On Saturday nights at my house, I often trot out classic movies and force the urchins to watch them. There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but I think it’s important to teach kids about American culture, and films certainly are a big part of it. Actors like John Wayne, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn are worth seeing and remembering.
So the other night I trotted out “American Graffiti,” a film released 40 years ago. The movie was directed by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas and chronicles one night in the lives of some California teenagers in the year 1962.
The first thing the kids noticed was Harrison Ford playing a young hood driving a hot rod. That got their attention. The movie features other great actors such as Richard Dreyfuss and Charles Martin Smith, along with Ron Howard and Cindy Williams, who turned the “Graffiti” success into the television hits “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley.”
About 20 minutes into the movie, which is heavy on dialogue and light on explosions, the urchins pulled out their iPads and began typing away. Dismay enveloped me.
“So you don’t like this?” I asked the 14-year-old.
“It’s OK. I’m listening.”
“But you’re playing with that machine!”
“I can multitask!”
A few minutes later, the 10-year-old demanded popcorn. I told him we’d get some halfway through the flick.
“Do they ever get out of the cars?” the urchin wailed.
“That’s the culture in California. They cruise around in cars listening to the radio.”
“But there are so many cars!”
I was losing them.
So I paused the movie and brought in snacks. I demanded they shut off the machines while eating.
“Why?” the 14-year-old asked.
“Because you can’t text, eat and watch a movie at the same time.”
“Yes, I can. I always do that.”
“They’re still in cars,” the 8-year-old said.
We got through the movie, but just barely. Their interest peaked when The Pharaohs, a gang of juvenile delinquents, forced Dreyfuss to vandalize a police car. Finally, some destruction!
After “American Graffiti” concluded, I asked for their reviews. I got them while their heads were down looking at their iPads.
The consensus: It was OK. Too many cars.
These days, the machines and awful films that blow things up every 10 seconds are delivering heavy blows to American culture. The graffiti is on the wall. The attention spans of young people average about 30 seconds. Baseball? Forget it. Chess? Are you kidding me?
We live in a time where machines that deliver instant gratification rule. But I will continue to fight the cyberspace power. Coming attraction: Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”
Let the texting begin.