Confessions of a beaten child

Throughout the nineteenth century, corporal punishment was a standard form of child discipline in English institutions…for Charlie it was an experience with authority he never forgot or forgave.

One reason why Chaplin’s screen character’s ass-kicking antics in those early films were so immensely popular with early-twentieth-century moviegoers is that they resonated unconsciously with his audiences’ personal experiences with that universal child-rearing practice….Charlie made them laugh until their sides split. Given our current penchant for gentler forms of child discipline, it is not surprising that the Little Tramp’s crude comic antics have lost much of their freshness and charm for twenty-first-century audiences. In fact it would not be surprising if many of today’s parents would strenuously object to their children viewing many of those early one- and two-reelers that first made Chaplin world famous by 1915, because they contain too much of what is known in modern educational parlance as gratuitous violence. ~Weissman, Stephen. Chaplin: A Life.

Although I understand the author’s statements, my personal experience has not made me laugh at Chaplin’s film expressions of punishment.

I was beaten on my behind with a belt more times than I can remember. I cried and hollered and got beaten harder for it. One time humiliation was added to the drama by being asked to drop my underwear…with other people in the room! I recall having the same response Chaplin is quoted as having: “They tried to break my spirit…” he recalled, but “they never succeeded.”

Decades later I came to understand much of the beating had more to do with the belt-wielder’s anger than with anything I had done. Unfortunately that understanding came too late to not affect my raising my own children. No I did not beat them, but my “unbroken spirit” lashed out often in inappropriate ways.

Charlie never forgave or forgot. He used his films as outlets. I have forgiven because I realized one day I cannot live with resentment or anger, but I have not forgotten.


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