Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Screen-Free Week 2013: Old Movies

The Kid
This week is the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood's annual Screen-Free Week.  As I've mentioned before, we are screen-free zealots.  Screen-Free Week has its critics, but I think it is useful for encouraging parents and teachers to be mindful about how children use screen technology, to use it as a resource for engagement, and in limited quantity.  I've written about our extreme restriction of N.'s use of TV, movies, and video/computer/iDevice/online games in absurd detail here.  As I've also noted, in the past couple years (beginning when he was 6), he's watched a few movies in the theater and at home, most recently The Kid, Top Hat, and Young Mr. Lincoln.
As we've slowly added movies to N.'s diet, N. has really enjoyed them.  I would posit (without any more than anecdotal evidence) that the less one watches, the more open one may be to a wider range of visual productions.  Because N. has not watched children's TV or been immersed in a visual world designed precisely for his demographic, he is not judgmental or dismissive of older works not focus-group-tested on 6-to-9-year-olds: silent films, black-and-white films, films in which people suddenly start singing and dancing.  In contrast, most of my college students (many of whom have never seen a black-and-white film) would find all the movies N. has seen except Mary Poppins unbearably strange.  (I know this from repeated experiences of showing clips of older films in class accompanied by students' protests).  My students have access to every movie on Netflix or in the library, but they tend to confine their viewing narrowly to the familiar: Hollywood fare of the past decade. 

Our viewing tastes are (at least to some extent) shaped by what we watch.  When we sat down to watch Young Mr. Lincoln after N. and Tim had been learning about Lincoln's life, N. was at first a bit disappointed to find it wasn't a silent movie, because he loved The General, The Kid, and the films of George Méliès.  But he loved Henry Fonda's portrayal of the jokey young Abe.  We restrict what and how much N. watches so that we, not Disney, Pixar, or toy companies selling products via movies, shape our son's visual experiences and taste.  Because N. hasn't seen many films, each one he has seen is memorable and visually powerful.

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