Friday, 4 October 2013

Film Review: In Real Life…Beeban Kidron

Contrary to what I thought, I didn't leave the ICA after watching this film feeling the human race was doomed and wanting to switch off all technology to move to a cave in the hills. Phew! So what did I learn from this film? Nothing mind blowing to be honest as I've always held the internet with a modicum of suspicion (not fear) and every now and then have a think about whether the good is still outweighing the bad. I think this is subjective and very much varies from individual to individual, for example, I got rid of Facebook three years ago as I felt it was a negative thing in my life, obviously this isn't the case for everyone.  For me, for now, the good does outweigh the bad, however I only have a blog and twitter account, occasionally watch YouTube and sometimes buy stuff. I'm not an impressionable teenager and I question a lot, but yes that evil cloud probably has stored an awful lot of data about me via anything I bought, liked, commented on or searched in terms. Do I care? Yes, but I don’t know what to do about it right now.

The premise of this film was to question the effect the Internet is having on teenagers, from social life and development, boundaries of fantasy and how it effects their reality. It did focus much more on boys than girls in the case studies although it did make some effort to span class and socio-economic background. It looked at the two most pressing ‘evils’ that everyone discusses, gaming and pornography. These are two things hard to discuss without your own personal bias, so here’s mine, I'm not anti-pornography nor do I think that online porn sites are *solely* responsible for an ever increasing sexist society or that gaming is wholly responsible for an increasingly violent society, I think its far too simplistic to blame one thing for these societal ills and expanding on this is a whole other blog. I also think its dangerous to cite one thing as a cause in the terrible tragedy of teen suicide, cyber bullying is a horrendous problem now, and the victim has no escape even in his/her own bedroom, but some studies on whether its increased since the phenomenon of cyber bullying could have been included along with a look at other underlining issues.

I think the internet is a powerful weapon in the wrong hands, it’s also a damaging invasion in the wrong hands, it can bring out the worst in human nature, young and old, intelligent and stupid, educated and ignorant and ultimately its not going anywhere. So what do you do? Switch everything off or do you do your utmost to educate yourself and your children about privacy and online safety that will quite possibly impact your ‘real life’ at some point. This could be anything from a negative comment on your YouTube video,  blog,  your boyfriend/girlfriend sharing a picture of you in your underwear on Facebook, or a bully being much braver online and persecuting you in a way that would never have happened on the playground?

It is freaky to think that all these giants, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Apple make so much money out of our data (and all declined to take part in the film) and as the Internet is the biggest spy, so does it make spies of us all. This docufilm is definitely worth watching if you haven’t really thought about the vastness of the Internet or how we may have to educate ourselves and the younger generation to be online safely. I stress ‘ourselves’ as adults/parents,  the younger generation do learn by example and if there’s anything that stood out on my journey home, it was the adults, not just the teens that were staring at their smartphones.

Although I agree that the Internet has its darker side, I also think it’s an easy scapegoat in a culture that increasingly allows it to babysit the kids or even to spy on the kids? How many parents have I heard say that Facebook is a good way to keep an eye on their teens? How about you talk to them instead? Isn't this just the digital version of snooping through your teen’s drawers and opening a diary? As for gaming, the case study used in this film was a very bright 19-year-old questionably addicted to gaming that had got an A* and 3 A’s in his a levels and messed up his Oxford application. Watching this disaffected young man, all I could hear was the line that seemed to go unquestioned ‘my parents were disappointed, I was disappointed’… at his brilliant results that should have all been A*. Maybe this was why he couldn't be bothered to work and spent all day gaming instead, no game is going to express that level of disappointment?

Equally the disturbing interview with the girl doing sexual favours to buy a new phone and the resulting gang of boys who raped her after stealing it (using it to coerce her into a house) didn't sit easy with me for two reasons; firstly, an undercurrent of victim-blaming in that she compromised her personal safety for a blackberry and secondly that this was single-handedly an impact of Internet 'addiction' when there were clearly a whole load of other issues involved.

Beeban Kidron’s work does convey a powerful message (albeit one sided for me) in places and I did learn some interesting and also unsurprising statistics, for example,  the average person checks their phone 150-200 times a day and 90% of the world’s data has been collected in the last two years. However, regarding the teenagers, I think some of the research was limiting. There was of course shocking comments from two 15-year-old boys on pornography and how it affects their attitude to girls. Porn is no doubt going to be confusing for those that haven’t yet had or have little sexual experience and exposure to it is too young now, but where this research failed here was a complete disregard for the fact that girls are also watching pornography and what effect it is that having on their attitude/expectation of sex. Is it in fact worse than the 'acceptable' porn and violence  in the mainstream , like page 3 and lad mags in your face in everyday life? 

At least when your searching online, you know it’s something pornographic, a choreographed performance, and if you don't, this is where education could step in (this boy locked himself in the bathroom to watch it) and actually if online porn has done anything for equality, (I'm talking about legal pornography obviously) it does mean women and girls can now access it as easily as boys and men? Probably playing devil’s advocate here, but I did think the research was a bit predictable in its premise of naughty boys watching porn videos and then wanting to ‘jizz’ over the faces of their poor innocent prey? I think this is simplifying a bigger problem of misogyny in society again and stripping girls of their own developing sexuality while downgrading them to victims.

So I came away, not wishing to switch everything off (although I'm still happy to not have a Facebook account even though I know I could probably whip up more traffic for this blog if I succumbed) but rather just even more convinced that online safety and discussing issues around pornography need to be on the school curriculum (and actually, I wouldn't trust schools on this one completely, parents need to tackle this too). No kids want to replace their real life with an online one, but if they’re left being babysat by the Internet then problems will arise. There’s no point us adults sitting on our high horses looking down at the youth and shaking our fingers at them, I'm pretty sure we did this before when the big evil was heavy metal music or a video nasty.

I feel like I've chipped away in places but stand by recommending the film despite its tone of moral high ground and verge on hysteria, it does give you something to think about and it’s very watchable (if heavy on the shots of millions of cables)…oh and more importantly let your teenagers watch it too and have some trust in them to make their own minds up about balancing their real and online lives.

Of all the evils and social problems Kidron points us to in this film, sexism, misogyny, capitalism, teenage bullying , suicide, violence, surveillance, all were a problem before the Internet exploded into a huge data filled cloud and this is where the film becomes inconclusive for me. Yes, nobody really knew how big this Internet ‘monster’ would become,  and how we might have to tame it, but it’s highly unlikely to go anywhere now.

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