Last night, my family watched, “127 Hours” in the family room while I hid out in the office. This is the movie that recounts the experience of that solo hiker who got his arm trapped under a rock while hiking alone in Utah and had to cut his arm free so he could survive the ordeal. The movie apparently shows, in explicit visual (and auditory) detail, just how the hiker carved off his limb.
I sat at my desk, trying to pay my bills online and working to update my Facebook status while my family screamed and groaned for what seemed an hour. This was all accompanied by the “sclorch” and “crunch” of special effects dismemberment. Just recounting it for you is making me queasy. Bleh. The family finally proclaimed victory when, by the end of the movie, they had managed to avoid barfing. It’s the little things, I guess.
Now, I’m a fan of movies, as you likely already know. I’ve written screenplays, read screenplays, and watched a zillion movies, including many bad ones (1986’s, “Howard the Duck” or 2000’s Battlefield Earth come to mind—mostly because they made me want to barf, too). And, though I understand “127 Hours” was critically acclaimed and allegedly well-acted, I don’t really enjoy the whole injury-porn thing.
The real guy who cut off his arm has nothing but sympathy from me, and a huge truckload of respect for being able to do the deed by himself. But a little part of me—the shameful part that I’m told to keep to myself—thinks that guy should’ve had a hiking buddy with him and that, on some level, he was just asking for trouble. Note to self: don’t criticize the premise of a real-life biographic movie immediately after others have watched it. They won’t be happy.
My point: there are just things you shouldn’t do alone. Hiking in an avalanche zone is probably one of those things. It seems, therefore, incorrectly celebratory to make a film about the whole ordeal—unless the film is used to scare people into recruiting a hiking buddy. I guess that’s the second note to self. Hiking buddy.
I recall a North Dakota teenager in 1992, alone on the family farm when he slipped next to the family auger (an auger is a giant drill bit on a tractor used to till the soil. Thank you Wikipedia!). Both the boy’s arms got yanked under the auger, which ripped them out, leaving him with bloody stumps and no one around to help. This kid kept his wits enough to run home, dial for help using a pen he picked up with his mouth, and then jump in the bathtub to keep his stumps from bleeding out. The kid not only survived, they reattached his arms! Well done. They make those farm kids hearty, don’t they? I’m switching from Coco-Puffs to bacon and eggs. Third note to self.
Again, though I’m happy and respectful for his bravery (incidentally, the accident would’ve killed a suburban wuss like me!), I humbly suggest that farming with giant drills might be another one of those things you shouldn’t do alone.
Last month, a dude in Colorado went to cut some wood in the forest. He was—you guessed it—alone! The trailer on his truck slipped and landed on his foot. He screamed for help, but no one was around. Of course, his phone was back in the truck and he was pinned twenty feet away by the foot with no one to help. And, though he forgot his phone, he remembered his pocket knife. How lucky! He lasted 30 minutes before deciding the toes had to go. Unlike his North Dakotan predecessor, reattachment was not an option.
I’m sure you know I’m the last guy to criticize (okay, maybe second to last). But 30 minutes? It may just be in my nature, but it would’ve taken me at least 3 hours before I gave up on moving the truck with my bare hands or before I stopped screaming my lungs out. I can’t say how long I would’ve waited before deciding these little piggies had to go wee-wee-wee all the way cut off. Come to think of it, my little piggies would’ve stayed home, gone to market, or had roast beef before taking me into the woods alone. Nevertheless, I do feel bad for the guy. I guess it’s an abject lesson in why you should keep your phone on you at all times. Note to self, Number Four. Man, I gotta lot of those notes.
Of course, now that I’ve recounted these dramatic incidents for you, I sorta see the draw for an audience to the near-tragedies. They are loaded with excitement, the stakes are certainly high, and there’s an element of heroism in braving the pain and horror. As far as I know, though, they never made a movie out of that auger kid’s story or that toe guy’s.
Maybe all those SAW movies cover the self-mutilation/injury-porn genre enough. How many of those have they made? Six? Can’t say I watched any of them. Not really interested. For me, they’re NOT SAW. NOT SEE? NOT SEEN? Oh, you get it.
In truth, I’m beginning to think they’re running out of movie ideas. Some recent flicks have seemed so bad they make me ponder my own self-mutilation. “Smurfs” made me consider scooping out my own eyes with a spoon. “The Chimpmunks’ Squeakuel” made me want to cut off my own ears, and someone has to explain why “Yogi Bear” had to be made. I nearly stuffed my hand through the TV screen when I saw the ad for that one! Really? Yogi Bear?
A quick note to movie studios (since I’m running out of notes to myself)—you don’t have to make every old cartoon into a live action/animated feature film. For that matter, you don’t need to entertain people with self-injury flicks, either.
Here’s my soapbox moment. In truth, I think I get the attraction. It’s the same reason tattoos and body piercings are so popular these days. It’s the new generation. Parents of this generation—the so-called “helicopter parents” who drop in on every moment of their kids’ lives and never let their kids get injured, take risks, feel bad or inadequate—these parents have forgotten that risk and danger lead to learning, and that kids will forever be fascinated by the things they are denied. You take away the risks, they seek them out. You keep them from getting hurt, they want to hurt themselves. The “Emo” kids, the self-proclaimed “cutters”—they slice themselves not just to get attention, it’s fascination.... it’s their need for risk. It’s to taste their mortality. I know it’s not all that simple. But it surely is part of the big picture.
I’m not suggesting we neglect our kids or intentionally put them in danger (although when they mouth off, I can’t say I’m not tempted to offer a little “inflicted danger”). I’m just saying, let loose the reigns a little. Let the kids take chances. Park your helicopter. Let the kids do things without you. It’s good for them. Builds character. Kinda like barfing at movies.
When it’s time to get your kids a birthday gift, consider a pocket phone instead of a pocket knife. Or, if you do give them a pocket knife, make sure they know when to use it on arms and toes and when to use it on other things, and then let them go with it. When they wanna go hiking, be a buddy.
And if they fall down on the path, congratulate them. You both just learned something.
© 2012 Herb Williams-Dalgart
Here are a few kid challenges that will drive parents crazy, but see what happens if you allow the kids to:
Play in the mud
Try a sip of beer
Cross the street WITHOUT holding hands
See a scary movie before bed
Say a bad word
Do math homework in PEN
Eat dessert first
Call someone on the phone without a parent’s help
Ask for directions even when a parent has GPS
Order what they actually want from the menu, even if it’s breakfast for dinner
Skip brushing teeth one night
Camp out in the backyard
Take the dog for a walk down the street... alone
Have a burping contest
Stay up WAY past bed time
Go to a midnight movie premier and eat candy (so long as the movie isn’t SAW 7, Smurfs 2, or Yogi Bear. Let’s not get carried away).