Even in as chaotic and random a world as we live in now, Americans have come to rely on a few rock-solid inevitabilities during the Christmas/New Years season. We know jingle-bell muzak will fill our department stores. We know Fox News will provide breathless dispatches from the frontlines of the War on Christmas. We can bank on Dick Clark (with an assist from Ryan Seacrest) counting down the seconds as the ball drops in Times Square. And, even more so than at any other time of year, we can count on the cable rerun-o-sphere teleporting us back to the child-focused Spielberg-Lucas productions of our youth. This is the core thesis of my new article at Salon.com.
Yes, in this wintery season of merriment, a jaunt from SpikeTV to the USA Network, to the Turner constellation to the premium channels is all but guaranteed to take you from a mountainous Nepal to the Oregon coast to the alien-invaded California suburbs to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. In that way, Spielberg and Lucas have become our new Frank Capras -- their work is as ubiquitous this time of year as "It's a Wonderful Life."
Because my son, Isaac, was born a month ago, I was fully housebound this holiday-season, which meant I had a lot of time on the couch to both immerse myself in this Spielberg-Lucas Matrix and wonder what my little boy will think about their work he reaches the age in which my wife lets me expose him to it. When I force him to watch, say, "The Goonies," will he see the film as I saw old reruns of "I Love Lucy" when I was a kid -- i.e. as ancient, boring and cheesy relics? Or will Isaac see it as a timeless classic, as I saw it when they first came out? I used to think he would see the Spielberg-Lucas products as the former because, hell, despite Industrial Light & Magic's best efforts, the Death Star and the "E.T." spaceship still look a little too "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century-ish" to hide their outdatedness from the uber-discerning CGI generation.
But now, I'm not so sure. After a week of diligent study, I think Isaac might come to see the fantastical Spielberg-Lucas oeuvre as a brutally honest guide to real life -- a guide that will debunk some of the myths he'll inevitably learn when he starts consuming mass media and begins his formal education in a few short years. In fact, after a week of near-constant immersion in the Spielberg-Lucas catalog, I've come to see the two writer/directors' treasures as so subtly prescient that I'm now planning to deliberately use their masterpieces as a curriculum. Indeed, I defy you to come up with a single better teaching tool that both speaks to young children and delivers honest, hard-knocks lessons about the inherently flawed world our kids are entering.