A Foregone Conclusion
For my final Screentime column, I wanted to talk about a movie that meant something to me personally. I considered picking something from my own childhood, maybe the first movie I saw in a cinema (Aladdin), or some obscurity that we just happened to own on VHS (1997’s MouseTrap, for example). But this column isn’t about looking back, about my own nostalgia. It’s about what kids movies mean to me now. How I interpret them today, as a 30-year old in 2018. As a father. So instead, I want to talk about The Lego Movie.
The Lego Movie was always going to have a special place in my heart: It was created with me in mind. I’ve always been a huge Lego nerd, and a lot of my happiest memories as a child center around that Danish construction toy. The directors, Phil Lord & Chris Miller, know their audience and pepper the film with references to Lego ephemera old and new, general and specific. For me, the film mines nostalgia in way that’s so precise as to feel personal. Many of the Lego sets that I grew up with are featured, and seeing details like the tiny break in Benny’s helmet feel like I’m hearing the fragment of the theme song from a long-forgotten, but much-beloved show from my childhood.
For my daughter, the thrill comes not only in seeing the toy she loves to play with come to life, but also in seeing the mashup of culture that Lego’s exhaustive brand relationships allows. Seeing Batman for the first time elicited a laugh from her, and every time he appeared on screen thereafter she would confidently inform me that “That’s Batman” or “Batman’s being silly.”
This combination of general pop culture nostalgia and specific Lego fandom was enough to get me to buy a ticket way back in the halcyon days of 2014. Lord & Miller would have known this. Lego, backed by generations of devoted fans, was a pretty safe topic for a movie. That’s why so many of these branded tie-ins are so bad. The product is already so popular there’s no need to make the movie good. You sell tickets just based on the thing’s existence. A lesser creative team would have taken this route. Play up the nostalgia, throw in as many simple gags, memes, and winking references as you can and call it a day.
That approach may get butts in seats, it may pay the bills, but it doesn’t get people coming back. It doesn’t make for a cultural experience that affects people, that elicits emotions, that lasts.
The reason movie studios can so easily leverage those cultural touchstones, the reason that we will buy a ticket for The Lego Movie simply because its The Lego Movie, is that these references are shorthand for something deeper, something more personal and more meaningful. Lord & Miller understood this, and understood why it was important. A Lego brick, or the Batman logo, or the Thundercats theme; these things are like snapshots, reminding us of memories and feelings we used to have. But their thin evocations pale in comparison with what we’re searching for, which is to feel those feelings again.
It is obvious that Lord & Miller are, themselves, huge fans of Lego. They understand this longing. They understand that these trappings of memory are not enough. The simple fact that we all know and remember the shape & colors of a Lego minifig isn’t enough. What truly binds us to these commonalities is the actions they evoke. The sight of a Lego brick brings to mind the action of building with it, the feel of it in your hands. So rather than simply show you the object of nostalgia, The Lego Movie places the act of building, the act that binds Lego fans across the world together, centrally not only in its narrative (more on that later) but into the way the film itself is constructed. Watching The Lego Movie is the nearest you can come to actually playing with Lego without, you know, actually playing with Lego.
This raises the movie beyond an act of mere reference. It is not just paying lip service to the things we love, but actively evoking them.
Building Something That Lasts
Most creators would be happy with this achievement, with turning a corporate exercise into an act of love, with transforming cynical reference, alchemy like, into passionate evocation. But Lord & Miller know that even this isn’t enough. Playing on familiar brands & ideas was enough to summon an audience, elevating that reference into something deeper was enough to turn that audience into a fanbase. But in order to turn those fans into devotees, people who watch the film not once, but 183 times, people who do deep dives into the film’s mythology, you need something more.
The films that last are the films inspire people, films that change the way people think, the way they feel. Films that say something.
Because while quick jokes or nostalgic brands or memes may make us smile, the media that stops us in our tracks, the media that we tell others about, the media that we return to again and again and again, are the films or TV shows or websites that present us with an idea we’d never considered before, an idea that scares us, an idea that changes how we look at the world, even just a little bit.
So Lord & Miller took the audience they built with their attention to detail, with their love of Lego, and they told us some things. They told us not only that “Chosen One” type stories (Harry Potter, The Matrix, Star Wars) are ridiculous and undramatic, but also the exact ways in which they are toxic. They told us that individualism is doomed to failure, but we still need to embrace each other’s unique perspectives and talents. They told us that Lego and life is about ever-changing creation and innovation, not unbending rules and inflexible ideas. And they told us that we were playing with Lego wrong.
Think about that last one. They took a movie designed to appeal to 30-something nerds. The kind of guys who spent hundreds of dollars on a Lego Millenium Falcon to display in their home. They took a movie created with those specific guys in mind. And they used that movie to tell their audience they were wrong.
And their audience loved them for it.
