watching the legal dramas mostly because I was tired of the murder/kidnap of women & children. It was exhausting and depressing. I think the trend has been developing for about a decade now…

  77. Beth December 26, 2011 at 8:59 pm #

    The classic Frosty the Snowman, from waaay back in 1969, contains a theme of “Karen” in danger of freezing to death. At one point, Frosty says something similar to “If I don’t get her to a warm place, she’s a goner.”

    And yes Sera, I know this is a TV show and not real so please don’t get creeped out! I posted it as a 40-year-old example of a “kid in peril” storyline.

  78. Library Momma December 28, 2011 at 7:22 am #

    Speaking of fairy tales, isn’t the whole point to scare children and prevent them from misbehaving? At least, that’s part of the point.

    A few years ago, we watched a “Medium” episode where a small child was kidnapped in the middle of a busy department store. Later they found (and showed) the child stuffed inside a doll box along with footage of him being tortured. I don’t think I let my son (who was about the same age of the fictional child) more than three feet away from me at any store after that for a long time. I wasn’t too happy with the show after that, either, and noticed that they featured a preponderance of gruesome story lines during that particular season.

    Since then, I found read Lenore’s book and found this blog and learned about crime statistics and the real chances of something like that happening were almost nonexistent. However, I’m still not as free range as I’d like to be, but my son is older now (almost 8) and I’m getting better. But I’m trying.