Desensitizing Children to Violence: NYC Edition

The dictionary defines desensitization as:

“…the diminished emotional responsiveness to a negative or aversive stimulus after repeated exposure to it. To make indifferent, unaware…in feeling.”

Look at this horrific ad that’s currently running on New York City buses:

photo 1 (3)

Every child walking down the avenue—from ‘tweens to infants in strollers—sees this. The Metropolitan Transit Authority reviews the ads posted on buses and subways for appropriateness. Some years ago, they rejected an ad that referred to Israel’s enemies as “savages.” Just this past January, they rejected an ad for an urban art exhibit that featured a subway car covered with graffiti. No need to revisit that, I agree.

But this is acceptable? Have you ever seen anything so vividly grim in a public space? And, OF COURSE, the victim is a woman. The victims in torture porn film ads are always women.

photo 2 (3)

I’m so sick of these graphic depictions of violence against women. I don’t want my 8-year old daughter to see this! This stuff is impressionable. You can’t un-see it. If you repeatedly expose little kids to this kind of appalling imagery, they’re going to grow up void of empathy. I get angry at the morons who take their toddlers to The Dark Knight for the same reason.

Am I making too much of this? You can tell me. Do I need to chill?


My Bride and I walked through Chinatown last weekend. It’s one of my favorite neighborhoods. I like it because I can walked down crowded Mott Street and see over everybody’s head. Here are some pics of the open-air produce markets and a paper-folding artisan selling his wares on the sidewalk.

china7Octopuses. Or is it octopi?

china6

A basket ‘o blue claws.

china8

Dragon fruit. Whatever that is.

china5Croc/Gator. Do you like the goose in the foreground? I did that on purpose. Or do you think it’s clutter. Tell me the truth!

china1

Fox and penguins.

china2Four blind mice. And a cat.

china3

Parading peacock.

Here’s a price list. Very reasonable considering the artistry and labor involved.

china4


The weather was perfect so we walked from Chinatown to Little Italy and got a sidewalk table at a café on Mulberry Street. We had pastry and cappuccinos (hers iced, mine hot) and watched the big parade of humanity. Best show in town. Then we walked east on Houston Street to our old apartment on Clinton and Avenue B.

I don’t think my wife had seen Clinton Street since decamping for New Jersey 12 years ago. So much has changed but some things are still the same. We walked past my old Dominican barber. He looked up, his face brightened with recognition, he put his scissors down (he had a customer in the chair!) and came outside to greet us.

We hugged and he insisted that we come inside for a visit. He opened a bottle of red wine and everyone in the shop drank a toast to old friends. I apologized to his customer for the interruption and he said, “He can’t help himself. He’s a social animal.” We talked about the junkies and gypsies who once prowled Clinton Street. That guy was one tough muther. If someone tried to sell heroin in front of his barbershop, he’d chase them away with a straight razor. “Take it down the street!,” he’d yell. He could have been shot. But he’s a survivor. I remember.

65 thoughts on “Desensitizing Children to Violence: NYC Edition

  1. I like the goose! Well, I mean, it’s eye-balling me, and creeps me out, and I’m too afraid to tell it to move along…
    That barber sounds fantastic. I went to a barber until I left my home town to go to college. I can imagine him doing the same sort of thing. I wonder if that is in their training? 😉

    • Barbering is definitely a people job. You can’t be anti-social and face the mad public all day. I’m sure they all have the same DNA.

      Believe me, I kept my mouth SHUT when the dealers were around. I’m not a tough guy. I tucked my tail between my legs and ran inside and hid under the bed.

  2. I don’t want to look at that and I am an adult! Using shock value to advertise a tv show on the side of a bus sheesh! I agree they should have used common sense here…A woman’s breast is obsene but this is not? A true double standard in this country I don’t get it.
    New Yorkers to me are some of the most colorful and friendly people in the world! What a great story sitting,people watching in little italy! No place quite like NY.

    • Hello, Up Mom! Welcome. Please wipe your feet.

      Fortunately, since we live in NJ, my daughters will never see this. But, DAMN, that’s harsh, ain’t it? Currently, New York is at it’s nicest in my 20+ years of my dealing with this place. But it still has its share of dunderheads.

  3. I don’t get squeamish and that is making me a little ill. Now I want to wear industrial safety goggles to save my eyes.

    I like the goose, like a tourist who cuts across a picture accidentally. Photobomb via craftsmanship.

