Last fall my children and I made a trip to our local library. We selected a few books. On our way out of the Children’s Section, we noticed a fun looking movie on display called Monster House by Stephen Spielberg. We decided to check out a copy.

That afternoon I sat down to watch Monster House with my kids and a couple of the neighborhood children. I was shocked at what I saw. The negative portrayal of women was unbelievable.

Monster House, a Stephen Spielberg movie, is filled with messages that promote bullying, racism, body image discrimination, misogyny and is overall wholly inappropriate for our youth, regardless of age, but especially our younger children. There is essentially not one positive female representation in the entire film, compared to the overwhelmingly heroic, yet inappropriate males.

I was so abhorred with what I saw, that I decided to write a letter to the library to see if we could get this pulled from their suggested film list AND bring awareness to the type of movies they are promoting to our youth.

If we are going to make positive societal and cultural strides for women, it’s essential that we be thoughtful of the messaging and role modeling we provide the next generation of leaders.

To my surprise, the library was overwhelmingly supportive of my feedback. They suggested developing a new guideline process for movie displays, that includes a more stringent internal review process for what they select for display in the future.

In addition, they were positively grateful for my time and caring. Yay!

“Thank you for your advocacy on behalf of our community’s (and the world’s!) children. We’re on the same team!”

Ann Wilson
Librarian II, Children’s Services Supervisor

Below is the Monster House movie review, originally sent to the Santa Monica Library.

MONSTER HOUSE MOVIE REVIEW

Monster house is irresponsible film making and wholly inappropriate for our youth. The degrading messages about females of all ages, body type, African American men, and policemen are shocking, as are the behaviors of the kids like torturing a fat woman and stealing cough syrup to drug the Monster House. It’s stance on sexual harassment is questionable at best, and it flat out promotes bullying. Not a film for children and frankly, not good messaging for adults either. If this doesn’t shape our young people into misogynistic bullies and racists, I don’t know what does.

Santa Monica Library, is this what you stand for?

The opening scene has the mother and father of our protagonist – a pubescent boy named DJ- leaving on an overnight trip.  The father talks to his son about how he used to spy with binoculars on the young female twins that were his neighbors. Right, because it’s okay to do that if you are a male teenager. The mom and dad pull out of the driveway and the dad backs the car into his son’s friend, who falls down. You can’t tell if he is ok, until he jumps up and comes around to the driver’s window to apologize to the dad for getting in his way. Inside the car, the mom is crying out “what was that” and “Where’s DJ? What have you done?” The dad quips, you’d be happy if he was under the car, wouldn’t you? As if this passive, subservient wife is secretly a demon who wishes harm to her child. As they are pulling out, the mother attempts to get the father to say I love you, but he refuses. The father argues that he doesn’t need that any more. And we see that the dad is simply not capable of saying the words and extremely uncomfortable that his wife is insisting. Thus, in the first 5 minutes of the film, the dad is allowed to talk about spying on his teenage twin neighbors with binoculars in front of his wife, who blindly goes along with it, hit a kid with a car, accuse the mother of wishing he’d injured her son, and refuse to say he loves you to his son. And so, it begins, the film is leading us to believe that this is normal.

Next, we meet the female babysitter, Elizabeth and her boyfriend, Bones.

Elizabeth is a babysitting nightmare. She walks into the house talking loudly about the fun things she has planned for the night, so that the parents can hear her. When DJ, our protagonist, tells her the parents are already gone, her demeaner changes. She stops acting nice. Call me Z, she orders and pulls off her innocently colored pink sweater and beanie to show her thrasher t-shirt and braided hair. She says I’m not your mother, not your friend, picks up a potted plant and purposely breaks it on the floor and threatens that if he doesn’t follow her rules, she will break more stuff and blame it on him; assuring him that his parents will believe her, the responsible babysitter, not him. She pushes him, belittles and threatens him and sends him to his room. Alone downstairs she puts on her “Skull and Bones Live” tape and calls her delinquent boyfriend, Bones to come over. Obviously normal babysitter behavior. Cause guess what folks, if there are no consequences for a character when they behave this way, and no character development over the course of the film, wherein they are punished and/or change, then we are sending the message that this behavior is normal and ok. In this case, the character doesn’t evolve It’s not ok.

