People sometimes ask me what the hardest part of being a media reviewer is. And since sugarcoating anything is pretty much physically impossible for me, I give it to 'em with both barrels: tight deadlines and sitting for hours in crowded theaters, watching clueless parents arriving with their toddlers to see family-friendly fare like Saw 3D. Indeed, sometimes one of the toughest things for me, personally, is evading an attitude of full-bore-linear cynicism.
The world, as seen through a critic's analytically skeptical eye, can occasionally seem gloomy. We are, after all, examining and revealing pop culture's seedy underbelly. We're reporting that in Oslo, Anders Breivik used Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 as "part of my training-simulation." We're flinching when we read about how a 13-year-old boy had a friend pour gasoline on him and strike a match, apparently trying to imitate a stunt they'd seen on MTV's Jacka‑‑. So periodically I need to remind myself to come up for fresher air.
Something I'll do right now, in fact.
Hey, taking a quick look at a few ways media can be and is being used for good sure beats another trip to Denver to see something like The Change-Up.
When 9-year-old Grayson Wynn was separated from his family during a weekend hike in Utah two years ago, he didn't panic. He didn't have to. He'd been "trained" in survival by Bear Grylls, host of the Discovery Channel reality survival show Man vs. Wild. So rather than cowering, as many young children would have, Grayson took action. He tore up and left pieces of his yellow rain jacket everywhere he walked, so rescuers could track him. He built a small shelter under a fallen tree and slept there overnight. The next morning he followed a stream, hoping to find a lake and, therefore, civilization.
Pretty good for a kid! I'm not sure many adults would be as levelheaded and knowledgeable. He probably has reality programming to thank for his life.
Even bad entertainment (read: inappropriate) can sometimes come through in the clutch. In Arizona, Tristin Saghin, also 9, saw the R-rated Black Hawk Down enough times to know what to do when his 2-year-old sister almost drowned in the family's swimming pool earlier this year. "[In the movie] they were, like, pushing on your chest and giving him rescue breaths," Tristan told CBN, explaining his technique. Granted, he could have learned such a skill from a safer, less violent source … like SpongeBob SquarePants. Because that show's also been given credit for a kid saving another kid's life. When gum lodged in her friend's throat, a girl named Miriam immediately remembered how SpongeBob prevented Squidward from choking on a clarinet. And she went into action.
How about this rags-to-riches gamer-makes-good fairy tale that isn't? Spaniard Lucas Ordoñez is a young video gamer who beat 25,000 other gamers in a Gran Turismo competition. The driving simulation victory gave him a chance to steer a real race car—and now he's second in his team's class in France at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of the most prestigious and demanding races in the world. "Today all of my dreams came true," Lucas told motorsport.com.
To say the least!
OK, so Ordoñez's experience might be one in a million (or is it billion?). It's still nifty, though, I think. As is this observation about oft-maligned Facebook: After tornadoes cut through much of Alabama and five other southern states earlier this year, a Facebook page was set up to match and reunite victims with their keepsakes—some of which had blown at least 150 miles away. Patty Bullion of northern Alabama founded the page, telling CNN, "When it [the storm] went over us, it literally just started raining pictures. We got parts of Bibles, hymnals. … I just started saying, 'There are parts of people's lives falling out of the sky.'" The Facebook site, in fact, became a lot more than just a lost-and-found page. It developed into a place for users to send encouraging messages, offer condolences and even coordinate relief efforts.
Here's something else I recently unearthed: While a basketball team in Turkey might not be on Americans' screens, our programming has nonetheless optimistically shaped that country's culture. A 1970s series about basketball titled The White Shadow eventually aired in Turkey from 1980 to 1982, and in only two years it helped to bring hoop dreams to the mainstream. Former Turkish national team player Alper Yilmaz told The New York Times, "It made people aware of basketball in Turkey. There was already basketball in Turkey, but after the show, everyone started playing." And not just in driveways and playgrounds. The national team became a strong contender in the 2010 world championships. And all because of an inspiring TV series.
So I had to stretch back to the '70s for that one, but it still makes me feel better!
A few more: Movie studios' increasing reluctance to depict smoking in movies aimed at young audiences has corresponded with a significant drop in smoking among teens, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania indicates that kids think food products taste better when cartoon characters are on the package … and I'm happy to report that Dora the Explorer and other kiddie faves have been showing up on more veggie bags lately. Fox's musical dramedy Glee, for all its faults, is ramping up interest in the arts in high schools around the country. Oh, and a spaghetti taco craze is sweeping the nation after the "delicacy" was introduced on Nickelodeon's iCarly. What could possibly be wrong with that?
I hope you feel better too now that we've spent some time weaving our way through the positive side of the pop culture fabric. And I can promise you this: As I continue to schlep through the entertainment industry's mounds of difficult content, I'll keep seeking the silver linings that are out there. I'll need one the next time I have to review anything that shows up on MTV or contains the word Bachelor in the title.