  4. Fantastic origami!And not bad prices for the work. As to the advertising – totally unnecessary and unwise. America seems to swing between the two extremes of cloying quasi-religious and overly graphic violence.And the trend is spreading…
    Absolutely wrong, in my opinion.

      • It’s not just fox, cnn has some of the worst sensationalism when it comes to crime reporting imaginable. It’s almost like they worship violence.

      • Agreed. Anyone who thinks news reporting is impartial and not sensationalized is delusional. Ironically, I’ve heard that Al Jazerra has straight reporting! I’ve never seen it so I can’t say.

    • It is really strange how americans claim to be christian & peace loving yet as a society we are war mongering and obsessed with violence. Look at all the true crime shows and books out there, it’s a HUGE market.

  5. Are you sure that was a price list and not a menu? 🙂
    As for the bus picture, I am apparently already desensitized. Which means that TV, Hollywood, ads, and so on are already working. I might change my mind if I had kids, though.

    • I never write LOL because I like to think I’m fancy above that sort of frivolity but that really did make me laugh out loud. Comment of the week, easily. All of those are edible, aren’t they? Actually…I had camel meat once. I won’t have it again. So scratch that one.

      You’re apparently desensitized because the picture didn’t make your toes curl up a little bit? That didn’t make your flesh crawl? Fox. It figures. [I’ve decided I’m going to put that in every comment.]

      • That picture – no. But when I saw the ads for the exhibit of flayed human bodies some years ago (I think it was called Bodies, the exhibit), that did make me uncomfortable.

      • I believe that exhibit is still on tour. It made a big stink here in NYC. It was supposed that the bodies were acquired by dubious means. Apparently, they were from poor parts of rural China. And, yes, the creep
        meter was off the charts for that.

  6. I agree–that ad should not be on the bus as is. Can you imagine a four year old’s perception of that? They’ll probably go home and have nightmares (that’s so gross an adult might, too!). So no, I don’t think you’re overreacting. Studies have shown that people repeatedly exposed to violent images have a blunted response to them over time.

  7. New York redeemed itself in the end. That could be the city’s novel. You’re welcome, New York.
    As for the photo, no. No and no. My wife and Abby have begun watching The Walking Dead and I feel not great about her seeing all that terror and violence. I used to watch zombie movies all the time in my teens, loved them, in fact, and Abby is 13 now (PG13), so it should be all right. Right? In fact, I find the violence tougher to take now than she probably does because real life.
    As for the goose, also no.

    • I watched exactly TWO episodes of The Walking Dead. I acknowledge it’s “greatness” (whatever that means) but that was enough for me, brother. I can’t watch that stuff anymore. It’s upsetting. So you can imagine how I feel when a bus comes steaming up 6th Avenue with that plastered on the side. It ruins my afternoon.

  8. Go to the tropics, and they’l weave the animals out of fronds while you watch, and charge one to five dollars. The accompanying patter is free.

    Send emails to all of the newspapers and the mta, again and again and again.
    Make noise about the ads. It will be heard.

    • Actually, I’m kind of surprised that nobody has said anything about this. I remember that Muslim cab drivers didn’t want to have ads for strip clubs on the top of their cabs because it offended their religion and they were removed. But the wheels of justice grind slowly and by the time enough of a ruckus is raised, the show will have premiered, ran it’s course and been cancelled.

      Confucius say: Trip to Chinatown much cheaper than trip to tropics. Plus, no Peking Duck in St. Thomas.

  9. Mmmm, well Mark, I don’t think you’ll ever “protect” your daughter from ads like that. I agree, I hate those types of mutilating women ads. Fuckwads. That said, they are there and there ain’t nothing you can do about it. I would suggest pointing out that type of abusive advertizing and explaining it to your daughter. Make sure she knows why they are there (to increase revenue) and your personal feelings on them. You can also make this a learning moment that she can carry forward – as in there are many things in this world that we cannot change, but we do not have to like them.

    We (my wife and I) had two kids (hers actually but we were together from the time they were rugrats to their late teens) and I would not let that type of stuff in the house, including occult material. I explained why and told them clearly that I could not control what they saw outside of our home – that was their business – but it would not be in our place as long as I was there. One received a Ouija board as a gift, and I paid her for it and destroyed it.

