watching v. viewing films

I’ve been reading the spring 2009 ‘Engage’ youth journal from cpyu.org. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in young people, youth culture, and how to help young people navigate their culture. There’s an article in there called ‘In Search of Good Film: Nine Signposts’. The gist of the article is that we should be a little more thoughtful in how we select our movies, and the author, Greg Veltman, gives nine ‘signposts’ to help us out.

The one that really jumped out at me was the second signpost- ‘Viewing, not watching’. Veltman makes a great point here. He says that we can approach movies in one of two ways. We can watch movies as voyeurs, simply observing while remaining uninvolved, only to go home and return to our routines. Or, we can watch movies as thoughtful participants, engaging, asking questions, discussing implications, discerning the good and bad that a film has to offer.

I firmly believe in being a viewer, not a watcher. You can ask almost anyone I’ve seen a movie with since probably the 8th grade, and they’ll tell you that my usual first statement after a movie is some variation on, ‘So, let’s critique…’ Parents sometimes ask me if I’ve seen a particular movie, what I think about it, whether or not I think they should let their kids see it. My replies sometimes surprise them. I think they often come to me expecting me to back them up when they’ve told their kid no. They want me to say that the whole movie is worthless and vile because there is some strong language or violence. My usual response is to tell them about the positive elements of the movie, but also that they need to be aware of the negative elements, too. From time to time, I see some very shocked looks.

Personally I don’t put much stock in movie ratings. Read this article for a lot more in-depth discussion of movies and ratings. I believe that if a student is mature enough to handle mature themes/images/languages and if the parents are willing to put in the time and effort to watch the movie (ahead of time, if possible) and discuss the themes/images/languages with their kid, then it’s up to the parents to decide whether or not it’s okay. Teenagers are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for sometimes.

So, to sum up a post that started out short but meandered long, don’t just watch movies passively. Engage, prod, discuss, ponder, and be a viewer.

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