Subject: Alice Phnut
Age: 6, BUT NEARLY 7!!! (as she puts it)
Characteristics: High-pitched voice, constantly raised in a state of near-ceaseless chatter. Blonde. Prone to insisting on wearing pyjamas to school.
Food: Mostly oranges, pasta, and chocolate. Thankfully, not at the same time.
• To determine whether or not a child can be induced into accepting the Nerdular Geekery of her parents.
• To take an enclosed fantasy-based cinematic world, with recognisable characters, including heroes, anti-heroes, and villains, and a massive expanded universe already in print; and introduce subject. The object is to create an interest that could last until adulthood
POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS:
• An interest in popular culture
• An interest in cinema
• A further development of literary and cultural analysis
• The ability to assess and critique the aesthetics of the genre
• A gateway to further key works of the genre
• An appreciation of non-mainstream sub-cultures
• Further immersion and interest in non-mainstream sub-cultures
• Strong hero figures, including some strong female gender role-models
• An awareness of gender politics
• Future deeming of subject to be ‘cool’ by peers and society
• Increased socialisation skills with people who share her interests
• Gets called a ‘nerd’
• Becomes boringly obsessed with things that are of limited appeal to the mainstream
• All conversations end up concerning bullshit fantasy films and books nobody else cares about
• Permanent infantalisation of films and books
• I’ll probably spend a fortune on ephemera until she can afford buy her own action figures through her own means
• Risk of social ostracisation, and becomes weird and isolated until she meets fellow geeks in her teens
• Might get picked on by the kind of people who believe that sci-fi fans are, in some way, either dangerous subversives, or easy pickings. You know the sort of people I’m talking about. Stupid, unimaginative people, who obsess over cars and sport – which apparently is not being geeky – and watch ITV for the reality shows (not that I’m in the habit of fostering stereotypes, you understand)
• Only makes friends with people with adenoidal voices (not that I’m in the habit of fostering stereotypes, you understand)
• Becomes one of those podgy Goth kids.
• Is the only girl in a friendship circle of adolescent boys, all of whom will develop a feeble and doomed crush on her
• Ends up with skinny Goth boyfriend. Ugh. Would far rather she ended up with podgy Goth girlfriend.
• Ends up deciding that All About Eve is her favourite band. Yuk.
• People will blame me for all of this and more
In actual fact, all of the geek women I’ve ever met in my life are highly intelligent, attractive, sensible and confident people, so my worries for Alice are unfounded. The geek men, however… well, some of them do have “that voice” for starters
On balance, experiment will continue, despite obvious drawbacks, as it’s nice to have family conversations about geeky shit on long car journeys.
Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Phase One: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers. The reason being for choosing the MCU is that if she doesn’t like the series, I’m not so emotionally attached to them that I would be disappointed. If the MCU tanks with her, I won’t shed much of a tear.
Subject has been introduced to the genre of fantasy and sci-fi over the previous three years. Stage One involved the films by Pixar and Disney from the ages of 1-4, although familiarity with the respective oeuvres of both studios is ongoing (probably never going to watch The Fox and the Hound because it’s a sack of misery and balls). Obsession with Frozen and associated songs has proved that total immersion is possible, and can be irritating.
Stage One: Literary Mode was broached with bedtime readings of Alice in Wonderland, and The Worst Witch. Literary Mode suffered major setback when subject had an extreme negative reaction to Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, and now refuses to acknowledge all things Dahl-based (which is a shame because I’d quite like to take her to see the new BFG movie). Also, at time of writing, The Hobbit remains an unfinished bedtime book due to Alice finding Smaug a bit too ‘fwightning’.
The Star Wars saga (Stage Two) was introduced shortly after the subject’s 5th birthday, and was met with wide-eyed enthusiasm. Success ongoing with the subsequent release of The Force Awakens.
The Harry Potter universe has been broached as both a cinematic and literary phase, although unfolded over a much longer time period. This is due to reading the books in chronological order, and then watching the films. Films are unlocked once the corresponding book in the series has been completed.
The ultimate aim of this experiment is to have a 10-year gradual immersion in fantasy and sci-fi, with the goal, as set out by subject’s parents (i.e. Sarah and I), of being able to sit down and watch The Lord of the Rings as a family when Alice is about 10 years old. I’d also like to have a cinema buddy to come with me to see films with aliens and explosions in, for when Sarah really can’t be arsed.
All films are pre-assessed by myself and my lab-assistant/spouse, Sarah. It is our view that our child is capable of watching certain films that are given a 12a certificate in cinemas by the British Board of Film Classification, however all films are judged on an individual basis. For that reason, she ain’t watching any of the Jurassic Park films just yet.
For example, one unexpected conclusion I have discovered in the course of my research is that modern ’12a’ films are a much less intense viewing experience than the films rated ‘PG’ in the 1980s. For example, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a no-no (loads of blood – more than you remember, melty faces, explodey heads, etc). Equally, the Back to the Future series is too profane (not that I’m a prude when it comes to big cunty swearing, but I’m not ready for my lovely, innocent, blonde-haired child with glasses to use some of the language from these films just yet), and The Goonies has both violence, profanity, dead bodies, and moments that are pretty scary, as well as being a massively overrated film (yes it is, shut up).
