Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
In this classic article, CC2K Staff Writer Rob Van Winkle looks at an all-time TV classic.
Is everyone enjoying their summer? Well not to add any pressure to do so, but it’s entirely possible that this current season might be the most “important” of our entire lifetimes (and almost certainly so far) in terms of popular culture. This month alone, the single biggest literary and cinematic event our generation has ever known (and maybe ever will again) has released its final installment on paper, as well as its pen-pen-ultimate chapter on film, and a prime-time animated family sitcom that every single one of us has known for nearly TWO DECADES has finally seen its debut on the big screen. Like it or not, its events like these that help us older (read: over 23) folk define the timeline of our lives. If you are young enough for this to be the first real phenomenon you’ve ever lived through, congratulations! You now officially have something notched on your belt that even YOUNGER people (and they’re coming, believe me) will use to brand YOU as old. (Much like *I* do when people just a few years older than me discuss seeing Star Wars in the theaters when it first came out, or when other writers for this site do to me when I discuss seeing The Last Crusade, or Terminator 2.) This is not just a summer; like it or not, it’s a defining moment in all our lives, whether we want it to be or not.
I think this is something a lot of us have either learned, or innately understand. By devouring pop culture (or merely by acknowledging that it exists), we become a part of it. It binds us together while simultaneously factionalizing us (Quick: Star Wars vs. Star Trek? Original vs. Next Generation? NKOTB vs. ‘N Sync? Etc.), and as this site proves, people from all over the world can absolutely bond together over a shared love (or a disputed hate) of the art and entertainment that we consume each day.
Because of this, I think it’s only natural that, when “major” events occur, many of us want to experience it to the fullest. This is why so many of us cram into crowded movie theaters to see a film on opening weekend, when we ALL know that same theater will have ample seating mere days later; we need to be able to say we WERE THERE, from the beginning.
In fact, it was precisely this thought that compelled me to action this summer. Twice. Despite my better judgment and certain knowledge that it was unnecessary, I attended a midnight premiere party for The Deathly Hallows, and I jammed my way into an opening weekend performance of The Simpsons movie.
Let me begin by admitting that up until just two days before it happened, I had had NO INTENTION of standing in line at midnight with costumed fanatics to get the final Harry Potter book. After all, while I am certainly a fan of the storyline, I simply do not compare in passion or devotion to the throngs of people who needed it THAT badly. (I don’t own any of the others, for example). However, after publishing a DOZEN kickass articles on Harry Potter in the week leading up to book seven’s release (this parenthetical’s eleven words long so I can link them all), at some point I realized that I just had to witness this event, since nothing like it might ever happen again in my time.
As I strolled the aisles of my local book-monolith-monopoly waiting for midnight to chime so I could go home, I saw a lot of sites that I had expected: costumes, color schemes meant to match the four houses of Hogwarts, broomsticks, “Weasley is our King” buttons, etc. In fact, BECAUSE of all these expected sites, I nearly missed seeing the most interesting thing about that night, since it was so UN-expected: throughout the sea of kids milling around that store, I didn’t see a single one who actually wanted to be there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they were VERY excited when they put on their costumes and headed over there, but by 11:30 or so, all of them (and by “kids,” I’m referring to the actual demographic for whom these books were written) were exhausted, miserable, and either asking to go home, or laying down on the floor to go to sleep. As I waited in my designated spot in the store (so designated because of the number on the bracelet I was given earlier, of course), a mother tried to bully her two children into staying awake by asking them if they wanted “to study.” She then took out a photocopied sheet of paper that looked JUST like those copied fact sheets we all used to get in elementary school all the time, and started quizzing them on HARRY POTTER TRIVIA! Just as I was digesting this scene, midnight was called, and a lusty cheer broke out. There was not a single child’s voice in that cheer, nor in any of the subsequent ones that rang when the next set of numbers was called. As I finally left, I saw kids literally struggling to stand upright, as parents made them smile for pictures with the new book that, at that point, they could not have cared less about owning.
