It seems strange that in such a plugged-in world, we are often disconnected from each other.
My kids all use various tablets, consoles and screens of all shapes and sizes to entertain themselves; the upside is occasional periods of relative calm when they aren’t trying to kill each other. The downsides include the fact that they can no longer watch anything collectively as they haven’t learned how to compromise.
My kids have a smorgasbord of content and banks of devices to consume it through, to the point where most of the time they don’t know what to watch, except that it isn’t whatever the other one wants to watch. Even the way they view media has changed – they can’t seem to complete anything; they give it a minute or two, then click to the next thing. It’s hardly surprising as so much YouTube content is based around watching other people play games, open toys or make slime. Somehow this is where technology has brought our digital natives – a Fisher Price version of Strange Days.
So they flick from Netflix to YouTube, watch almost no terrestrial TV, don’t understand the basics of compromise and will probably develop the attention span of a gnat. I blame the parents, ie, us.
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My wife and I are no different; at night, she watches season 50 of Greenleaf on her phone, I usually flick between some Ken Burns forensic autopsy of American foreign policy and whatever argument I have simmering over on Twitter.
Sometimes we find something we both enjoy watching, but all it takes is one person greedily skipping ahead an episode when doing the ironing and the spell is broken, we are back on different timelines again. For the whole family, the issue is the same – we all seem to struggle to simply be in the same moment as each other, and much as I love the internet, it often feels like we are all less together than before.
Of course, there are things that bring us all together so we can stare at the same screen at the same time, because we can align the stars once in a while and all sit to watch a film together.
The key to making this work is turning off the heating, meaning everyone is gradually shepherded into the one room with the roaring fire. It’s a simple proposition – either they come watch a film with us, or develop hypothermia. And if the prospect of freezing isn’t enough to lure them in, we sweeten the deal with enough popcorn to insulate an attic.
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The surly teenager normally wouldn’t be anywhere near us, but a combination of cold and the WiFi box being in the same room as the fire means she sometimes shows up too, usually with headphones in, but it’s still something. And films are one thing we can all agree on – generally it will be something Marvel, with big explosions, loud noises, heroes and monsters and everything in between.
Martin Scorcese said that Marvel films aren’t cinema, which seemed a curious thing to say whilst being interviewed about film he made for Netflix, and then he doubled down by saying that there are no surprises in superhero films – clearly he has never watched one with three small boys bloated from popcorn whose explosive gas gives those action sequences added impact.
Scorcese can decry them all he wants, but making films that celebrate heroism – even a tightly homogenised version of it – rather than films that celebrate criminality might actually not be such a bad thing. Also, nobody involved with Gangs Of New York gets to throw shade at any other cinematic endeavour, especially ones that bring so much joy to little faces (and my massive hamster face).
If there is one hobby I can force upon my kids, aside from books, it will be a love of the cinema; and not just cinema as a physical entity, but as that sharing of an experience, a coming together as one for collective dreaming, to laugh, and cry and throw popcorn kernels at each other, even if it’s only once a week, and even if it’s only for a couple of hours, to be there in one place, doing one thing, together.
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