Gordon Campbell on the dairy contamination threats, and parental policing of scary movies

The sole upside for the government in its release of a three month old threat to contaminate infant formula is that the story knocked Winston Peters off the front pages. In case that sounds like a conspiracy theory, the government was in a no win situation here. If it went public with every such threat the moment it was issued, it would be creating a pretty dire incentive for every crackpot and attention seeker in the country. That’s why, as Prime Minister John Key said, other countries tend not to publicise threats of this kind.

Yet with the blackmail letter’s end of March deadline looming, a policy of complete silence probably wasn’t still an option, either. If the threat was carried out – even in a bungled form – wouldn’t the government then be justly accused of being asleep at the wheel, and of leaving the nation’s mothers and babies at the mercy of a known peril?

Along the way, the incident has exposed just how vulnerable this country is to what Key described yesterday as an act of ‘eco-terrorism’. The New Zealand economy is almost comically dependent on milk powder exports. That’s why a couple of letters sent three months ago can still knock a few points off the dollar, drive down the share market value of some dairy companies, send the industry into a testing frenzy and put us into full diplomatic re-assurance mode in our key markets overseas. That’s even before we know whether the threat is genuine.

If a couple of letters from a disgruntled single-issue crank can do all that to New Zealand’s economic lifeline… gosh, thank goodness we’re not doing anything unnecessarily on the world stage to attract the attentions of any real terrorists. Thank goodness we’re not offering to do stuff – say, in Iraq – that will make no difference, serve no achievable goal, and where no exit strategy is in place. We are? Yesterday’s incident only served to underline just how foolhardy the Iraq deployment really is.

How scary is too scary ?

As a child prone to night terrors who grew up to be a parent over-protective about the scary films his children watched – and it can’t be accidental that one of them grew up to love horror films – I was interested in the recent online firestorm about the guy who screened the James Cameron film Aliens to his 11 year old son (and some of his son’s 11 year old buddies), and then wrote a story about their interesting / amusing reactions. Matt Zeller Seitz’ original story is here.

The best discussion of the outraged comments that followed can be found in Tasha Robinson’s article on The Dissolve website, available here.

The massive online reaction basically fell into two highly polarized camps, as in (a) Were you out of your mind? What do you think you were doing showing a film like Aliens to an 11 year old kid? Closely followed by (b) Hey you pussies. I watched Blair Witch Project/ Nightmare on Elm Street etc when I was nine, and I’m totally FINE today! In essence, this was the age-old argument about which films are age-appropriate for children to watch. To her credit, Robinson steered her way between the two warring camps, and tried to reach a sensible solution – one that respected the child’s adventurous curiosity while taking seriously just how awful a child’s night scares can be. The images imprinted on the brain in childhood can last a lifetime, for better or worse.

Among her observations: there’s no single ‘one size fits all ages’ standard for any film, or for any child. Kids are individuals with different levels of resilience and differing amounts of healthy curiosity. More to the point, it seems impossible to predict what kind of image will scare a child. Again, from experience: the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird had seemed a reasonably safe bet, Boo Radley notwithstanding. As it turned out, Boo wasn’t the problem. At about the age of eight or so, my older daughter (and future horror fan) was scared by the shouting face of one of the townspeople as Atticus Finch drove away from the courthouse. One anger-distorted, shouting face framed in a car window. Bingo. Robinson’s sensible and well-written piece is worth reading by any parent mulling over this issue.

Mighty Mighty Ravensdark

Warning : this classic black metal video by Immortal could scare any impressionable six year olds in your life….. that’s if they’re not rolling around on the floor laughing at it.

And here’s something really scary, for adults. In a brief two and a half minute video, Robert Reich – who was Secretary of Labour in the Clinton administration – explains why the Trans Pacific Partnership is great for corporations, but a terrible deal for the ordinary public.

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