Yesterday I saw The Day the Earth Stood Still, which was made in 1951. Here's a quick summary from the imdb website: An alien (Klaatu) with his mighty robot (Gort) land their spacecraft on Cold War-era Earth just after the end of World War II. They bring an important message to the planet that Klaatu wishes to tell to representatives of all nations. However, communication turns out to be difficult, so, after learning something about the natives, Klaatu decides on an alternative approach. Written by Bruce Janson
So how does a movie about an alien and his robot coming to Washington, DC relate to free range parenting? There are several scenes which would not slip through the censors now because they would be too "horrific" for helicopter parents. Klaatu assumes human form and rents a room in a local boarding house, where he befriends Helen and her son Bobby. Bobby looks like he's about 9 years old. In one scene Helen and her fiance made plans to go out somewhere for the day, but there is nobody to watch Bobby. They may have to scrap their plans or bring Bobby with them. Klaatu offers to watch Bobby. Helen and her fiance think that's a wonderful idea. They don't have to cancel their plans and Bobby will be taken care of. Klaatu even asks Bobby to help give him a tour of the city. But wait...Helen is trusting her son to a single, childless man who she doesn't really know very well to watch her son. There were no thoughts of Klaatu being a pedophile, predator, pervert, or potential abductor. Can you imagine that scenario happening now?
In another scene, Helen goes out at night and leaves Bobby alone in his room in the boarding house. She tells him to remember to brush his teeth before going to bed. No "good" mother in her right mind today would leave a 9-year-old home alone, especially at night. OK, there are the other boarders in the house. But Bobby is without his mother. Today she would probably be turned in to Child Protective Services for leaving a child unsupervised at home. In a continuation of this scene, Bobby follows Klaatu to his spaceship. So not only was Bobby home alone, he then went out at night on his own to see where Klaatu was going. Nobody noticed Bobby or questioned him about where his parents were. Nobody reported Helen for letting her son go out alone at night.
Toward the end of the movie, Klaatu and Helen are in a taxi, being chased by the police. How did the police find out where Klaatu and Helen were? There were two boys playing outside by the boarding house without any adults in sight. The police asked the boys which way the taxi went. They didn't ask them where their parents were or why they were outside at night without supervision.
But some things still are the same. Instead of the today's climate of fear about pedophiles and child abductions, people in the 1950s were afraid of Communists. Talk of the Red Menace in the 1950s seemed as prevalent as news reports of sex offenders and kidnappers now. In the film there were no Communists, but the flying saucer and "spaceman" (Klaatu) were the objects of fear. People were afraid to go anywhere because of the possibility of running into Klaatu. There was even one scene where people were told to turn on their lights but not go out after dark for fear of being taken into the flying saucer by Klaatu or being destroyed by his robot Gort. There is mass hysteria and fear. A reporter interviews people who are in the park where Klaatu's ship landed. Klaatu is there with Bobby. The people that the reporter interviews all say that they're afraid of the spaceman and what he could do. Bobby thinks that the flying saucer is cool. Then the reporter asks Klaatu if he's afraid of the spaceman like everyone else. His response was one of the best lines in the movie and sums up free range parenting.
Reporter: I suppose you are just as scared as the rest of us. Klaatu: In a different way, perhaps. I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason.
After Klaatu's response the reporter quickly moves away because he obviously didn't like what he heard. Klaatu's answer didn't fit into the climate of fear that ran through the population. Today's helicopter parents are like the people in the movie. They believe that pedophiles and kidnappers are everywhere. Even when they are given the facts about the likelihood of their child being abducted by a stranger, they continue to parent through fear. Free range parenting fits into the theme of The Day the Earth Stood Still because a big part of it is about going against the climate of fear through reason. I want my son to grow up without fearing everyone in the world and thinking that harm will come to him every time he steps out the door.
Tonight's movie feature will be The Thing From Another World.