By contrast, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is surprisingly bloodless and profanity-free. There are occasional vapourisations, disintegrations, and tiny cuts and scratches, but amidst the mayhem, there is a considerable lack of gore. The only moment I could really deem as being gory is during Captain America: The First Avenger when a Hydra/Nazi redshirt gets chopped up by a propeller in a fight on an aeroplane. It’s a brief moment of “the pink mist” in contrast with the big fight/built-up moment of impending doom/splatter moment from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I think I’ve cracked it. I think I know THE GREAT SECRET TO GETTING A CHILD TO LIKE YOUR FAVOURITE MOVIE. I think I know how to enthuse a child about a saga, or a series, or just one film. It is a long process, though. Don’t rush it.
Ready? Sitting down with pen and paper? Here it is:
Let me explain: Don’t ram it down their throats, just mention the films casually from time to time. From a very early age, Alice was aware that there was a film called Star Wars. She knew I really liked it. I would talk it up, but also make it a distant, far-off thing that would only be revealed when she was ready, e.g. “one day, when you’re older…”. Society does the same thing to get kids hooked on sex, booze, money, material goods, and drugs, you know.
So, after years of peppering Star Wars into conversation, and her catching occasional glimpses of it on television (<channel hopping> PEW! PEW! PEW! “Oops, that’s Star Wars, you’re not ready for that yet…!” <click!> “AAAAAOOOOWWWWWWW!!!”), we deemed her to be ready. So we watched A New Hope. And she loved it from the first time she saw it. And then we told her there were more films, and she clamoured to see them, but – and this is a bit crucial – we stretched it out over several months. That way, she could watch and re-watch the films before moving on, just as I did, wearing out the old Betamax tapes of the recordings I made from the TV broadcasts in the 80s.
This process of piquing Alice’s interest took years and patience. Above all, there are clear rules: Most important of all is that both you and your child are aware and agree that your child always has the option of deciding to NOT LIKE THE FILM, and that is OK and FINE.
OK, let’s stop for a moment. Even I know the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are not exactly the greatest films ever. The Edward Norton-Hulk film really isn’t that brilliant, nor is the first Captain America film. They’re piffle, really. Fluff. They are, what I call, ‘Flu-movies’ – basically the kind of film you watch when you’re on the sofa with a heavy cold. The cinematic equivalent of comfort-food. Films as cake. Brain porridge.
But here’s the thing:
1. They’re a gateway to other things: Films, books, comics, graphic novels, art, music. You like Marvel films? Well, why not watch Lord of the Rings? From that, you can get into King Arthur. From that, you can appreciate Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And then onto Monty Python in general. And then comedy becomes an entire universe.
Or take one tangent, and develop your King Arthur interest and get into medieval stories. From there, why not have a pop at Macbeth… or King Lear… or Hamlet? Or from Lord of the Rings, why not the original Viking sagas? Fifteen, twenty years later… PhD in Scandinavian History. And some twats would think I’m a bad parent for nerding-up my kid? Also, I may be overthinking this.
Or, on the other hand, the most likely result is that my kid enjoys Iron Man, and runs around the house killing baddies. If fun is the only outcome, that’s awesome too.
2. They’re films we can watch together. Do people sit down, as a family, without phones/tablets/laptops, and watch things together anymore? Films we watch together can become conversations around the dinner table, or in the car, or become things we connect over. Quality family time from a two-hour film. That’s worth something, isn’t it? And in ten years’ time, if I can sit down and watch Blade Runner with my daughter and we can both enjoy it, that’s a pretty awesome parenting goal right there.
So anyway, gentle hype. Six months ago I was watching The Avengers in the kitchen. Alice comes in.
“What are you watching?”
It’s The Avengers. It’s a superhero film.
“Who are they?”
Well, you’ve come at a good moment. They’re in the final battle and… yes… wait for it… here comes the poster shot… aaaaaand…
Right, he’s the Hulk (“wow!”), that guy is Iron Man and he can fly (“woah!”), that’s Hawkeye and he fires arrows (“with a bowanarrow??”), that there is Thor and he’s actually a GOD (“wow! Like God is a god?”), she’s Black Widow and she kicks butt (“cooooool!”), and that’s Captain America (“like he’s in charge of all of America??! WOW!)… and that’s all you’re watching right now (“AAAAAAOOOOWWW!!”), no, you’re not ready for it yet (“but I waaaaant to!”), maybe when you’re older (“I want to see it NOOOOOOWWWWW!”).
That’s how you hype it. Since then she has been asking to watch it on a nauseating basis. And now, post-Christmas, we told her: You’re ready for it. But you have to watch all the films leading up to The Avengers first as a deal.
So here are my findings, taken over a number of weekends of January/February 2016:
We watched them. It was a SUCCESS!!
Yes. You can introduce a six-year-old to a big and complicated universe of superheroes. Yes, she will watch most of it, and get something out of it. Yes, she will shriek with delight at all the kissy bits. Yes, she will pop in and out of attentiveness during the talky bits of exposition, but you know what? She’s six, they’re kids movies in all but name, and we had fun doing it over a number of weekends when the weather was wintry and inclement.
And now she wants to go on to see all the other films in the MCU. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. She also, thanks to a two-line gag in The Avengers, wants to try Chicken Shawarma. This is OK (I like shawarma, and we have a Lebanese place in town that does it well), but it led me to ask her that if Captain America smoked Marlboro cigarettes, would she now want to try Marlboros?
The other day, there was nothing to watch on TV except an old episode of Star Trek (Mirror Mirror, which might not have been the best introductory episode). By the conclusion, Alice was aware that Captain Kirk is an intergalactic sexual predator, Spock with a beard is different to normal Spock, and that a red shirt is the clothing of the doomed.
Say, Alice. There are loads of episodes of Star Trek we could watch. And there are Star Trek films, you know.
“Are they good?”
Some of them are.