June 27, 2017 Repository 205: Super Size Me: Emotional Fodder in the Age of Unreason Posted In: community, culture, perspective, social critique

Film still from “Old Yeller” (1957)

A quick note to share some serious observations on the tenor of movies I’ve noticed lately. Logically if you have an emotional public that is increasingly numb from information and entertainment overload you try hard to bolt them from their seats, minds or otherwise. For over 15 years now I’ve observed a huge uptick in emotionally oversized movies.

Since I have three small children, and a screen-free house, we do participate in family movie night once a week, and once in a blue moon we head to the theater.  Ever since my first child was born and I started to watch Disney movies again, I noticed a strange new phenomena. One could argue this is because I’m a mom, though I really think there is a larger cultural issue at hand. When I watch movies made now for children I cry at least once if not 3-4 times per viewing. I also laugh very hard in the same sitting. The crying happens regardless of plot – these are “happy” movies – though they put in a sinister sad twist even in these. I have joked with friends that while I don’t partake in recreational drugs, watching Disney/Pixar type movies makes me feel like I was high as a kite – a roller coaster of emotion with tides so fierce they feel tsunami like. And if I watch the same movie on an airplane? Forget about it, I’m a complete mess – the altitude for some reason plays a role in being more receptive to these effects.

Just this past week we watched “A Dog’s Purpose”. This movie is “Old Yeller” on steroids. While “Old Yeller” had one painful tear jerking memorable moment, this movie had at least 5 painful moments. At one point my 10-year old held my hand and said “Mom are you OK?”, as I sat quietly shaking and crying waterfalls. Could my children be slightly numb all ready? Did the fierce battle scenes of “Rogue One” or “Wonder Woman” dull their little hearts??

It’s worth a think as we let our children, and ourselves, absorb media – could this be slightly overboard? Is there a consequence to overflowing our brains with this kind of action/loudness/extreme emotion? Are we becoming endurance athletes of the heart – able to power through mountains of emotion without feeling a pinch? Are we unable to recognize and be mindful of real emotion if we continually see this larger than life contrived emotion?

A couple of years ago an acquaintance posted proudly on Facebook they were taking their 3-year old to see “Finding Nemo” in 3D. Two days later the same person was posting to her community, asking for ideas on how to help her child workout some nightmare/sleeping issues – “anyone have some ideas for my little one?”. I couldn’t help but correlate the theater experience for this small child to his inability to sleep at night. I saw my first 3D movie at age 40, and barely recovered. I had to close my eyes several times to stop from being dizzy and/or terrified. Now how does a seemingly terminally lost fish, whose Mom died in 3D ever a good premise for a children’s movie?

Last year I saw the “Finding Nemo” sequel  “Finding Dory” in the theaters with my children – again one of the saddest movies I’d ever seen. Anxiety abounds as the forgetful Dory whizzes through dark underwater tunnels where she can’t remember where to go. Really?? Underground, dark, narrow tunnels? How is this not one of the most frightening scenarios? I was exhausted after the film. How are all the kids not?

And of course they are – the number of children living with psychic disorders climbs daily. One could say the numbers reflect a higher population, diet, absentee parents, socioeconomic reasons, etc. I think it’s the power of the media and our lack of editing and filtering for our youngest members of society.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health over 20% of children (1 in 5), either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder. And there is a “lifetime prevalence of any disorder” of 46% of 13-18 year olds. That’s a lot folks. Over 17 million kids in the US. If you are a money person this comes at a cost of $247 billion annually (that was in 2005, and includes young adults).

That’s my little rant on the first day of Summer – this Summer I’m staying extra cautious on the media consumption for myself and the littles. Just like good food, we deserve modest sized portions, chosen well and with the best intentions. Good luck media mavens!

Film still from “Finding Dory” 2016

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  1. Leon Trice • June 27, 2017

    Reading this in an airport before getting to altitude! I'm forwarding to both my daughters, one has a one year old and, I imagine, the other will also have a child in her future. Good, good!

    Leon Reply

    • Catherine Haley Epstein • June 27, 2017

      Oh excellent, thank you for that. Ha - and good luck on the plane, the only place I get my full quotient of mindless TV. Cheers and many thanks for reading! Reply

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