Friday, November 12, 2010


Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was the keynote speaker at my college graduation, and he honestly gave a pretty entertaining address to my class, developing the notion that a lot of the platitudes one tends to hear on the occasion of commencement are not merely slightly untrue or oversimplified but out-and-out the opposite of true. The particular point he observed which has stuck with me ever since was when he skewered “It’s not an ending, it’s a beginning” and informed us that it was really both (I suppose the fact that the Constitution doesn’t specifically reference the undergrad lifestyle made it possible for Tony to countenance a point of view that didn’t come down on one side or the other) and he further identified a very particular ending – “the end of leisure”. As someone who had slacked his way through four years getting by with a B-average and an English major, I had no trouble accepting that he was probably right. (Many of my friends who had just about bled from their eyeballs due to near-constant studying, on the other hand, might very well have taken umbrage at the very notion.) Of course, it’s taken me until fairly recently to truly grasp the full essence of the point. My version of adulthood has been on kind of a slow burn, with parenthood only arriving a little over two years ago and owning a house where I’m also expected to take care of my own yard less than twelve months ago. But yeah, leisure is something I remember more than I engage in.

One of the things that was great about the leisurely structure of my college experience was that I felt like I had enough hours in the day/week/month to go head-to-heads with the dual gaping maws of my pop culture obsessiveness: I could keep up with new stuff as it entered the zeitgeist, and I could catch up on the classics that were from before my time or I had otherwise missed. Between the small second-run/revival theater in town, film studies classes, and the ubiquitous multiplexes, college was when I saw Citizen Kane and The Crow, Deliverance and Demolition Man, and on and on and on. Granted a lot of the “on and on” was crap, not just in retrospect but transparently at the time, and there were plenty of universally-adored classics I continued avoiding all the way through not only college but good stretches of post-college time too (e.g. not seeing The Godfather until 2005) but for sheer volume over time ratio-type numbers, the idle college years were understandably tough to beat.

In fact, in college I used to re-watch movies all the time, whether that meant throwing the VHS copy of Tank Girl on in the dorm room for background entertainment or going to see Basic Instinct in the second-run theater after already having seen it first run, just because I wanted to determine how many clues were dropped along the way now that I knew how it all ended. (The latter example might possibly have been more mental exertion than the film itself truly merited. In my defense both viewings were also sociable group outings as well.) Nowadays the thought of spending a couple hours of downtime watching something I’ve already seen instead of trying something new seems abominably wasteful.

Just one house in my personal neighborhood of make-believe
I’ve been thinking about the college/movies intersection slightly more than usual lately, for all kinds of random reasons (the recent Rocky Horror episode of Glee prompted a conversation amongst my friends in which I had to admit that I had never seen the movie, even when I had my last chance in college; I’m just now finally getting around to reading the manga of Akira, which I’ve been meaning to do since I saw the anime film freshman year, etc.) but that of course is just a starting point for overthinking my cinephilia in general, and diving straight into territory like “How exactly did I end up this way?” Not ending up as someone with more desire to immerse himself in movies than actual time to do so, because that’s easy: I made choices which I don’t regret in the slightest because they brought me other things I want significantly more than increased time in front of the big screen. Being married, being a dad, having a house and a job and a social life, those aren’t things which just somehow befell me. I went after them, and one way of determining how unsurprising that is would be to point out how normalized all those things were in my childhood. Of course they meant something to me. Movies weren’t exactly exalted in the same way home and family were. (The argument could be made that books were, on the other hand, but apples and oranges all that, I think.)

I can remember my dad recommending exactly one movie to me in the entire first thirteen years of my life (after which, needless to say, his recommendation of just about anything would have been the surest way to turn me off from it). That would be when I was maybe eleven or so and I wanted to have a monster-movie birthday party and my dad suggested Young Frankenstein, which of course remains to this day one of my favorite movies. I alternate between shaking my head and rolling my eyes over my father more often than not, but I will say that no one who introduces the younger generation to the better films of Mel Brooks can possibly be all bad. But in this particular case I’m not even trying to say it was wrong or bad of my father not to make tons of cinematic recommendations to me in my formative years – just saying it’s odd that he did no such thing and yet all on my own I became the kind of person who has a 150-flick long Netflix queue that constantly mocks me as it gets longer instead of shorter over time.

And then one of these days my little guy won’t be quite so little anymore, and he’ll be the one living the life of leisure, and it’s possible that he’ll indulge in absolutely any entertainment activity EXCEPT movies, cause “oh, gah, that’s SO Dad” or it’s equally possible he’ll dive into classics that I still haven’t managed to make time for and set up a weird dynamic where the common ground proves maddeningly elusive. Of course both of those scenarios essentially ignore the potential of a transitional stage where I’m the one guiding him into a love of movies at the same time that I perpetuate my own. That’s my big blind spot, the fact that there are more hands-on approaches to the not-strictly-survival-oriented aspects of parenting than my own parents took, and they don’t all necessarily amount to overprotective smothering, either. I gotta keep reminding myself of that.

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