The Kids Are Alright

The kids today, with their Jason Biebers and their unlaced tennis shoes and their sparkly vampire movies: What in the name of Sam Hill are they coming to? Specifically, when it comes to home theater, I mean? They have literally thousands of entertainment choices. (When I was a kid, we had exactly three: yo-yos, Gilligan’s Island reruns, and seven-year-old copies of National Geographic magazine.) Will they care enough to invest in a good system? Will the flame of home theater continue to burn in the next generation and beyond? Or will it die out and become a fringe hobby, embraced only by a small faction of cranks with hitched-up trousers who cut their grass with vintage reel mowers and still think there’s some value in their sizable collection of S&H Green Stamps?

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When you have hundreds of hours of music available on a candybar-sized player (the bulk of which is Lady Gaga’s first-quarter output), it takes a very compelling alternative to pull you away. Even your phone has dozens of applications, from one that allows you to play a sad trombone sound whenever you’d like, to another that can tell you more than you’d ever want to know about rare genetic diseases (and many is the time I’ve been on the go and suddenly found myself needing lots of information on rare genetic diseases). So how likely are you to sit and enjoy the simple pleasures of, say, the three-disc special edition Blu-ray of Big Stan?

Concerned that the youth may be trending away from home theater, I organized my own covert focus group. I pulled surveillance on my own teenage sons, ages 14 and 16, to see how they interacted with my system to try to determine home theater’s chances with the next generation.

Day 1: Home theater completely ignored in favor of “homework.” (Has it always been like this on school nights? Because it certainly wasn’t common for me, and I graduated in the upper 80 percent of my class.) A plan to entice them away from such time wasters and toward an evening of watching movies is short-circuited before it can even be offered, put down forcefully by a strong female pro-homework advocate who shall remain nameless. Of course, I could have exercised my authority and insisted, but I held my fire in an act of benevolent mercy. (Note: The preceding sentence may contain false statements.)

Day 2: Homework finished (lame!), they each invite a friend over for a viewing of that teen favorite, 1920’s silent German Expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I was nearby, ready to catch any comments extolling the fine picture, vibrant colors, and mind-blowing soundtrack. But as this is a silent, black-and-white film, such comments would merely be evidence that my sons are delusional psychotics, so I’m relieved when none is forthcoming. Instead, one son offers a pretty fine extemporaneous monologue on the film’s political themes and goes on to recommend another German Expressionist film starring lead actor Conrad Veidt, The Man Who Laughs. I briefly wonder whether there has been some flaw in my parenting that could have caused this somewhat odd focus, decide it is the homework’s fault, and put it out of my mind.

Day 3: The weekend comes. Number-one son logs in for a few hours of online Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on the PS3. This first-person shooter looks fantastic, and the sound is almost unbelievable. Its intense effects put you right in the action, deep and punchy and coming from every direction. Unfortunately, it has to compete with my son’s deeply sarcastic running commentary: “Oh, nice, is that how you’re going to play it, huh, Suzy Cupcake? Oh, I bet that kind of thing really makes you popular with your friends, doesn’t it, Betty Lou? Bet you hang out with a lot of cool dudes. Well, how about a little dose of this?!” It is continuous, save for those times when his brother drops in to offer some constructive criticism of his play: “What was that? Are you OK? Do you need to be hospitalized, because that was one of the lamest things I’ve ever seen.” Driven nearly mad, I flee the house, offering sotto voce promises not to reproduce anymore.

Day 4: My home theater area fills with boys for a showing of The Dark Knight. (Staying near enough to hear their conversation is difficult, as the gathered audience falls between the ages of 14 and 16, and boys that age generally smell of B.O., feet, and the stale odor of the various cheese-flavored powders that have sloughed off their huge array of snacks and onto their stained fingers. They are similar smells, and similarly unpleasant, but I manage to bear it.) They crank the sound and settle in. The conversation is dominated by an ongoing parody of their fellow teens’ outrageous boasts. “See that Lamborghini? My uncle gave me one for my birthday, and he put in a special engine that he had modified by NASA, ’cause he worked for them, right? And then the CIA found out about it and declared a threat to national security, so they took my Lamborghini away, that’s why I don’t have it anymore, or I would have let you drive it.” Still, they were soon actually enthusing about the picture, rewinding certain scenes, and listening over again to especially impressive sound effects.

When the movie was over, I had an opportunity to discreetly poll them without their catching on. I asked innocuous questions like, “Hey, on a scale from one to radical, with radical being a ten and badical being an eleven, how would you rate this home theater, dawgs?” 

The upshot is that I feel more confident than ever that the American people’s ardor for home theater will not soon cool. Even for the next generation, it’s sure to be the dopest thing around for years to come, a’ight?

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