One week later, my wife and I set off to see The Simpsons. Wisely, we decided to go to a late night showing rather than a matinee (which would have fit more easily into our schedule), since nothing can diminish a movie-going experience quite like sitting amongst a thousand little kids, realizing that they are there for the same film as you. So, we set out for a 10:45pm showing, despite the dual facts that we rarely if ever START an activity that late, and were already tired after a long day. Our date started rather inauspiciously; we got lost, couldn’t find parking, the machine outside the theater wouldn’t read our card, and my wife attempted to enter the theater by walking not through a door, but smack into the glass partition separating one set of doors from another. However, despite a bit of fatigue, it was STILL smarter to see it then, right?
Much to our surprise, we learned that we were wrong. Going to The Simpsons movie (which was rated PG-13, I hasten to add) did NOT mean that we were in a child-free theater. Instead, it meant that we were in a theater filled with kids who, once again, DID NOT WANT TO BE THERE.
There were a lot of people-watching highlights that night (perhaps most impressively, the guy directly in front of me who, MINUTES after loudly and vocally shushing someone else, watched the scene where Homer gets pummeled “between a rock and a hard place” and went APESHIT, flailing in his seat, laughing and clapping, and explaining the joke to his friend “He’s between a rock and a hard place! I GET it!!”), but absolutely NOTHING can compare to the sight and sound of those kids. As the movie progressed, their whines got louder and more audible (especially as there were actual moments of quiet tenderness in the film), which the parents truly seemed to pretend not to hear, despite the building agitation amongst the rest of the crowd. By the end, it was almost as interesting focusing on them as it was on the movie itself. I mean, what’s the more interesting choice there: taking your VERY young child to a LATE showing of a movie that was not made for them…or ignoring their pleas to leave once its clear that they are not enjoying themselves, and their presence is angering everyone else in the place?
If I choose to think the best of the parents, I would conclude that the reasoning behind these phenomena has to do with giving the kids something to brag about to THEIR children someday. I’m certain (to dip back into that Star Wars well again) that I’ve had friends tell me that their parents brought them to A New Hope in the theaters when they were VERY young. That friend didn’t remember it, and I’m certain that he didn’t enjoy it, but he was PROUD of it, and I was JEALOUS of his doing so. In other words, long after the short-term memory of discomfort is forgotten, the long-term feeling of excitement at being part of something huge will remain.
However, in these situations, I simply DON’T think that the parents are thinking of their children (or at least, not JUST their children). Clearly, these are experiences that the parents wanted for themselves, and their kids were either the impetus, or an impediment, to getting it. Believe me, I’m all for children having great, transcendent experiences, and I’m the last person to claim that someone shouldn’t be allowed to do something universally exciting just because they’re young, but when the kid is literally begging to go home…it might be time to give up the dream.
And yet, I think the overarching truth behind these incidences far outweighs my disdain and the kids’ discomfort: pop culture is WAY more than a collection of movies and TV shows; it is nothing less than the very catalog of our collective experience. We form actual and very real bonds with other people through our respective top ten lists, and far more than any other means known to us to this point, dissecting each other’s likes and dislikes allows us truly to get to know one another. No WONDER we all want to be part of these massive events so much…they just might be the basis of a shared collective moment in the future. If and when that happens…you don’t want to be the ugly duckling in the group who wasn’t there, do you? Hell, deep down I even understand the real reason why the parents brought their kids along: they want their kids to share in THEIR joy at being a part of something huge, in the hopes that they’ll appreciate being part of it themselves one day. It’s a beautiful thing, really.
Having said that…and I mean this with all the love and respect that comes with sharing a benchmark event in my life with these people…I hope those kids never sleep a full night through again, and that the next ten movies those parents see in the theater be fart joke family comedies, and derivative animated pap. It’s the least they deserve.