Because what Lord & Miller understand is this: If you love something, be it Lego, or Paw Patrol, or your kids, you think about it a lot. You are passionate about it. And that passion means you cannot be neutral about it. You have strongly held opinions and beliefs, and you want to fight for those beliefs. And when you see someone else fighting, arguing passionately that Lego is to be built with, not to be displayed, you know that that person loves Lego too, just like you.
The Dad Upstairs
Of course, the Lego movie is about one more thing. One thing I didn’t mention earlier. It’s about being a parent. About playing with your kids and listening to them and embracing what makes them special and unique. Its about treating your kids with love and respect, like the little people they are, not the annoyance they can be.
Because Lego, like Kung Fu Panda and Spirit: Riding Free and Tangled and Frozen and Elf and The Muppets and How To Train Your Dragon and Moana and Trolls and The Wiggles and Winnie The Pooh and Paw Patrol and The Lego Movie, is for kids. That’s what makes it so important. That’s why its worth fighting for, and about. Because as a parent you want to build something that lasts. You want to instill your kid with passion and strength and love and hope. And media is one of the most powerful tools we can use to do that. Which makes it one of the most important things in the world.
That doesn’t sound like a good idea
Dads have a reputation as the carefree, sometimes careless parent. In ads and movies and sitcoms, dads are often depicted as well-meaning but bumbling, as capable professionals but clueless caregivers.
Despite more and more men serving as the primary parent, often as the stay-at-home parent while mom goes off to work, and fathers being more active at home than in previous generations, we get a bad rap.
Sometimes, stereotypes exist for a reason, and dads have been something of the secondary parent for generations. It will take years before we get the respect we deserve.
Of course, pulling stunts like this are not the best way to go about it.
Last week, Rentas Adventures, an outdoor excursion company, posted an Instagram video of Redha Rozlan, who is some sort of reality TV star in Malaysia, going bungee jumping. With his 2-year-old daughter. Who wasn’t wearing a helmet and was being grasped in her father’s arms.
The post has garnered some attention, with nearly 2000 likes and over 500 comments, with most people questioning Redha for endangering his daughter.
“Why was this even allowed??” remarked user Alien41623.
“Very irresponsible, you risking your child life. The authorities should give sanction to the organizer and parent. Not a good example at all,” said user Jasminesagita.
Redha came to his own defense, insisting that his daughter was strapped in (it’s hard to tell in the video) and that she loved it. I’m no body language expert, but the way she’s clinging to her father’s neck doesn’t exactly scream enjoyment. It reads more like fear to me.
Some commenters on the video are defending the father and claiming that Americans, used to coddling and “helicopter parenting” their kids, can’t understand the cultural differences that make such daredevil parenting acceptable, and on a certain level that may be true.
There are plenty of overprotective parents out there whose intense oversight may limit their kids self-esteem and willingness to take risks. But that’s usually more about monkey bars and football.
Not bungee jumping with a toddler.
Greetings, Internet historians! Today we celebrate Philosoraptor, everyone’s favorite Cretaceous deep thinker.
Are you brave enough to participate in our Philosoraptor Battle Royale? Think deeply, dear reader, and choose a winner in each category!
Philosoraptor was a mega-popular meme in the early 2010’s, featuring an illustration of a velociraptor (get it?) combined with life’s deepest/silliest thoughts. The first Philosraptor popped up on March 30, 2007, looking like this:
But, in time, the image changed to the illustration of the contemplative raptor that we all know so well today, created by visual artist Sam Smith. The definitive version of the meme took hold of the Internet around 2009 and multiplied to a worldwide sensation.
Some misguided soul even wrote a song about it.
These days, Philosoraptor is considered a classic internet meme.
Happy anniversary, Philosoraptor!
He knows what he’s talking about
Parents tend to get caught up in their kids lives, and often we can’t help living vicariously through their accomplishments. Nowhere is this more prevalent – and obnoxious – than at youth sporting events. Be it soccer, basketball, little league, wrestling or, I assume, in Canada, maybe even curling, there is always a parent or two who is taking the game too seriously.
Everyone knows those parents need to chill, but sometimes it helps to hear that message from professionals.
The coach of South Carolina’s men’s basketball team is one such professional, and after tweeting about his experience watching his young son compete, he took to Twitter to tell those overzealous sports parents to take it down a notch.
Frank Martin coaches the South Carolina Gamecocks, but he’s no stranger to being a spectator. He has a son in the fifth grade, and while waiting for one of his youngster’s games to start, he caught the end of the previous game. And he didn’t like what he saw. From the parents.
Doesn’t fail, I walk in to a gym to watch my son’s 5th grade team play and the game b4 is going on. It’s a 4th grade game, a parent ran on the court losing their mind. Then we wonder y young kids don’t act right.#pleaseDontBlameKids
— Frank Martin (@FrankMartin_SC) February 18, 2018
The game featured teams of 4th graders, but contrary to what you might expect if you know any 4th graders, their behavior wasn’t the issue.
