The morning of September 9, 2013 I saw a stream of sixth graders walking in front of the building in the lovely cool morning – first hint of autumn, magic magic magic. Even walking past the school building later that afternoon and not forgetting the terror and captivity, I felt magic from the red bricks, from the cool air, from the memory of pencils. Shouldn't there be a place for the honor of that, as part of autumn's enchantment in childhood?
But I was thinking about the morning first. Those sixth-graders filed past the door in tune with the morning's loveliness. Then I heard an adult voice bark “single file straight line!” as if they were a bunch of jailbirds – reminding me that, in fact, they are.
When I called the sixth-grade school they said that these students had attended an assembly at the middle school, some anti-bullying thing. Very much on everyone's mind these days. I called the middle school and found out they contract with some outfit to come and give them this presentation every year.
Apparently it's a big deal: they set up three big screens in the gym and have a powerful sound system. They're very proud of it, saying it “will encourage students to clarify dreams, look clearly at obstacles, and through hard work and determination, turn their dreams into a reality. Students will learn positive methods for dealing with the pressure, stress and fear they feel inside, and they'll understand the importance of setting short-term goals for their lives.” And of course there's the personal responsibility that adults never tire of invoking when it comes to making younger people do things: this show “will help students realize that it's time to stop passing the blame to someone else and start taking responsibility for their futures.”
Their website offers a shrunk-down version of the presentation, which I watched. They certainly do try to make an overwhelming show of sight and sound. The shrunken preview can't match the experience of the real thing, they say, and I believe them.
A powerful, high-impact character lesson, they say. What it is is loud and vapid, the art of saying nothing over forty minutes refined near to perfection. I can imagine sitting in the bleachers in the gym with those sights spread out over huge screens and the sound blasted into your head – no escape. I imagine all the adults, having their ears pressed flat to their skulls by the angry-sounding pop metal music in the thing, maybe not enjoying it at all but thinking that these guys who made it sure must be legit cuz they've got all this badass-sounding music that the teenagers like.
I sat through plenty of clumsy agitprop while I was in school, and of course we saw through the grown-ups' feeble attempts to appropriate our vernacular and poured derision thereon when they were safely out of earshot. I'm 36 and have only the vaguest idea what kids are listening to these days, but watching this it looks like (alas) the propaganda engineers have gotten much better at what they do over the past quarter century. The music in this presentation sure didn't sound like the cheesy stuff that tried to inspire my generation to love school. This stuff was like a hammer to your brain, along with the rapid editing of shots (including plenty from action movies) smashing away at any attempt by a viewer to formulate and consider any thoughts of substance or consequence.
-Which served its purpose, since what would happen if too many people really started asking questions like: what if my hopes and dreams are in fact blocked by having to go to school every day? Just how exactly do my good grades in each subject prepare me to reach my dream? How do the standardized programs of learning even help me to find what my true dream is? Are the grotesquely-amplified examples of athletes and singers really relevant to my life? How would the authorities over me react if I dreamed of a life outside of this system and dared to do what I had to in order to bring that about?
How much can the school environment even bear the concept of an individual life's calling?
And on and on. I haven't the energy to write much more about it; I don't know if it even deserves the dignity of a detailed consideration or rebuttal – there's not really much to argue against, because it's damn near impossible to argue against emotion.
Of course this thing doesn't show any sex or tantalizing views of certain body parts, but it's as pornographic as anything, stroking the feelings of your lower chakras in a calculated move to make a flood of feelings that will drown ideas. People pay for this kind of opiate in theaters or in their own homes to escape the meaninglessness of their over-regimented lives, or in the case of music, the powerless band together in communities around angry protest songs: punk, heavy metal, rap. I don't know if this production company really pulls off a convincing appropriation of that protest in the perception of its young captives. Despite the in-your-face, no-escape presentation method, I hope that the young people saw through it.
Maybe it's vain to hope too much: we constantly hear complaints about today's youth: about their apathy, their addiction to screens, their susceptibility to the persuasion of violent and titillating images on those screens – this presentation was tailored exactly to such, and depends on non-thinking recipients for its success. But I still hope. I hope there were a lot of closed eyes, and mouths in cupped hands pressed to ears, during the onslaught: respectful human touch is the best antidote to pornography.