I watched the Oscars with my six-year-old son Simon this week. Mostly because I got the TV for the night without allowing any conversation about what we’d watch. There are two live TV events a year that everyone else just has to put up with letting me watch, and they’re both already over for the year. (The other, the Rose Parade, is done by noon on New Year’s Day!) But I think this is the first year Simon actually seemed to really understand what was going on, and certainly it was the year he’d expressed the most interest in what was going on.
Don’t get me wrong; Simon has been watching movies his whole life. His first movie was the Oscar-winning Raiders of the Lost Ark. He’s seen Oscar-winning Inside Out possibly as much as a hundred times by now. He has his own Letterboxd account. I’ve been encouraging him to think about what he likes and what he doesn’t, and I’ve been helping him express it in words. I also make clear to him that he doesn’t have to worry about what other people like, except inasmuch as sometimes, I get tired of the things he likes and I can still tell him what he can and can’t watch. But this year, he was introduced to things on a slightly deeper level.
For one, while he recognized “the theme from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” as he called it, I then introduced him to the idea of the biopic by showing him images of Mr. Rogers and the original Daniel Tiger. I then had him look at Tom Hanks in costume and see the similarities. We also closed our eyes and listened to Tom Hanks and tried to hear Woody, which Simon didn’t quite manage. But as soon as Idina Menzel opened her mouth, he knew that voice. And last year, as I think I’ve mentioned, I absolutely blew his mind by pointing out that one of the people talking was also the dentist on Trollhunters.
I’ve started teaching him about the technical stuff, too. He’s long gotten the idea that writing was a thing, because there’s an episode of Masha and the Bear where they write a screenplay. But Production Design is a pretty easy thing to explain to a six-year-old, honestly, and he’s starting to show appreciation for that. I explained to him what a cinematographer does, though I’m not sure he fully grasped it. (He asked!) And he’s got so distinct a sense of style that costuming absolutely makes sense to him, though of course his impression right now is mostly “Oh, I like that outfit!”
Okay. I can hear you asking—what’s the point? What does Simon actually get out of knowing what film editing is? For one thing, I think it makes him a better consumer of media. He knows that work goes into it, and as he learns that, hopefully he can start learning quality from dross. I was also able to explain things like “Mom is happy that a woman won in this category even though she didn’t want to see that movie and also had emotional investment in John Williams because it’s important that women get acknowledged for their work, too.” He’s going to grow up noticing when categories are populated mostly by white guys and know why that’s not okay. And that’s definitely a positive.
Also, on a purely social level, I’m trying to teach him about sharing interests with people. I taught him the other day that the easiest way to start getting to know someone is to ask what movies or TV or books they like. So he knows, if he didn’t before, that a way to have a conversation can be, “So what did you think about Laura Dern’s win?” And maybe the person will have an opinion, and maybe they won’t. And maybe they’d rather talk about Janelle Monáe’s dress, and he can talk about that, too. If nothing else, it’s a thing he shares with me. And that has value.
We talk a lot about screentime, and I’m on record as not worrying about it as much as some people. Probably most people. And a lot of why I don’t worry about it is how much of his screentime I share with him, how much of his sister’s I share with her. Screens, in my family, remain a social activity. Maybe I don’t have Oscar parties anymore, and probably won’t until we have a house large enough to host one, but it’s still a shared experience with my son. He got a piece of chocolate for having seen Toy Story 4 with me, and he listened when I explained that, no, I wasn’t happy when Parasite won because I’d seen it and therefore got a piece of chocolate. I’m hoping I’m creating happy memories.