Boyfriend Bones is every bit as horrifying as Babysitter Z. He lives up to a parent’s worst nightmare of your babysitter’s boyfriend. He has dark circles under his eyes, carries around a beer bottle, talks like he is on drugs, and threatens and attacks the child his girlfriend is babysitting.

While Bones the boyfriend is over, the film addresses a supposedly inappropriate advance by the boyfriend, but the filmmakers do it in a way that makes the audience feel sorry for the boyfriend and that makes the girlfriend look like she is overreacting. Bones tells Babysitter Z a heartfelt story about how he was the victim of the Monster House across the street, when it stole his favorite red kite when he was a boy. In this moment he is an innocent victimized little boy and we feel sorry for him. He needs a hug. The innocence continues into a playful wrestling scene between the babysitter and the boyfriend, until she abruptly jumps up and says stop you have no respect for women and orders him out, which would be fine if we were seeing and feeling his aggression. If that were the case her response would be warranted, but it’s not. Instead, we go from feeling sorry for the boyfriend as an innocent little boy, to this girl calling him out for what feels like nothing but some innocent horsing around. It seems like the female baby sitter overreacts and misinterprets the play as a sexual attack when it really wasn’t. And we witness the male become the victim, to an overzealous female, who is not reading the situation right. With our social climate today, wherein, we are presented with examples of sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein, who made his victims feel so threatened and powerless, it took them decades to come forward, is this the message that we want to be sending to our youth? If it seems harmless, it probably is, and if you say anything, you are probably over reacting. This is so thoughtless. The scene ends when he calls her a prude and walks out, a weak attempt by filmmakers to underline what happened. Actions speak louder than words in this instance.

Now the boyfriend Bones is angry, and he takes it out on the Monster House, by throwing his beer bottle at it. By the way, who carries around a beer bottle in a kid’s movie? The house reacts and lures him in with his cherished red kite that he lost on her property as a child and she sucks him into her depths. Essentially, this guy, and by that, I mean drunken, cracked out looking stoner named Bones, gets tossed undeservedly from one angry and irrational women to the next. Why is this guy the victim? I don’t get it. His whole persona is inappropriate. Drinking beer, attacking his girlfriend, the child she is taking care of, the kind of guy you wouldn’t want your children around. Why are we made to feel sorry for this guy? Why is he the victim?

The film egregiously takes every opportunity to portray the females in the film in a negative light. At one point our protagonist’s DJ’s side kick, his white male friend Chowder, speaks to his dad on the phone. We learn that Chowder’s dad is at work but that his mom is out to a movie with “her personal trainer.” Got it so the mom is having an affair with her trainer, while dad is at work providing, and everyone is okay with this. The movie has no moral compass. It’s not that we can’t show these things to our kids, it’s when we don’t provide them with a moral compass to assimilate them that we are failing. Not to mention that these details are completely unnecessary to moving the plot forward. They are simply extemporaneous details and messages that are feeding our kids the wrong information.

Our third female character in the film, and seemingly last chance for a positive female role model, is a girl from the local all-girls “prep academy” who is out selling candy for her school, which seems honorable until it turns out she is a hard-lined negotiator who is willing to lie and cheat to get her deal done. She knocks on DJ’s door and the baby sitter answers. When her well prepared sales pitch to sell candy doesn’t work, she cuts to the chase and she and the babysitter both agree to scam the parents out of the emergency money that was left for the weekend. The prep school girl suggests the baby sitter give her $20 bucks, she’ll write a receipt for $30 so the baby sitter can pocket $10. They both negotiate over the bonus candy the prep girl will throw in if the baby sitter makes the deal and agrees to deceive and rob the parents of their money. And its done. Ultimately, women are untrustworthy, weather they are baby sitters that you trust your kids with or the cute looking educated prep school girl in a uniform, look out, they will both con and ultimately encourage your young white boys to do bad things.

