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The Loss Of Innocence & Pop Culture Baptists
By: Mickael
Entertainment can help shape and define who we are, particularly when we’re young. We go through impressionable cycles throughout our lives, where we’re learning more from the world around us than from our own experience. At these times, our brains absorb information with little hesitation of its source. You are not just learning from tutors, teachers, parents, and preachers. Film, music, and television are seen as reputable sources for information to our eager minds. This first begins to affect us from around the age of 5, when we become incredibly interested in television. It’s not until the age of 8 that we’re really able to distinguish between fictional events occurring on screen and reality. Everything that you watched during those 3 years is likely etched in your mind as a sort of hazy memory that you really believe happened. How disappointing must it be to discover at 8 years old that your parents are indeed yours biologically and that you are not the last son of Krypton awaiting the day when your powers manifest thanks to earth’s yellow sun!
This isn’t the last time that you’ll adopt mass media as your own identity, however. Behavioral scientists say that adolescence is the next great impressionable cycle, where your decision-making faculties are influenced by what you’ve learned from movies, TV shows, games, and popular music because at this stage in life you trust fictional characters more than your own parents. Or, at least, pop culture hits certain triggers that reaffirm life decisions: popularity, physical appearance, and stimulation. When teens see a good looking person who is loved by their peers doing something bold, they are fooled into thinking that this behavior is not just appropriate, but rewarded. Furthermore, research is indicating that just because you turn 18 doesn’t mean you’re a fully formed adult. Shocking, I know. It turns out that our brains are still developing all the way until we turn 25 years old! Any media that you consumed for the first quarter-century of your life is likely ingrained within you as a permanent marker of your personality. You may have even adopted personality traits from fictional characters without realizing it!
At some point, this innocent version of you will be destroyed. Your impressionable periods will end, the tutorial will be over, and life as it really exists will begin. Loss of innocence is always a difficult experience, but it's one that’s almost universal. Whether you lose yours when you bury your childhood pet, when you accompany your mother to her chemotherapy appointments, or when Chuckles the Clown convinces you to blow and twist on his "magic balloon animal"; we all know how it feels to have our innocence shattered. It’s that moment when you're no longer sheltered and are thrust into adulthood. Fears and responsibilities combine to pressure you into a constant survival struggle for the next several decades. The loss of innocence can make some cynical. It makes others depressed. It leads some to seek shelter with substances that enable them to experience the rarity of joy. It leads others to adhere to very strict routines in a futile attempt to control their life. It leads me to watch “bad” movies.
There Are No Bad Movies...
When I was young and innocent, I just sort of liked whatever I wanted to and was unfazed by the opinion of others. Part of this is because we moved every few years, so even though I found it easy to make friends in school I had to gain new ones often and didn’t always have the benefit of a “best friend” to keep me on the normal path. My parents were occasionally embarrassed by this, as I often demanded that I wear my favorite Howard The Duck t-shirt everywhere we go, even as I was rapidly growing and the t-shirt was stubbornly staying the same size it had been since I was 4 years old. At one point, I’m pretty sure the sleeves didn’t go past my shoulders and my belly stuck out, making me look like Baby Huey at an age where I knew I looked the fool. The thing is, I so loved Howard The Duck (1986) that I had no concept of it not being the most popular movie in the world. When everyone else was celebrating Stand By Me, Top Gun, and Labyrinth; I was all about that damn duck. I wanted to marry Leah Thompson’s punk rocking character Beverly. Tim Robbins cracked me up, and Jeffrey Jones scared the shit out of me. To this day, I am dumbstruck that Howard The Duck didn’t even break the Top 50 films of that year. I honestly still haven’t watched even 30 of those movies, and I’ve had 30 years since to do so. Meanwhile, I’ve seen Howard 30 times at least.
