I love my 8th grade students. I really do. Admire their combination of being savvy about serious social issues and being willing to play like little kids. They’re pretty much the kind of musicians I love jamming with and we are and equally the kind of young adults I can share both humor and sincere feelings with. But let’s face it. They’re 8th graders. And they go to lots of movies and play video games and watch TV and watch the shameless circus of the Administration and there’s no way that doesn’t leak into their tender souls.
Case in point. After some preparation with a Marcel Marceau book yesterday to create some mimed skits “a la silent movie” while I accompanied with the ragtime piece they’re working on, I gave them full autonomy today and let them make up their own little story. There were three small groups and each story’s plot was essentially: “Hitting each other. Shooting each other. Getting drunk. Hitting each other some more.” It was less than aesthetically pleasing, to say the least.
So for the next group, I limited their themes to:
• Training a dog.
• Cooking in a kitchen and burning the meal.
• Complaining in a restaurant.
What a difference! Each skit was imaginative, PG so younger kids could enjoy, funny, sweet. They rose up from the three lower chakras into a higher realm worthy of their potential.
Every time I go to the movies, I am astounded by the coming attractions. Really? Monsters, guns, screaming people, sexy women, macho men, vanquishing evil with ever more technical weaponry enhanced by special effects. Is that all you have? Do we really need another movie like this? And isn’t it just possible that the ongoing onslaught starts to numb us to tender feeling, intelligence, nuance and such? I’m not being a prude here and enjoy an occasional well-done shoot-em-up, but the sheer volume of these blockbusters and the pumped-up sensory and emotional and psychic assault can’t be good for us. Especially if you’re 6 or 9 and 12 years old. If nothing else, it robs us of imagination and that’s what the kids were showing me—first idea, violence. Second idea, violence. Third idea, with the teacher prodding… “oh, maybe we could do something else?”
I had shown them Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin just before today’s exercise and there was a little bit of slapstick roughhouse. But really, Keaton is much more about setting up an expectation and foiling it, like a cop chasing him and them both stop at a corner to let a car pass like good citizens and then resume the chase. And Chaplin made a dance from two potatoes, a remarkable sequence at a factory, a breathtaking waltz of a Hitler with the world balloon. And Marcel Marceau held our attention as a lion tamer with an imaginary lion.
If you want to see the kind of world we’re bequeathing to our kids, watch them at play acting out the things they see around them, the distorted sex and violence of the movies and the yet more dangerous and distorted sex and violence of the Trump/O-Reilly/Weinsteins, the foul and low language, the macho threats to other madmen. No clear and easy path to change those channels, but at least we can lead kids to their larger imagination than mere reflection, get them to turn off the damn screens, offer them the joys of genuine creation. That’s what I’ll keep working on in tomorrow’s classes.