    As an example of what happens when kids are protected – I travelled with a class of 14 year olds to Paris on a school trip one year. We had 2 chaperones for 20 kids, so pretty much could do as we pleased. Wine in France is cheaper than water (or it was) and could be purchased by children. We stocked up and it was my first drunk. I had had wine and beer before at home during celebrations, so I kept it moderate. One of my friends had been banned from alcohol and had never even tasted it. The delight in the freedom drove him to drink himself into a stupor. He suffered seriously and at one point we were actually considering calling an ambulance. He survived but it was miserable to watch and I couldn’t guess how he felt. I’ve always had a healthy relationship with alcohol, and he had a problem. I attribute that to the fact that I was introduced to it , it was explained and used in moderation (my dad would have a dozen beer over a weekend – but not every weekend).

    Anyway, my point is don’t hide the abusive ads, explain them. It’s fine to hate them -I do- and explain that and why. Kids are amazingly adaptive and you are setting her attitudes now with what you say and do. Don’t try to protect her, she’ll just see it as a secret vice later.

    • I understand the mistake of being overprotective. Despite all my blathering about neither daughter having a boyfriend, I’ll be supportive when the time comes. But I believe the 12-year-old, and certainly the eight-year-old, are too young to process these graphic images. I don’t think this is an opportunity for a life lesson. It would just plant the seeds for endless nightmares.

  10. Is that violence? The woman seems to have been infected by the loa loa, the notorious African eye worm. I agree it’s a horrible image to show on a public poster.

    Your ex-barber sounds like a great character. I’d like to hear him sing Figaro’s aria – I guess you’d have to teach him Italian first!

    • I was fairly certain you were joking but I Googled it and there ACTUALLY IS a loa loa eye worm! How did you know that?! Are you a doctor? The entry read like a horror show plot with infected human hosts and things like that. Ick! Maybe that what the show’s about?

      My barber cannot sing a lick but I can tell you for a FACT that he dances a mean mambo. I’ve seen it. It was the show within the show.

  11. That picture is horrific. I don’t see how you can refuse street art yet allow that. I can barely look at it. I’n not even sure if it even desensitises kids either. I remember horrible things from my childhood that terrify me even to this day because I saw or experienced them as a vulnerable child. No matter how I try and reason it out as an adult it doesn’t go away. This will probably scare the crap out of them.
    I’d love to meet the decision makers on these things…
    Also the picture of octopi is disgusting;the look and texture of them…..errrrr.

    • I can’t believe there hasn’t been a groundswell of complaints to the MTA. What were they thinking? And who would watch a program like that, anyway? Same people who attend Saw movies, I suppose. So dark.

      Do you know people will actually buy one of those octopuses and eat it!? Who’s the first person to pull one of those out of the ocean and say to themselves, “I wonder how this tastes?”

    • I never, ever, ever watch horror movies. I don’t even watch the uber-violent TV shows like Criminal Minds. I don’t like those images rattling around inside my brain. I start to imagine people I love in the scenes. When my wife clicks them on I, literally, leave the room. I think she does it sometimes just to get rid of me. It works every time.

  12. I’m with you on the ad. Irresponsible ads drive me ape-shit. It’s not an issue now, but when the twins were younger and we were watching football on Sundays, there were (and still are) FREQUENT commercials for erectile dysfunction. The commercials don’t really use any language or images that are inappropriate, but I don’t think a 10 year old should be subjected to words like erectile dysfunction when they don’t even know what sex is yet. I always kept the remote in hand while watching the games so I could change the channel quickly if a commercial for viagra (or some other ED medication) came on. Seriously, old men with apathetic willies aren’t the only people watching NFL games, douchetards.

    • I did (do) the EXACT SAME THING! The girls like to watch the games with me and my thumb gets sore from clicking off the inappropriate commercials. Not just the ED ads, but some of the TV shows and movies have graphically violent commercials. Always go to the Food Channel. There’s never anything inappropriate on there. Even the commercials are innocent.

      • Honestly, the only time the children are subjected to commercials in my house is when football is on. I don’t watch TV otherwise. At least, not live TV. We watch movies and shows, but we watch them on DVD so there aren’t any commercials.

      • It’s a fine line. I don’t want to be one of those militant dads who insist “NO TV FOR YOU” but I don’t want to expose them to certain things before their time. It’s tough.

  13. Good luck getting your kid to go to the eye doctor after seeing that ad. Gross! And if they have any type of imagination, then letting them know about worms coming out of their eyes…they’ll never sleep again. Just another reminder of why we got rid of cable.