Martin followed up on the comments he made in his tweet during a press conference a few days later, during which he spoke eloquently about the problem. The full video of his comments is available on The State‘s website.
In his remarks, he puts the lie to the idea that the referees for these youth games have some kind of stake in them or are making calls to benefit one of the teams.
“With all due respect to most parents out there, I probably know more about basketball than most of them, OK. But I sit in the stands and I don’t say a word. There’s two guys refereeing a fourth-grade game on a Sunday morning. What could they possibly be making? 20 bucks a game? […]
Do you think they really care what fourth-grade team wins? Do you really think that they like sat at home and said, ‘Oh I can’t wait to officiate that game tomorrow, because that one team, I can’t wait to get that 10-year-old kid and embarrass him in front of people.’ Do you really think that’s what they’re doing?”
And then he got into people who go after coaches and kids.
“So there’s someone that’s giving up their personal time on a Sunday, for free, to help other people’s children, yet, we’re gonna have the adults in the stands yelling obscenities at the officials? Criticizing every decision the coach makes? Yelling at the kids, like the kids — they’re 10 years old, man!”
This guy keeps making good point after good point.
No adults are getting rich referring or coaching youth sports, and no kids are getting better – at sports or at life – by witnessing parents attacking, screaming, and whining during their games.
Parents everywhere need to chill. They’re doing more harm than good, and if they’re not careful, Coach Martin is going to give them in a much-needed time out.
“It was 2015, one week away from Christmas. I was sitting in the theater ready to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. One of my earliest Christmas memories was opening Star Wars toys from Santa.
It didn’t take long before I was able to process that my dad worked for Kenner and his job was to build Star Wars toys. He would go to the toy fair in New York every year and bring back a catalog that had all the new toys in it. He’d work on a model of a spaceship and after they decided what adjustments needed to be made, would bring it home for me to play with.
He got tickets to see Return of the Jedi early and I don’t think I ever felt more cool as a kid. By the time the prequels came out, I was a movie critic for my college newspaper and was able to get him a ticket to the early screening. It felt awesome to kind of return the favor and bring back our most magical bond.
My father passed away in February of 2008. When they announced that Star Wars was coming back, my first thought was of him. I’ve wished he could see all of the new toys and experience seeing the movie in the theater with me yet again. When the tickets went on sale a few months before the premiere, I wanted to be buying one for him… so I did.”
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At some point in life, you’ve got to sit down and ask yourself, “Who am I?” It’s a tough question, and it’s not always an easy one to answer. Part of the difficulty is that sometimes we need to face the tough reality that we aren’t who we wish we were.
Nobody wants to be a monster, but some of us are. Nobody wants to be a boy wizard thrust into celebrity in a magical world, but some of us are.
Dig deep within yourself. Be true to who you really are. And find out if you’re a monster… or if you’re just Harry Potter.
There are a lot of them during March Madness
Being a sports fan brings with it a lot of heartache. Investing your heart and soul into the performance of athletes wearing the same set of laundry is an age-old pastime, and with the peaks and perks comes plenty of sadness and frustration. This is a lesson every fan learns at one point or another, and it’s an essential part of rooting for teams and players.
The good times are fun, and they’re the reason we watch, but without that sadness and frustration, they wouldn’t mean anywhere near as much.
Being a loyal fan is meaningless if you’re only a fan during the good times. There’s a reason “fair-weather fan” and “bandwagon jumper” are not compliments. Losing comes with the territory, it’s part of the bargain, but it’s not always fun, especially when you learn that lesson as a little kid
The NCAA Basketball Tournament is one of the most exciting sporting events of the year, and with every single game being televised one way or another, there’s a lot of opportunities for cameras to capture the heartache that comes with a favorite getting upset, or a Cinderella run coming to a heartbreaking close. But should those cameras be capturing the heartache and heartbreak of little children?
Some people don’t think so.
The New York Post‘s Andrew Marchand wrote a piece in which he excoriated CBS for continuing the practice of showing kids crying at the end of games. He discussed it with CBS’ executive producer Harold Bryant, who defended the footage.
“It is part of the drama and the storytelling of the event,” told The Post. “It is part of the emotion of the tournament.”
Marchand isn’t buying it. It calls the practice of showing crying kids, often between the ages of 8 and 12, “unneeded and gratuitous.”
Based on the outcry over the footage that has been bubbling up on Twitter, many people agree.
I think we can STOP showing the crying kids thank you.
— Freddie Coleman (@ColemanESPN) March 19, 2018
— Bradley R Stangel (@Stangelbrad) March 15, 2018
Where do you stand? Is this practice exploitative? Or is the agony of defeat a part of the game, even for little kids?