Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The runaway train wreck known as Hollywood is coming, again. Kids, cover your eyes!

Dear reader, I am going to tell you now, the coming rant will have a dose of irony, if not downright hypocrisy. First, the good news! I have enjoyed nearly every part of this summer's offerings from the film industry's latest arsenal of summer distractions. Movies like Sucker Punch, Green Lantern, Thor, Super 8 and Priest. With the final Harry Potter, Cowboys & Aliens and everyone's favorite patriot, Captain America still forthcoming as the time of this post. Like the proverbial kid in a candy store, I am overstimulated and under the spell of each new story. I sit mesmerized by the cavalcade of special effects that assault my senses each week on the silver screen (check out my comic book/Superhero/Sci-Fi movie blog, The Boxed Office for my reviews of said movies). And the kids? They are right along with me (minus Sucker Punch & Priest).

The dark side to this flurry feature films is the effects these movies have on our kids.

Yup, I'm gonna go there.

Over the past 8 - 10 years, many movie trailers have begun following the same flash-cut formula. A slow, mostly dialogue-laden intro to the story, then a gradual increase in action-scenes and increase in both sound and music, not to mention the pacing – until things are moving so fast, I actually have to look away to avoid vertigo or an all-out migraine. Like our kid's generation (my kids are between the ages of 11 to 15), there is NO attention span to these previews whatsoever.

A few years ago, I was mortified when the kid's grandfather took my twins – then eight years old – to see 300, the movie adaptation to Frank Miller's ground-breaking graphic novel. The movie was one-third cheese ball acting and narrative, one-third over-the-top special effects and one-third blood, guts and gore. NONE of it appropriate for the age group. Now, Grandpa does NOT get a pass on this but he too was sucked up into the frosting-covered glitz of the movie's previews and promise. After all the movie's historical context meant it was based on actual events. How harmful could it be, right?

Well anyone who saw that movie, love it or hate it, you know the answer to that question.

I remember in 1999, being horrified while attending the midnight movie premiere of Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (Tom Hanks & Nicole Kidman's weirdo film-noir trist). There was a couple there – with a newborn. Are you fricking kidding me? C'mon folks, I paid for a babysitter so I could hear the dang movie, not listen to your baby wail through have the film. Hey can't get a babysitter? Then stay home. "Make a Blockbuster Night!" Look there are tons of clinical studies that demonstrate the harmful effects violent media has on young minds. It doesn't take a clinical psychologist to figure that one out. But a newborn? At THAT movie? At midnight? Isn't there a line?

I suppose when each movie looks cooler than the last, how can we hope to convince them to consider alternate activities – or alternative film watching experiences? How about the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird? Maybe my favorite John Wayne movie, Stagecoach or my all time favorite Alfred Hitchcock thriller, North By Northwest? I realize all of these movies are from a different generation but they are all great films and – certainly not irrelevant. Look I understand we're talking movies here, folks. I know there are many more important, relevant topics to consider (and I will!) but what the kids and I do in our free time, helps mold experiences and expertise in their coming years and the conversation bears merit. At least to me.

So here's the grand experiment. Once a month, the four kids and I will sit down and watch a movie of Dad's choosing. No flash cuts, slick CGI/SFX or big budgets. Just some family time and a discussion directly after the movie on what we just watched. And I will throw some popcorn in for good measure. I am banking that experience will matter a great deal more than movies offer today.

Even though I love movies – like 300 – there is no way my kids need to be exposed to that kind of content. The cost is just too great. And maybe learning about the 300 hundred and the epic Battle of Thermopylae is a lesson we should learn from the history books, not the box office.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My kids don't need a phony Dad – do yours?

Technology's sweet, siren call lures me away from the people and the things I love the most... and tragically, it's just beginning.

Remember when you would call someone and if you didn't get them, you would hang up and call back later? If you do, you are probably smirking that little "Oh yeah" smirk or the nod of "Boy, those were the days".

I thought I was going to be like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, standing on the bow of the ship, shouting "... I'm king of the world!", at least that's what I thought when, in late 2009 when I gave up a fairly sweet cell phone for what we all have come to know as... a Smartphone. You know then, the iPhones, Andorids and Blackberrys with touch screen technology and the ability to download a blinding number of games, sings, applications (or "Apps"), GPS and even movies.

The power in the common Smartphone is staggering. It has been noted multiple times that there is as much as ten times the computing power in the common Smartphone as was used to calculate and run NASA's entire first moon landing mission.

In a recent CNN article, the dilemma of 'distracted parenting' was identified. Apparently, 21st century parents are at odds when trying to be/stay/get connected and having to attend to, sometimes basic needs of their kids. You can read about that travesty here; http://www.cnn.com/2011/LIVING/06/14/phone.addicted.parent/index.html?iref=allsearch

Got Angry Birds? Facebook? Twitter? Four Square? RSS? Blogger? I do. Yep, every one. These Apps have taken over millions of phones. Millions. And I can't keep up. Between Facebook, XBOX 360ยบ's XBOX LIVE (which by the way, not only has real-time voice chat but also has video phone capability), Skype, two phones, home & cell, three desktops and two laptops (work and home), numerous email accounts (currently five, not including work email), learning Four Square and that good old standby, texting. My Smartphone is constantly blowing up. Several people in my life, including my girlfriend, are astounded that I am not Twittering more. Shame on me.

I agree, how am I able to survive from moment-to-moment without reading the random thoughts and the dizzying array of commentary of a legion of family, friends and celebrities? My life is somehow compromised, I'm convinced. But I am reaching a threshold. There is a coming Singularity (no not the artificial intelligence doomsday, that blog post is coming, though), no, I mean there is only so hyper-connected I can be. Even with two blogs going (oh check out my Sci-Fi movie review blog, The Boxed Office and contemplating a third plus two new web portals, I think I am hitting the limit.

The kids want in on it. "Dad, can I use your phone?" they ask. "Why?" I respond. "I want to play Angry Birds." My daughter interfaced Facebook with her cell phone until I cut the service. The truth is, to participate in the new world economy and social media revolution, we gotta do this stuff. Or do we? Can I live without my phone's GPS, camera, gmail pings or texts? The thought of being without them gives me slight tremors. But, haven't we all done it before? And at what cost?

Hard to say.

I'll bet, though, my kids would rather I look them in the eye when I speak to them and not be permanently pre-distracted with incoming, texts, Tweets and Blog/RSS feeds. I'm guessing, and I am going out on a limb here, it's OK not to pick up the phone every once and a while. After all, there is... wait for it... voicemail.