    • I’m so nauseated that I have to speed by the first two pics in this post. I’m tired of looking at them. I only saw the ad occasionally but now that it’s part of a blog post, and since I obsessively check my blog all day, I’ve had to look at them several times since morning!

  14. Thanks. Now I’ll have nightmares all night.

    And that eyeball pic is pretty gross, too.
    hahahahahahaha (I was making a joke about the octupi)

  15. I hate that crap on the bus side. You are so right. Public transportation yet. Idiots exposing kids to that violent image.

    I went to see the fourth Transformers movie today for my movie review bloggers freelance gig. (It was the only movie opening this weekend before the holiday weekend, so I had no choice.) A few parents had their 5, 6, 7, 8 year old kids with them to see this movie. I know it was robots mostly, but it was so freaking violent. What could they be thinking! I was cowering for our society.

    I love your story about going back to the old neighborhood for the meeting with your old barber. What a great greeting, and way the guy in the cheer just shrugged off his departure to welcome you and your wife with the glass of red wine with the statement “he’s a social animal” is perfect. I can picture the other side of him chasing away the dope dealers from in front of HIS shop. Now that’s how to run a neighborhood business.

    • I read in a review that Transformers is 2:46 long. That’s enough to keep me away! How was it? You know what to expect from Herr Bay. In a related story Shia LaDouche was escorted out of a Broadway play last night in handcuffs for…what else…being a douche.

      It was bittersweet seeing the old naib. It was great seeing my old barber, but so much of it is just GONE.

      • Transformers was a full hour too long. I was in agony. My review will run on the alt paper site Monday, teased on my site too. It will not be glowing. Ha.

        Yeah, I saw the Shia debacle story. Yikes.

        Sad about your old neighborhood being so much gone.

      • But that’s the oldest story in the oldest book. I’ve seen articles from, literally, the late 1700’s that say NYC is ruined and not the same. It’s a matter of perspective.

        Can’t wait for the stinging barbs in your review. Don’t hold back.

  16. #1. I like the goose!
    #2. I miss NYC Chinatown, there is only one like it. SO many sights and smells. To stroll through is an attack on one’s senses.
    #3. That bus-side ad is horrifying. Giuliani would never have permitted that.

    • Isn’t Chinatown the best!? I love that place. Have you been down Doyers Street? It’s a wonderful little bent street off of Pell St. with a few good restaurants on it. It’s the most photogenic street in town. And you’re right about Giuliani. Those ads would never have seen the light of day when he was in office. He’s remembered as the iron fist but he did some very, very good things.

  17. America seems to swing between the two extremes of cloying quasi-religious and overly graphic violence
    I agree with Dinah. And we all grow up confused.
    I’m in despair regarding the treatment of women across the world, I have read so many depressing articles lately… I’d like to read about some solutions instead.
    Sx

  18. I don’t think you’re making too much of the graphic imagery, though to be fair I don’t think the woman is being tortured in the traditional sense because the show is about viral infections (that must be a viral worm creeping in or out of her eyeball? not sure). When my oldest 2 were little I let them watch The Matrix… I still feel guilty about that.

    I do like the goose but he’s out of focus!

    My husband is dominican and his father ran a bodega in the LES back in the day.There was a brothel upstairs and an illegal lottery run out of the back of the store. At least once his dad & uncles beat a junkie to death with a baseball bat when he tried to rob the cash register.

    • Maybe that girl is being “helped” by a “doctor” but I still think it’s far too harsh for public consumption. Call me a prude.

      The goose’s head is supposed to be out of focus! It gives it depth. Sorta.

      Re: LES. That was then. Different story today. Today it’s all $$$.

  19. I’m with you on that add, that’s gross and totally not appropriate. Why do kids have to see that? They’re going to see that. It’s meant to pull in adult audiences, not to scar children.

  20. Absolutely despise graphic, violent ads – usually for television, or film. Unnecessary. Why not write a complaint? It can’t hurt, and you are certainly not the only one who objects?

    Didn’t visit Chinatown on my last trip – we should remedy that next time! Love your barber – that was a beautiful moment. Thank you for sharing….

  21. Agree about that ad. It is forcing visual violence on everyone and anyone.
    And I must admit that I read this post piecemeal and thought that price list was a restaurant menu in Chinatown. Gotta say – it was much more amusing that way.

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