The film takes on big topics from marriage, first kisses, theft, sexual misconduct, minority representation in the police force and uses these explorations to attribute negative qualities to its African American, minority and female characters. It is so unbelievably shocking that this is a contemporary film, it makes me sick. The prep school girl encourages Chowder to steal cough medicine from his dad’s store to drug the House. Terrible. The corrupt white cop takes a swig of the cough medicine, like it’s a shot of alcohol. The assistant black cop cannot think for himself and is totally stupid. Even though the senior partner white cop is corrupt, the black assistant cop follows his lead and never questions his authority, and is mentally so slow and is incapable of understanding the subtleties of what his senior white partner is saying. The babysitter’s boyfriend, Bones, looks like a drug addict with big dark circles under his eyes and has physical facial features that resembles those typical of a Native American and carries a bottle of beer in his hand, perpetuating the stereo type that Indians have issues with alcohol. Again, who carries a beer bottle around in an animated kids’ movie!? The dad is so afraid of showing his emotions that he cannot even tell his son that he loves him. And when our little protagonist DJ can’t find the courage, it is a kiss from his female companion that gives him courage. Ok, ladies, just remember, when you need to encourage your guys, just put out, that’s all they need. Even if you are 10. So inappropriate. This is a PG Movie.

But the film climaxes and becomes even more unbearably irreverent and wrong when in the second half of the film, the true nature of the Monster House is revealed. The scene begins with a large (tall and fat) woman in the center ring of a circus with fruit being thrown at her from a disapproving crowd. She falls out of her chair. Cut to a shot of her in a cage. ARE YOU SERIOUS? This is so wrong! Cut to a shot of her name: Constance, The Giantess, engraved above the door. Right, because that’s where big women belong, in cages. To think this film is on display in the library is horrifying.

Mr. Nebbercracker, DJ’s present-day neighbor, then breaks Constance out of the circus, by hooking up his car to her cage and towing her away. (CRINGE: They can’t even run away like normal people?!) Regardless of whether this circus act may have been part of our past in either fact or fiction, doesn’t mean that it was right then or now or is something we should revisit so thoughtlessly. See: the firing of Megyn Kelly in October for revisiting and defending black face. NOT OK.

The message here is that if you are fat and different, you have no worth and society has the right to treat you unfairly and torture you like an animal. And even if someone loves you for exactly who you are, you cannot receive that love because you are such a freak.

We never get rid of the idea that she belongs in a cage. SHE IS A HUMAN BEING NOT AN ANIMAL HUMAN BEINGS DO NOT BELONG ON DISPLAY IN CAGES! In the next scene Constance comes down the stairs of the house that Nebbercracker is building for her, to confront two boys that have come to taunt her. The filmmakers juxtapose this scene to a shot of Nebbercracker hacking off the door to her cage with his axe. The hinges are literally off, the beast is out of her cage. Look out.

At that point, The Giantess Constance has a choice, to defend herself against the eggs that are pelting her neck or to hear the words of the man professing his love to her, saying that he will protect her, which is clearly a farce. In the moment he says he will not let anyone hurt her, an egg nails her in the back of the neck. In an instant she reacts to defend herself, to stop the abuse, to confront it, stand up to it. However, when she tries to defend herself, she is killed of her own size and clumsiness. The film mocks her when it shows a close-up of her large legs and feet stuffed into tiny, pointy heels that she obviously cannot manage, as she trips and falls backwards into a pit, pulling down the handle of a cement mixing drum on her way in, causing cement to pour over her as she falls. Nice work guys. Okay, so our job as women is to try and conform, when that doesn’t work, we should take society’s abuse, follow the lead of the man that tries to save us, regardless of his motives, how qualified he is, and/or his inability to actually protect us from said abuse. Don’t speak up for yourself. Don’t speak out. Don’t confront it or you, and it will be your own fault, will fall into a deep dark pit and be subjected to the abuse of society for all eternity as you live out your days embodied in a big bad dark, scary run down house, in which you become the abuser of the only thing that was ever good in your life, a man. ARE YOU SERIOUS????? And this is on display in the Santa Monica Library? The town of Priuses, yoga and veganism. What is going on here? I am so disturbed. I thought we were better than this.

In the final scenes of the film, DJ our protagonist begs Mr. Nebbercracker to let Constance go, to let the love of his life, who he rescued from the circus and has taken care of since her self-inflicted demise, go. Nebbercracker resists. He doesn’t want to, but as we soon find out, not because he loved her, but because he will be “alone.” Awesome, now he only liked her because he was lonely. He must have been damn lonely to steal a fat lady circus act, tow her cage away with his truck, buy her a property and build her a house, then spend the rest of his life trying to protect her from the nasty neighborhood kids that ride by her house and taunt her. Again, so shocking.

