Friday, September 30, 2005

These Effects Aren't Very Special

Today, my niece was telling me about some weird story that one of her classmates made up and one particular phrase had me in hysterics. I'll try to make this short, because this conversation was merely an inspiration for my post today. Still, I felt the need to share this as a Bill Cosby "kids say the darndest things" kind of anecdote. Miss T, as I'll call her for storytelling purposes, was babbling on at some length about either an assignment or some free time activity that she and her friends came up with, where they created stories based on figures from games and TV shows. Her one friend decided to derive most of her characters from the game, Candyland. One of these characters was a demented "Candy-Cane Man" who liked to cut off people's limbs. She then prefaced the next segment of the story with a side note that the class had recently watched a movie about a woman who lost a leg and later went through much physical therapy. Therefore, Miss T's crazy classmate came up with a bit of dialogue that could rival any Schwarzenneger or Van-Damme action-movie catchphrase. Just before Candy-Cane Man was about to chop off a victim's leg, he said to her, "I hope you like physical therapy!". Oh, let me tell you, we were in the car when she told me this and it took all I had to not go on a laughing jag and drive us into a tree.

After I composed myself, I started to wonder if it's true that children today have become desensitized to violence, due to the proliferation of staged violence on TV, in movies and in video games. I'll admit, I thought it was a funny thing to say, but I thought back to the way I was when I was a kid and I'm quite sure that the thought of someone getting their leg cut off wouldn't have been amusing to me. I hated slasher movies because I didn't like blood and guts. Now, Miss T is a bit squeamish, but my younger niece, Miss B, absolutely loves horror movies. But to her, nothing is scary unless at least one person dies a grisly death. She thought The Sixth Sense was boring, but loved Saw. I haven't even been able to bring myself to see the latter movie.

It certainly seems that kids today don't appreciate any form of entertainment that doesn't include the latest advances in technology or special effects. I know tastes and ideas change from generation to generation, but just because something's from an older generation doesn't make it less interesting. As dated as they are, I still find some Alfred Hitchcock or Vincent Price movies scary. Not "shivering under the covers all night" scary, but just enough to give me a thrill. Those films were "thinking man's movies". They were able to be scary by just hinting at what was feared, without resorting to gratuitous gore. But now plot takes a back seat to FX. For example, I rented The Omen for Miss B and I to watch one night. Now, when I was a kid that movie scared the beejeezuz out of me. To this day, when I hear that crazy Latin chant music, I look over my shoulder for some possessed freak, or a swarm of locusts, or a devil dog, or a crow that wants to peck my eyes out. Of course, I don't find the movie as scary now as I did then, but I figured that it would be at least a bit unsettling for an 11 year old. But noooo. She thought Damien was "cute". She thought the crazy Latin chant music was "cool". She laughed often and kept remarking how "weird looking" everyone's hairstyles were. Yet, my sister rented The Grudge for her and she was scared for weeks. My sister said it stunk. I didn't see it, but judging from the previews it was just another convoluted story with bizarre special effects used to plug up the plot holes. Special effects, you win again.

This attitude also extends to what is often thought of as a child's primary source of entertainment - games. Kids have always had short attention spans, but it seems even more pronounced these days. Even toddlers who used to go crazy for Candyland can't be bothered now. Too boring. Not enough colors whizzing by their faces. They want to crawl up on mommy or daddy's lap and play along with Blue and Dora on Whatever happened to the days of the whole family sitting around the table playing Life or Clue? Well, now they have CD-ROM versions of board games. Apparently, everything is better when it's simulated. They've even got computer versions of Connect Four and Yahtzee, for goodness sake.

Now that kids have GameBoys, X-Boxes, Playstation and PCs, Milton Bradley and the Parker Brothers can't seem to catch a break. Life has been replaced by The Sims. Monopoly has given way to the Tycoon games. Hungry Hungry Hippos? Well, I guess that's evolved into Zoo Tycoon. I guess kids can't be bothered to move a game piece around a board when they can do everything with a click of the mouse.

I'm all for technology, but "new" or "advanced" doesn't always mean "better". Sometimes when we're faced with so much razzle-dazzle, we can forget the simple pleasures in life. I'll never forget how aggravated I was when my family and I went to Disney World a few years ago. Disney was nice, but three of us decided to go to the Universal Studios theme park on our last day. There are two segments, the Studios and Islands of Adventure. Rip off #1 - there were separate entrance fees for each park. I wanted to go to Islands of Adventure because I saw one of their roller coasters advertised on TV, and I am a total coaster nut. Somehow, I got outvoted and we ended up going to Universal Studios. Rip off #2 - Just about every ride there is simulated. Now, am I crazy, or is the point of going to an amusement park to ride rides? I don't want to walk through 10 minutes of an elaborately themed queue, listen to some 17 year-old, dead-eyed part-timer recite the "story" behind the ride, then be led in to some type of slow-moving vehicle or a giant set of bleachers on hydraulic lifts, just to be jerked around in my seat while watching what is essentially a life-sized commercial for various Universal pictures. All I want is to ride a damn rollercoaster, is that so wrong??

I know what's happening here. I'm just getting older. Eventually, I'll be just like so many other old folks, complaining about how things were so much better in my day and treating technological advancements as if they were precursors to the end of the world. Yeah, I saw The Lawnmower Man. Computers are evil. Evil, I say. This would be the time to cue the crazy Latin chant music, but even that has been replaced by some form of techno/trance/death metal. Sheesh.


pia said...

yeah that's it, you're getting older. actually babysitting my 11 year old niece tonight--she told me to pick the activities because I'm fun--news to me

her fave movie is white girls--which she closes my eyes during the sex scenes so I really don't know if she's not watching;

Was going to rent Sisterhood of the traveling pants--because I love it--but it's not coming out until the 11th

So I'm confused!!!!!!!!!!!!

JC said...

My girlfriend carried on forever about how scary the grudge was. I didn't care that much for it, but she said she couldn't be alone in a room for a week. I guess different things are scary for different people. Only thing I am scared of right now is Bushie, as I am sure you know.

Celebrity Rant said...

"The Prince of Darkness" (movie from 1987) scared the CRAP outta me!

Juliabohemian said...

when I was five my parents let me watch Poltergeist. I thought it was the most terrifiying movie I've ever seen. Even now it is one of my top ten favorites. But, watching it as an adult, I realize how dated the special effects were.

Dani said...

I guess it depends on how early you expose your kids to the jazzy stuff. We don't watch horror movies so I can't comment on that, but my girls (ages 8 and 12) love old movie musicals as much as I do. My son (age 7) is a computer and video game nut, but he loves to play Uno and Pit as well. Although we have a PS2, three computers, and a Game Boy Advance SP, my kids don't play the latest games on them because I only buy games that are used or on sale. I didn't do this on purpose, but I think it has helped them find the fun behind the flash.


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