THB #254: Consuming
My 12-year-old is pretty much free to watch what he wishes.
He is not into violent movies or sex-laden films, though he gets more than enough of both in the anime he watches daily on Crunchyroll. But basically, he is still young enough to come to me or his mom with things that make him uncomfortable. (Sadly, I suspect that this will end soon and we will only hear grunts for a few years.)
One of my constant efforts is to offer him context to phrases, ideas, images, and other kinds of content that he runs into and comes from a past he has no context for… mine. The 60-minute conversation about the song YMCA, real YMCAs and YWCAs, Village People, why the group is called that, gay culture of the 70s, 80s, and forward, Allan Carr, Can’t Stop The Music, and the meaning of each of the characters in Village People is now available in syllabus form at 143 colleges and universities. (Not really, no.)
I am writing this piece without any answers. I don’t know that we really have answers yet.
But what will growing up with endless content on demand as your norm and virtually no content unavoidably placed in front of you to consume, do to my son’s generation? What is it doing to my generation? And the one in between?
Bruce Springsteen’s “57 Channels (And Nothin' On)” came on the SiriusXM yesterday and I had to explain that after my 5-channel childhood, there was cable with 50 or 60 channels… then 300… then 500… and people still complain every week about there not being anything to watch on TV when there is more content at our fingertips than ever in the history of mankind, instantly accessible that you already pay for, much less all the rest that you don’t pay for yet.
He had no idea what the hell I was talking about. He doesn’t flip through channels. He jumps around YouTube and watches in streaks. He picks what show to binge for a day or a week or a month on Crunchyroll. He laid down with his mom last night as she was watching the new Quantum Leap on Peacock - not on the taped episodes on our YouTubeTV - and to explain to him what it was, she showed him some kind of trailer for the old Quantum Leap with Scott Bakula.
Every once in a while, I can get him to sit with me and watch something on The Criterion Channel. But it’s not easy and he feels perfectly fine exiting any any time. Jeez… either he needs to be motivated himself or we need to get him at least 2 episodes deep into Disney+ IP shows to get him to watch.
“Dad!!! Why are you asking about She-Hulk? I finished She-Hulk!” I fear that the answer is that we have too many TVs and don’t watch shows together as a family very often anymore. We have endless choices.
Sometimes, he knows things about 70s TV and I have no idea how he knows it. But there’s some meme going around.
Outside of 60 Minutes, Saturday Night Live, Real Time with Bill Maher, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, I barely know when anything “comes out” anymore. Sunday night is an HBO night… except when it’s Monday or Saturday.
I spent hours last night, after coming home from seeing The Whale, watching Welcome To Chippendale’s… which is amazing and lands in 2 weeks. I missed Dancing With The Stars this week. I never watched it on ABC, but the move to D+ intrigued me. It’s not the same since Selma Blair left, but I would have watched it. Not in my face enough to demand my attention. Same with Ghosts and Abbott Elementary.
One of the things I have written about a lot regarding theatrical movies is that the eco-system needs to be regularized to work… all kinds of movies… a happy habit for those who have movie-going as a happy habit. (The majority of people who do not go to the movies at least once a month often make the most noise… but they mean nothing to the actual business.)
The eco-system of the television world - and streaming is television and television is streaming… that, not the idea that Netflix won, is what we need to accept and get over - is also a mess right now.
I used to make the argument that people liked the energy of “going through the channels,” which I believe to be true and believe is a remnant of the past. But I think it is more than that habit and how our brains work. It is, even with all our individual opportunity to consume, the desire for community.
I have news for you. All the people consuming TV diets heavy on Seinfeld, The Office, Friends, Law & Order, etc, could be consuming shows they like even better… right now. No, they wouldn’t have the same comfort of familiarity. But I have little doubt they would be delighted to have something new to watch that they love in many of the same ways.
But where do you find it?
How do you get yourself ready to make even a 4-episode, 96-minute commitment to trying something new, when the button to use your favorite old crack pipe is just inches away?
What is the hardest thing about getting my 12-year-old to read? His sense that he is going to have to spend at least a couple of hours between the covers of whatever new book, unsure of whether he is going to love it or not. He’s a great reader. He has a great vocabulary. Most of his TV consumption is in a foreign language with subtitles. But the world is not as wide open as it should be.
Part of this is being a kid. I get that. But when I went to bed at night, I read. For hours. School stuff. Stuff my mom gave me (I am a Sidney Sheldon expert). “The Godfather,” years before I saw the movie. “How To Eat Fried Worms” in under 20 minutes… just went faster and faster. And yes… as a teen… the interviews in Playboy.
I don’t fear my child being intellectually lazy. I fear that he will not find himself intellectually challenged by a wide enough swath of ideas to allow him to really understand the breath and width of the world.
I fear the same for myself.
Then… as I picked my kid up from school today… he grabbed my cell phone and put on something from YouTube… and it both amused and confounded me even more…
It’s more than 90 minutes long. And kinda breathtaking.
My entire lifetime without even the context of the sounds/songs/memes included.
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