Howard The Duck may have been my first experience with proudly championing a film that is widely derided and critically disdained, but it sure wouldn’t be my last. Throughout adolescence, I found myself strangely drawn to all types of movies that aren’t viewed as great. Hudson Hawk, The Adventures Of Ford Fairlane, Hangin’ With The Homeboys, The Great White Hype, Bulworth, Johnny Skidmarks, Dream For An Insomniac, A Pyromaniac’s Love Story, The Last Supper, Best Men, The Deli, Double Dragon, Stay Tuned, Cops & Robbersons, Trapped In Paradise, Nothing But Trouble, Mom & Dad Save The World, Suburban Commando, Drop Dead Fred, Mr. Nanny, StepKids... these aren’t just some of my favorite movies as a kid, they’re some of the movies that helped shape who I am today. I learned how to joke, how to make friends, and even how to show love from watching these silly and disrespected films from my youth. Roger Ebert be damned, I will love whatever I damn well please.
This isn’t a simple matter of a child enjoying childlike material and then outgrowing it as one matures. I did my fair share of that as well. The most shameful admission I can make is that as a kid, I really enjoyed New Kids On The Block. I’m not going to make excuses, I’m just going to own it. But that was child Mickael. Teen and adult Mickael moved on from that phase very quickly. With the movies I’ve mentioned it wasn’t “just a phase”. I’m proud to STILL love Suburban Commando. I watched it a few months ago, and I giggled like it’s the funniest thing in the world. If I were destined to endure Tom Hanks’ misfortune in Castaway, then I wouldn’t bring Wilson, I’d bring a portable DVD player with Hudson Hawk and Double Dragon in it (I’d use a double-sided DVD because I’m no fool). To me, these films are like familiar lullabies soothing me to sleep.
...Only Bad Audiences
If everyone else is enjoying something, whether it’s Twilight or it’s Star Wars, then you’re obviously not forced to join that specific cult and enjoy it along with them. However, you also have no responsibility to any of us to take a dump on those people’s enjoyment. What satisfaction do you derive from belittling someone else’s hobby or fandom? Let met tell you a quick story: Last year, Vita and I spent a weekend in New Orleans. As it just so happens we visited on the weekend of the Southern Decadence Festival, the largest gay event in New Orleans, so there was a lot of colorful characters and good people watching to do. About 70% of the people we ran into were clearly there for the Decadence festivities while the rest of us hapless tourists just overpaid for rum and cokes and laughed along with the revelers. We did find, however, a third group of occupants in the French Quarter that night.
A small collective of Baptist protesters had come with 10-foot-high signs, reading passages from the Bible and warning the overwhelmingly homosexual crowd that they would all be burning in Hell for eternity. Several members of the crowd, being drunk and having just a fabulous time, saw this as a photo opportunity; they decided to pair up and make out in front of these “missionaries” while their friends snapped dozens of photos. No matter how loudly the crowd cheered, the protesters shouted their condemnations of gays even louder until they could be heard. The crowd could have easily turned on the protesters, because there was no police presence at the time and there were fewer than 10 of these hateful men shouting at a throng of hundreds of very muscular men. But the crowd was simply having too good of a time to even be angered. They were too busy dancing, laughing, singing, and kissing. They were literally the happiest people on earth at that moment, celebrating their joy while others went out of their way to try and piss on the party.
It struck me at the time that if you’re the only person mad while a party like that stirs all around you, then you’re the one who’s doing something wrong with your life. It was a great time, for the right audience. The wrong audience just decided to show up too. It’s not like these men arrived with their Bibles and their signs eagerly anticipating the saving of a few lost souls. It’s not like they were trying to actually do anything that could be confused as “God’s work”. They were absolutely just trying to pick a fight. They planned their little protest for weeks, they constructed enormous signs, and they drove for miles just so that they could do battle with people who were in a party town trying to throw *gasp* a party. By the way, this is a party they’ve been throwing for over 40 years, so it’s not like this is some new form of behavior that is detrimental to the community. It’s the 5th largest festival in New Orleans, and that’s saying something since it’s a city that is known primarily as a destination for such events.
