Last year, in conjunction with the massive youth sports league I run through my church, I started a small mentoring program that provides me with an opportunity to work individually with a few of the kids who come through the doors. We go to movies, eat at CiCi's (only the finest foods, of course), and talk about life and stuff. I've got a core group of 5th-7th graders that take part in these events on a regular basis and over the last few months, we've developed quite a rapport. One of the topics we always discuss, in addition to sports, spirituality, and YouTube videos we all dig (“Guy on a Buffalo” is quickly gaining steam in popularity), is movies. These kids are genuinely interested in what I’ve seen lately, what my favorite movies are, and what my opinion is on just about every film they’ve ever heard of. This is due in no small part to this blog and the fact that they haven’t quite figured out yet that virtually everyone has a blog or has had one at some point or another. Unlike the masses of hypothetical Internet readers, they actually care about my opinions, which is both empowering and sobering at the same time. If there was a market for film criticism aimed at 12 year olds I would be to that field what Dave Grohl is to the Foo Fighters.
This relationship, however, presents two problems.
1.) I always have to be aware of my audience. The Shawshank Redemption is unquestionably the greatest movie of all-time (no, I said it’s unquestionable so there’s really no need to debate this) but it’s not exactly a family friendly movie that I can encourage a group of impressionable boys to seek out on Video on Demand. I mean, obviously I told them to go watch The Hangover but Shawshank is a little out of their range at this point.
2.) It can be hard to know when to burst their bubbles and when to swallow down my hardened opinion and let them learn their own lessons over time.
Most of the time when one of them expresses a ridiculous opinion or makes a totally indefensible statement, I let it slide. At most, I might poke a little fun in the direction of whoever made the statement and say, “At your high school graduation, I’m going to remind everyone that you once said The Tooth Fairy was your favorite movie.” (This is an actual statement from one of these kids. Don’t judge him too harshly.) Sometimes, however, I feel it is my duty as both a would-be film critic and someone they look up to (not to mention a decent human being in general) to provide a little guidance and hopefully keep them from making a horrible life choice, like holding the opinion that Cars 2 is the best Pixar movie.
One of these situations presented itself tonight.
On our way home from a baseball game, my truck jam-packed with five teens/pre-teens and my friend Jason, the movie topic was inevitably broached. First we discussed Batman as Jason and I explained the concept of multiple franchises within one universe. (To sum up: Adam West Batman, Michael Keaton/Tim Burton Batman, and Christopher Nolan Dark Knight Batman are all Batman but the differences are vast.) I was afraid this might have blown their minds but instead it led to a discussion of other films which have seen a revamp, reboot, or years-later sequels/prequels. Then one of the kids brought up the Indiana Jones series and hinted that The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was his favorite from the franchise. At this point, I very nearly ran my truck into a traffic barrier.
I couldn’t let that one slide. It’s one thing to love Tooth Fairy or to sing along with Miley Cyrus songs at a baseball game. These are the trappings of youth, the errors of younger souls that will be corrected later in life when they discover witty rhetoric, the films of Christopher Nolan, and the Beastie Boys. But it somehow felt important that I convey to these kids that it was not okay to hold any affection whatsoever for Crystal Skull, let alone to think it better than the original trilogy.
My friend and I both reacted immediately with similar statements to the effect of, “That movie is so bad that we have to pretend it doesn’t exist in order to keep from getting angry about it on a daily basis” (in not so many words). The collective response was, “What’s so bad about that movie?” My friend and I struggled with how to answer, partly because we didn’t want to make any of the kids feel bad for liking a terrible movie (and hey, they probably haven’t even seen Raiders of the Lost Ark so how can they properly judge Crystal Skull?) and partly because the verbiage needed to truly describe the wretchedness of that movie would be both inappropriate for kids and probably over their heads, anyway. My friend and I both struggled for words until I made the following analogy:
“Imagine that you’re 8 years old and you have a favorite toy that you absolutely love. And you play with that toy every day and take it with you everywhere you go. And then imagine that one day, your brother forcibly takes that toy from you, breaks it over his knee, throws it on the ground, and then spits on it while laughing maniacally. And then when you ask your brother why he did that, he responds by telling you that the toy is better broken, that it’s supposed to be broken, and that you didn’t really appreciate the toy before the way he does now. And then, while you sit and cry because your brother broke your toy, your brother then proceeds to walk around your room breaking the rest of your toys. That’s why Crystal Skull
bad. Because they took a film franchise we all loved and broke it forever.”
I could lie and tell you that all of the kids fully grasped what I said and we all took a pact to never again speak of Crystal Skull. In truth, I’m not sure they all completely understood what I mean. But if even one of them now has the correct opinion that Crystal Skull is an abomination, then I feel like I’ve made the world a slightly better place. And really, isn’t that what working with kids is all about? Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, or a coach, the idea is to impart a bit of important knowledge to the kids in a way that they won’t forget, to make them better, smarter, and more well-rounded individuals and if the world is improved in the process then that’s all the better.
Basically what I’m saying is, when working with kids, you should sweat the small stuff, that it’s important to remember the little things and the way the little things build upon each other. Getting that group of kids to understand that Crystal Skull is a crime against humanity or that KE$HA is the worst thing to happen to music since hairspray in the ‘80s may not be the equivalent of teaching them the core concepts of algebra or revealing to them the vast mysteries of the universe, but those small, seemingly insignificant bits of knowledge may very well be the foundations for greater things as these kids mature and become the people they’re intended to be. Keep up the good work, parents, employees, and volunteers and make sure you tell your kids just how bad Crystal Skullreally is. Because really, the 6.4 rating it has on IMDB is just embarrassing.
NOTE: Thank you, dear reader(s), for allowing a brief break from our regularly scheduled, surprisingly mediocre film coverage. We'll get back to the standard stuff that no one reads tomorrow.