“Turn that dang thing off and go read a book or something!” As a young mind, my parents always encouraged me to spend time on what they considered constructive activities. Much to their credit, these activities prepared me both physically and mentally to meet the challenges of adult life. Nevertheless, television and movies were both equally influential instruments in my upbringing. Using these sources as a catalyst, my parents would orchestrate opportunities for constructive discussion and debate. In doing so, there were no formalities, only the enjoyment of a good movie and each other’s company. After which, we would almost invariably engage in some sort of discussion; on a good night, controversy would lead us to a full-blown debate. With the messages of the media, my parents significantly influenced my childhood with powerful preparatory experiences that shaped the way I thought as a child, and consequentially the way I act today.
For clarity, the use of the word “media” refers to all forms of television and movies, inclusively. Spanning between 1986 through 1997, a little over a decade, my childhood memories are saturated with speckles of images from over 2000 movies and countless hours of television ranging from Star Trek, to The Simpsons, to a host of animal nature shows. Well over half of which was time spent with either my mother, during the day, or my father, usually in the evenings or on weekends. Some of my fondest memories are the times I spent with both my parents and my younger brother Russell watching movies. Such times afforded us as a family to engage on various theological and philosophical discussions, debates on ethics and morality, and daydreams of future technologies and modes of life.
Born in 1980, the first movie I can remember watching was Poltergeist II, which came out in 1986. That movie scared the hell out of me, but not for the same reasons that kept little boys awake at night. The impression of Craig T. Nelson swallowing that tequila worm is unforgettable. Antagonists of the “boob tube” argue that media warps little children’s perception of reality. What really warped me was that after the movie, my dad told me that people really did drink tequila worms. Yuck! At a very young age, my parents helped me understand that not everything in media was true. On the other hand, they also taught me that movies were an artistic representation or extension of the world we live in and the world we perceive.
Now there is a huge difference between passive and active watching of media. No one can watch a room full of grown men, moan, groan, shout obscenities, make all manner of gesticulations towards a television for 2 hours, and call it passive. In America, the NBA finals or the SuperBowl most commonly induces this phenomenon. In my family, The World Cup Soccer Championships, held every four years, were the catalysts. It was in these fantastically fanatical instances that I adopted my father’s ability to observe tendencies in performance and behavior, make conclusions, and predict the game’s outcome all in real-time. It was here that my father taught me to avoid being biased in judgment, to speak out against injustice whether it was caused by the opposing team or not. As an adult, I am more aware of the injustices caused by biased judgment and avoid such in both my personal and business interactions.
Movies like Short Circuit (1986) and Batteries Not Included (1987) opened my family to discussions of what the very definition of what life was. If something walks, talks, and acts like a duck, then why is it not a duck? Can artificial intelligence become so sophisticated that God would put a soul into it? If everything God did was good and He decided to put a soul into a robot then who were we to complain? My family openly discussed questions like this after just about every movie we watched together. It did not matter the subject matter or who took what position. If it the matters were controversial, we would want to talk about it. This attitude eventually extended beyond the boundaries of the living room and into my daily adult interactions. Like a dog, my ears perk up to the high-pitched whistle of an opposing opinion.
The first time I attempted to watch The Silence of the Lambs (1991) was during my winter vacation in 1992. It was around Christmas time and all my cousins were playing with their toys in other rooms or outside. When my grandmother realized what I was watching she was gasped, shocked and appalled. Screaming as if stumbling upon bloody murder, she called to my father who, for the sake of avoiding trouble asked me to stop watching the movie. What was in that movie that my Grandmother did not want me to see? If she could watch it, why could I not?
A few years later, I watched the movie with my father and learned of the clairvoyant like powers of psychology. We discussed how there were real people in society who were so disturbed and demented and how they were capable of committing such atrocious acts. We discussed how warped the minds of individuals can become and debated to what degree they were accountable. We also discussed how God might judge these individuals. During this time, I was exposed to the frailties of the human psyche. As I matured in years, I learned to recognize my dark side and that of others. I knew not judge others so quickly and have compassion even for a homicidal cannibal.
As a child, I was nurtured in an environment where anything and everything could be questioned. For my family, it is not enough to go to the doctor’s office and have them fix whatever ailed us. We had to know how and why a remedy worked. Sometime after the release in 1992, my father introduced me to the movie, Lorenzo's Oil. Based on a true story, my father was well aware of the controversy of the positive effects of Essential Fatty Acids on neurological degenerative diseases. My parents helped me understand how this story challenged Western medical philosophies and practices. In some resulted measure, I am a strong advocate for the benefits of alternative medicine particularly in the area of nutritional healing. When I go to the doctor’s office, I generally provide the most probable prognosis along with a list of conventional and alternative forms of treatment. I tell them which one I think is the best and then ask them for their analysis and recommendations.