“You’ve been a bad girl, haven’t you? You’ve hurt people. We’ve always known this day would come. I have to make things right.” Mr. Nebbercracker pulls out a few sticks of dynamite because making it right means, he must blow her up. In other words, the most humane thing he can do is to put her down like the animal in that cage that she has always been. “I’ve always done what’s best for you? Havent I?” No, Mr. Nebbercracker, you have not. And please stop talking to her like she is your dog! You have been selfish. You did what was best for you. You stole a lady, who was being abused and held against her will by the circus, living a life of ridicule, because you yourself had no other options and were lonely.  You in fact saved her from nothing. You only helped to perpetuate her tortured existence albeit under different circumstances and now, you have the gall to say that she’s the one who is the bad girl? No. You and society have created this “Monster” and are the bad ones who have hurt her. Take responsibility for your actions, please. Show our kids that you were wrong. Sadly, he does not. Where are the filmmakers? Why are they not showing us the difference between right and wrong, consequences for our actions? They have a responsibility as content providers to our youth. This is not an adult film.

This film is a yes-ticket to bullying, to misogyny, to torture, captivity and abuse, to treating women like they are animals, to the degradation of minorities and to judging people based upon their bodies and their race. And it literally asks the next generation to continue this madness. When the old man can’t get the job done, he asks our young white male protagonist to do it. Quite a lot of responsibility for a little boy. And once DJ executes the task, once they’ve put down this poor woman who society decided was unfit to exist, then the neighborhood can go back to being happy again, and thrive as a place where cops drink on the job, lie to children and to protect themselves, and break the law when it is in their own interests and minorities are too inept to think for themselves. Wow. I am incredibly disappointed that this is a movie the Santa Monica Library has on display in the children’s section? It is terrifying.

Be it the actions of children or the adults in the film, there are no responsible teaching moments. This type of messaging needs to stop. Responsible film making needs to start now. And if the movies from our past (Monster House is circa 2006) don’t coincide with todays standards, we need to take appropriate action and stop promoting them.

Some may argue that, well, its art, its not real. It’s make-believe. It’s a horror movie. That might be true, but often, especially when children are involved, life mimics art and the lines are blurred. And in today’s world where our youth are glued to screens and exposed to volumes of content, we must be watchdogs for the kind of content that we are delivering. Our public institutions have a responsibility. Our children are intercepting those messages, and as impressionable youth, they are internalizing them and recreating them in their own lives. Film and media either reinforce positive messages, or in this case negative ones and thus perpetuate unacceptable practices, beliefs, and cultural norms. We cannot afford to be so cavalier as it relates to our children’s ability to “know better.”

Here is an alternative. Turn the film around and get the kids to come to the realization that she has been called a freak, tortured, physically and mentally her entire life, find a redeeming quality in her and treat her with respect, which would turn her into a happy house. The message then being that if you treat people with respect, despite how far gone you might think they are, you can help them, even rehabilitate them. That society has at least recognized its faults and is working to correct them. After all, she wasn’t a mass murder, she had no other defining qualities except for being a large lady who later enjoyed being in a relationship and stood up to those that tried to bully her. Please note, we are universally against bullying as a society, which means we need to be more conscientious about promoting materials that endorse bullying. This qualifies as one of those materials.

In a world where, women are not equal, where the glass ceiling and the wage gap are real, where despite the fact that in approximately 10 years 50% of our families will have female bread winners, yet for every child a woman has, she loses 6% of her income, wherein a man gains 4%, where white women on average make $.80 to the dollar and African American women often only make $.61 of every white male earned dollar, we have a long way to go to balance the scales. It starts with the messages that we are feeding our young children. We shouldn’t have to remind people that they are impressionable, that they are soaking this stuff in and imitating what they see and that we need to be providing responsible content and messaging.

We need to change the systemic misogyny, the bullying, the discrimination, the sexism, the sexual misconduct, the prejudice in our culture that permeates our homes, our schools, our classrooms, our working environments, our courts, our politics, our government, OUR LIBRARIES, and our religions.

As responsible adults, it’s our job to educate our children and give them the programming that will help shape them and our society into a place where people, despite their differences, are treated equally and with respect. That’s why this film is unacceptable, and why we need to be the mature, courageous voice in the room that stands up and says, NO.

Casey Jahn – Concerned Citizen