Sunday, June 24, 2012

Childish Things

My literary hero,  Andrew Vachss (rhymes with 'axe') , writes gritty crime novels that often depict how our society grows its own monsters by virtue of the way our children are treated. As someone who has worked in maximum security facilities for minors, and as a social worker, and as a lawyer whose practice solely represents exploited and abused children, he speaks from a position of considerable authority, and his views have fundamentally affected my own, both politically and personally.

"People think I do what I do out of a love of children, and I don't; it comes out of a hatred of predators."  It's hard to think of someone saying this as anything but a cynic, but this is an unfair simplification as well.  Vachss wrote a collection of illustrated stories he described as "a children's book for adults" that he entitled "Another Chance to Get It Right," which is what is what he views children as: one more chance for a dangerously flawed species to do better for itself.

There are a lot of reasons that I find myself concerned for children on occasion:
  • I have two of them. 
  • I used to be one myself. 
  • I encounter them through work, friends, and family. 
  • My wife works in an inner city school where she sees and hears things that will make even the most libertarian individual think that our society needs to take a sober second look at the eugenics movement. 
  • Our news stories continually resonate with tales of damaged individuals revisiting that harm among associates and strangers alike.
As simplistic as it sounds, if we made the security, well being and love of all the world's children a priority, we would be looking at a profoundly improved world in about two decades.

A world without child labor, child soldiers, and children victimized by monstrous lusts would be a better place for all of us.  This is probably what the UN had in mind when it came up with its "Declaration of the Rights of the Child". It contains ten points, the first of which explains that all children are entitled to these rights, but the second point really sums it up:
You have the special right to grow up and to develop physically and spiritually in a healthy and normal way, free and with dignity.

Now, its easy to think that because we don't have child soldiers in Canada, or because we have a minimum age for workers, that this Declaration is an opportunity for other countries and cultures to catch up to our sterling example, but this isn't really the case, and quite often this is the result of individuals, and not governments.

Point 4: "You have a right to special care and protection and to good food, housing and medical services." Children come from all over the city to Audrey's school, because they know the children will receive both breakfast and lunch.

Point 9: "You have the right to be protected against cruel acts or exploitation, e.g. you shall not be obliged to do work which hinders your development both physically and mentally." Putting aside for a moment the number of johns who will happily bed children selling their bodies, and the 'family' members who willingly pimp them out, there are children looking after children in my city while a single parent works two part time jobs with no benefits to keep a roof over their heads.

This declaration was written in 1978, and I suppose we must have made some progress, but it feels like we have a lot further to go. Why am I thinking about it now?

Would you believe Scandinavian power metal?

My favourite Finnish band, Sonata Arctica, came out with a new album last month, and it only made it into the car last week. One song in particular stuck with me due to the almost chant-like repetition of its chorus:

Give me the right to be heard
to be seen, to be loved, to be free
to be everything I need to be me,to be safe, to believe…in something

I have a right to be heard
to be seen, to be loved, to be free
to be everything I need to be me,to be safe, to believe…in something

There is also a spoken word portion in the middle of the song that sounded familiar to me, and checking the liner notes (we can still call them that, right?), sure enough, the song is actually based on the Declaration of Rights of the Child. Lead singer and songwriter Tony Kakko talks about it in a blog entry copied onto the YouTube page hosting the video:

"I Have A Right" was the very last song I wrote for this album. At that point Tommy had already played his last track for "Stones Grow Her Name," gotten ready to go to sauna AND opened his first beer for that night, when I sms'd him to check his e-mail and record yet one more "easy track".

He was mildly pissed. And perhaps fueled by that he nailed the song on the first take. It was a very emotional moment for him, I was told. The song hits home, if you know the subject and can relate to the subject.
To put it short it's a song about how we should not pass the burden we get from the past generation on the shoulders of our future offspring. Children's rights subject. Not the most metal subject ever, I suppose, but then again I think it fits our band well and is pretty universal. Funny to actually have fans from each age group this songs speaks about. Let's see what comes of it.
Choosing the first single and video from this album was not very easy this time around as we had so many candidates. The best possible problem to have! "I Have A Right" won the vote.
The playing parts for this video were shot in our home town Kemi, here in Finland. The location was an old, abandoned school building. Somehow spooky and COLD. It was mid march. Could say we were lucky the weather was unseasonably warm, yet way below zero.
Director Tuukka Temonen and his crew did a great job with editing and all the additional footage. All in all, from my point of view, this was the easiest ever Sonata Arctica video to make. No 12 hours standing in a room filled with bird shit, no freezing my ass off on the ice in the middle of the sea from 8am to 10pm, or running in the woods in the middle of the night and not sleeping for 48 hours...had all that with the past videos. I am more than pleased. I hope you like the song and video as much as we do.

Knowing this has made listening to the track even more enjoyable.  It is a catchy track with more Queen overtones than the guitar heroism of their early efforts, and sports a well-made video to boot.  Most importantly, it reinforces this simple but still misunderstood concept, that every interaction we have with children, from love and support, through detached indifference all the way to exploitation and abuse, shapes the world we will be living in tomorrow.

Please consider the effect that your interactions with children, both direct or indirect, can have. Every one of them has the potential to either support or undermine point 10 of the Declaration: "You should be taught peace, understanding, tolerance and friendship among all people."

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