My parents would always try to encourage their children to participate in a wide variety of enriching activities especially those that stimulated the mind. Around seven or eight years of age, my father taught me how to play chess. Many years later however, I thought it odd how my father would avoid playing chess with me as my abilities grew to a more competitive level. I gained some insight to this when I watched Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993). To my father chess was sacred. It was the sport of geniuses. My father was not the type to let his child win. If we were to be superior in any way, we had to earn this title. He also knew that the consequence of either of two outcomes was unacceptable. If I never beat him, I would become so discouraged that I would give up on chess altogether. If I beat him, I would rub it in his face forever! My father did not want to participate in something that might create amenity between us. He used the story of Bobby Fischer to help me understand this.
For my sixteenth birthday, I decided to break away from the routine of just having family over to celebrate. I made invitations and gave them to many of my friends from school, to include a few girls that I had interest in at the time. This was going to be my sweetest party yet! Well past the appointed hour, no one had come with the exception of a female acquaintance from church. I felt embarrassed, as I had no other friends there. It would have almost been better for her not to have come and in hind sight I wonder if her parents made her come. This was so different from the Brazilian culture that was instilled in me. In Brazil, people made every effort to come to parties. My soul was particularly sensitive that night and my family empathized with me. They were faithfully there for support and to cheer me up my father said, “Hey, I have a great movie that we could watch! For better or for worse, my family used media cope with the problems of everyday life.
My dad had rented the movie Braveheart (1995) to watch for my birthday. Aside from the gore of the movie, it was an extremely romantic film. Encompassing the virtues of childhood love, courtship, marriage, honor, courage, and freedom, these things touched my heavy heart. How enraged was I when I saw the English soldiers murder the wife of William Wallace? With each intense scene, goose bumps came and went like the rising tide of the sea. The very hairs stood on our arms like soldiers at attention, ready for the battle of Armageddon. I remember looking at my fathers face at one point and seeing goose bumps even on his face! Oh, how we talked about this movie to the wee hours of the morning. Thereafter, we watched the movie a good ten or more times. I myself watched it thirty or more times alone. To this day, it is one of the most powerful movies I watched with my family. My family taught me to stand up for what was right and, even though it was about a Scottish legend, Braveheart fanned the flame of our patriotism for Brazil.
Who would have thought a janitor to be a mathematical genius? Looks can be so deceiving. When I watched Good Will Hunting (1997) in my home my family discussed the potential that others may have, especially our own. Through therapy, Will Hunting learned to cope with his destructive and self-defeating feelings and build a life of success. It took years for me to learn to do the same thing and take control of my educational destiny. For some reason I had developed not a fear of failure but a fear of success. I identified with the story of Good Will Hunting, which helped my father understand my difficulties in both my junior and senior years of high school. Having tested completely out of high school and attending college at young age it was hard for him to understand why I avoided taking the SATs and ACTs. When we watched Good Will Huntingtogether, it opened the floor for my many feelings of inadequacy in high school. At 25, I am trying to make up for some lost time.
My first words were in Portuguese and soon thereafter; I started learning English along with Portuguese. My parents encouraged me to learn languages. I originally watched the Italian film, La Vida Bellaor Life Is Beautiful (1997) when I was in Brazil with my mother. Then my mother and I watched the movie in Italian with Portuguese subtitles. By doing this, we learned the differences of Italian and Portuguese and trained our ears to understand Italian better. Finally, we watched the movie in English with Portuguese sub-titles. This taught me how grossly mistranslated things can be, which opened discussion of how the bible can be so grossly mistranslated as well. The message of the movie itself was that life is what one made of it. For the little boy, World War II was just a game. Life was all about perception. The discussion of inaccurate translation further opened my mind to the all the religious confusion in the world today. The timing of the message of the movie was interesting; in that it helped me realize the both the positive and negative impact, our perceptions can have on us.
Although, watching movies with my family had a great affect on my childhood, television shows such as Star Trek, The Simpsons, and numerous science shows on The Discovery Channel provided countless hours of discussion and debate. Episodes of Star Trek, both the original and all others that followed, opened discussions for the laws of Physics, contemporary advances in this field, and theoretical physics that supported much of the science that went into making Star Trek. Star Trek also allowed us to analyze what was considered good leadership. The Simpsons allowed my family to evaluate cultural norms, discuss gender roles, acceptable and unacceptable child behavior, and question the historical value of satirical references.
Like the food industry, “puritan parents” go to great lengths to make sure what they provide to their children is as fresh as possible. They sanitize and wash; commercials, television channels, and the contents of shows to make sure they kill every single germ! Parents want to make sure there kids will not digest anything dirty while they “busy” doing other things. In numerous countries around the world, consumers can find varying forms of foods that involve the use of bacteria. Modern science has taught us that not all bacteria are bad. Yogurt, for example, is essentially spoiled milk. These days, Yogurt is advertised with the positive health claim the product “contains active cultures.” Too much media can be like junk food for the mind. Much like yeast though, the leavening power of the media can expand the mind when mixed with the proper ingredients. However, if watching television really does rot the mind then perhaps I should ask my therapist for a Mental Monistat prescription, if my insurance will cover it.