If a crowd of gay men had dressed up, painted huge signs, and shown up at church on Sunday morning to protest some particular form of Christianity, it would be seen as discrimination and appalling behavior. Somehow, though, these particular Christians feel alright about themselves showing up at your party and throwing a hissy fit about your personal choices. Every time there’s a gathering of card players, cosplayers, twi-hards, or hipsters and you find yourself sitting in the corner with a scowl, criticizing every habit and personality trait, then you are being that judgmental Baptist with too much time on their hands. Don’t be the only one not enjoying yourself. Don’t be an asshole. Don’t be a pop culture Baptist.
Buddhists Are Better Anyway
Innocence, like naiveté, is a belief that everything will work out or that the world is full of decent and kind creatures that are all looking out for each other’s best interests. In reality, everyone is sort of concerned with their own interest first and they’re somewhat open to helping others, assuming it’s an easy undertaking. This is the most obvious observation in the history of the world, but it is such a surprising realization when we’re young that it often impacts our behavior for years.
There’s an old Buddhist tale about self interest. The short version is that a Zen master is one day taken on a tour of Hell. I don’t know why, like maybe he’s doing a showing with a realtor or something; “Okay, so this is a unique fixer-upper opportunity. The previous owner was a fallen angel, and yes it does come with working fire pits. If the wailing of the damned souls that also live here keeps you up at night, we can arrange for an exorcist to clear them for you. I know what you’re thinking, this isn’t the greatest neighborhood. And you’re right.”
Anyway, what he sees before him is a very long banquet table with about 20 people sitting at it. On the table is every delicacy you can imagine. Just a wonderful assortment of foods and desserts, the greatest feast he’s ever seen. All of the people at the table have one hand tied underneath them, to their chair. Their other hand is tied to a pair of 3-foot-long chopsticks, so that as they choose their favorite selections, they are unable to feed themselves. The chopsticks are unwieldy and impossible to use. The people are miserable. The guy asks his realtor to check other properties, but promises to keep this one in the back of his mind. He will not.
This Zen master is then given a tour of Heaven. When he arrives, he sees before him a very long banquet table with about 20 people sitting at it. Along the table is every delicacy you can imagine. All of the people at the table have one hand tied underneath them, to their chair. Their other hand is tied to a pair of 3-foot-long chopsticks, so they ask each other what their favorite foods are, and use the chopsticks to feed their neighbor. The people are satisfied and happy. This lesson should be taught to everyone, because the world we live in much more closely resembles Hell than Heaven.
There's No Mystery Any More
So, the young and innocent absorb entertainment and use it to form their personalities. As they grow older and more cynical, they turn their attention toward today’s media and mock it mercilessly for its lack of redeeming qualities or values. It’s a shitty thing to do, because even though you have already learned your life lessons, that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone else out there who needs it. It’s not a small segment of the population either, as we established that anyone under the age of 25 may still be developing.
The “bad” films of the last several years, like Battleship, The Lone Ranger, Sucker Punch, or I, Frankenstein are probably going to be on this generation’s list of formative films. Some kids may even prefer them to the obvious choices of The Hunger Games, The Avengers, or Jurassic World. The films that aren’t able to touch us as adults because we’ve lost our innocence still have an audience and a purpose. Tepid reviews from film critics do not dissuade this audience. They go in to the theater with eager eyes and no presumptions, just to watch something fantastic happen on screen. Moreover, they watch it with the enthusiasm of someone who isn’t just watching a fictional story, but something that pertains directly to them.
I don’t believe that you ever truly lost your innocence. You merely put it away, like a well-worn toy. Should you need it again, you know just where to find it: in the films and characters that taught you about life at the times when you were most receptive to their lessons. I can reclaim my innocence any time I like, by simply watching Howard The Duck and revisiting that old friend. One part of your childhood, one piece of your innocence remains unchanged, and that’s what you claimed as your own from the fictional characters that helped raise you.
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