Cinema as a surrogate parent: Outgrowing the shared experience for entertainment in a fragmented culture

The world of my childhood existed as a place with three primary television networks, and movie theaters as a place to escape from reality for a few hours. I was surrounded by an environment that had been established decades earlier as I came of age.

As I look back on the 1980s, I realize that movies became a kind of social glue. Church life had already begun to loosen its grip on American families, and motion pictures seemed to drive the dominant social trends.

In their purest definition, movies are a continuation of the human condition to tell stories. Instead of using firelights in caves to cast hand shadows that tell fairy tales, we used arcs of electric light to project our imaginations onto large screens – in caves a little more comfortable than mega-cineplexes. are known as

Growing up with no parental guidance and no access to books, movies were both my companion and teacher. Everything I know about life I learned from movies. While it felt helpful at the time, filling the void of my curiosity and knowledge despair, I was too young to understand how distorted the movies were.

Of course, movies were not real life, especially when it came to fictional stories. But they sheltered me from the dystopian reality of my youth. Teen flicks like “The Breakfast Club” or “Pretty in Pink” helped guide my youth, and I wasn’t alone. To this day I know people who think that love and relationships should be like a 1980’s John Hughes movie.

Because I lacked life experience in my youth, or parental references, the only references for emotional expression came from the movies I watched. It was also reinforced by a shared social habit with my colleagues, who could recognize each of the characters from “The Breakfast Club”.

“You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the simplest definitions. But do we know that each of us is a brain, and a player, and a basket case, a princess, And a criminal.”

If I found myself in a situation that I couldn’t explain, I could always remember a movie where a character faced something similar. Using the example, my friends quickly understood why everyone had seen the movie.

Growing up in Atlanta exposed me to programming as well as Ted Turner’s pre-cable TV experiences, which meant that in my childhood I had already seen more classic movies than most adults. I can relate to that older generation, too, in conversation, in reference to older actors or socially relevant films of early Hollywood.

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The experience of watching movies also spread in the society, as theaters were mostly located in shopping malls. Before the Internet, socializing online meant going to the mall. A hit movie was always a guaranteed way to spend some time with friends.

This experience continued into my adulthood, watching movies on Fridays when new releases opened on the weekend. But with the advent of Blockbuster, the moviegoing experience was complemented by movies on VHS and later DVD. By the time I moved abroad, the lack of access to theaters showing contemporary American films, and the vast supply of these films, digitized on disc, completely disrupted my experience.

In all honesty, I was happy for it. I used to watch new movies in the comfort and privacy of my home. Now I didn’t have to suffer from a crying baby, or people talking during the movie. Sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strange strangers was never comfortable for me, or the magical social experience that theater promoters always claimed. But my determination to watch movies made such a visit a must.

When the delivery platform changed, so did the need. Of course, theater will always have a place in society to some extent. We can buy beer and drink it at home, while listening to the music we stream live. Yet people still enjoy going to bars, and are excited to attend concerts. Theaters also have a place in this way, but long-standing social patterns have been radically altered.

Also, in a world now full of streaming services, I can watch movies anytime and anywhere. The iPhone in my pocket is not my cinematic experience, but it is for many people. And during the height of the pandemic, when much of the world was shut down before the public could access vaccinations, streaming helped keep me entertained during the isolation.

Not only two-hour movies, but streaming services like Netflix allow consumption of entire TV seasons. Over the course of two weeks I can watch hours of episodes that actually took years to air. It really blew my mind to the definition of cinema, to watch amazing and high-quality programs that were of motion picture quality, but divided into dozens of hour-long chapters. I can only describe the emotional impact as being visually immersed in a book without words.

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Aside from Scorsese’s issues with the Marvel Universe, I think that’s what movies are fundamentally about today. Not academically as someone who studies film, but as someone who sits in dark theaters for refuge from daily trauma.

It can be argued that movies are not intended to teach life lessons. They are packaged bundles of escapism, and nothing more than disposable entertainment. This may certainly be the case now, but there is no way to deny the usefulness that movies have offered to society over the past decades.

I no longer use the movies contextually, and I only ever talk about the Marvel movies except in plot reviews with friends. Thankfully, I’ve grown up and had the life experiences to gain, with a better ability to describe my experiences from memory and not through fictional metaphors.

But also, with the distribution of entertainment on streaming services and other entertainment platforms — like video games, I don’t know anyone who went out to see a movie on opening day. I don’t. In fact, I won’t watch a new movie until it’s finished its theatrical run and is available to rent on iTunes. This means that it is almost impossible to refer to movies like My Youth in real time.

There is no shared social experience anymore. In many ways, cinema itself is gradually being replaced by various forms of tribalism. Just as people flocked to theaters to avoid being in churches in the 1980s, social media fills the viewing screen from content creators originally designed for cinematic proportions.

A disturbing trend, not necessarily caused by the movies but a companion to it, involves toxicism. For them, perhaps movies are not life experiences but life itself. This condition also seems to be linked to some toxic gaming cultures. I’ve seen some sports events so filled with vitriol that it would be easy to mistake them for a political rally.

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Perhaps it has become an unexpected training ground for such violent discourse. Because a secondary byproduct I’ve experienced is how politics has become a new form of entertainment. Whether it’s election season or not, I listen in on a conversation about a candidate or policy. These themes have filled the void that once satirized or commented on the director’s latest film.

Like the old cinema experience, these political conversations have become a social glue. Rather than holding society together, it only divides people into homogenous groups and breeds a tribal mentality.

As for me, I still enjoy different types of traditional entertainment. But I abandoned the need for cinema as a surrogate parent when I graduated college – I was a late bloomer. It makes me wonder about today’s youth, who take their cues from YouTube videos or political commentary on Loop.

It seems that beyond a few hours of motion picture magic to consume entertainment in our demands, evolution has left us no safe haven to escape exposure to it. In all its uncomfortable flavors, we are bombarded with a layer of escapism on top of reality, blurring the lines between them.

When we talk about how polarized America is, it should be a little surprising why. The informal social institutions that once held us together, or at least provided common guardrails, have mutated. They have all dreamed of a consumer-oriented society, only to find that some things may actually be a dream.

For movie references to illustrate this point, I cite Violet Beauregard, Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt and Mike Tavy in Gene Wilder’s 1971 classic, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

In the process of detaching ourselves from convention to access the freedom of free choice for our entertainment, we lose the sense of community that was always part of the experience.

Our nation was built on community, and surviving in society is a simple necessity of civilization for us. But it often feels like the pop culture idiom of standing in a room and being alone.

For example, the lack of movies, for better or for worse, is perhaps the lesson that the younger generation will have for the future.


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