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A Lesson on Condescension (A Review of Screenagers)

Even the title offends me.

I very much dislike Screenagers. That’s my brief review. I suggest you stick around for the long one though, I think you might enjoy it.

As many documentaries do, this one starts off with a voiceover proclaiming the importance of balance with the utilization of screens and smartphones. Balance. Oh boy. Hey everyone listen to Delaney Rusten, film director and life guru extraordinaire. I wonder how many hours of screen time went into making this movie. Probably an ironic amount. Next, the film pivots to the main focus and inspiration and direction of the film, Rusten’s family. Tessa, 12, really wants a smartphone. Most of her friends already have one, and her iPod just isn’t cutting it anymore. Delaney obviously is having none of that shit.

There are plenty of good reasons not to buy a smartphone for your child, you can’t afford it, you think they’re too young, you’re worried they’ll break it, etc. But because you think there is a value in “interacting” is not one of them. Guess what, teenagers don’t go on their phones all the time in lieu of personal interaction. In fact, when I’m sitting alone in my house texting people I’m doing a ton of social interaction that I would otherwise not be doing. Tessa does not bring up these facts. Instead, Tessa opts to text someone while having a conversation with her mother about the benefits of smartphones. Jesus Christ Tessa! Get your crap together and give your mother your full attention, at least when you’re asking for something. You’re such a stereotypical millennial and in no way posed for this shot in any way at all. This shot was in no way scripted. Nope. Not one bit.

Another thing I lost to this movie, besides my hour and thirty minutes, was my love for the song “Radioactive” by the Imagine Dragons. The title screen of Screenagers was preluded by about a minute and a half slow motion montage of teenagers using their phones. The slow motion. Was. Terrible. Matched with a good song. It was ruined. Both the novelty of slow motion technology and Radioactive. Gone. One hundred years ago people were running from trains on the cinema screen. Now this. Oh my god.

Next we go to a school and speak to various students. Including the very same girl from the trailer who can’t hear the teacher speak because she’s too distracted by her cell phone. I’ve discussed this, you don’t care about your education, you’re stupid, etc. etc. But something odd happens that I wasn’t expecting. The movie expresses a brief moment of self awareness in the film, displayed in a brief interview with teacher Karl Ruff. Despite the anti-technology luddite circle jerk that most of the movie is, Karl is surprisingly pro cell phone, citing their use in business and in the workplace. Ruff even allows cell phones in his classroom. Obviously Delaney plants a kid who is on his cell phone while Ruff is addressing the class, but still, I’ll take the brief moment of relative bliss where I’m not being talked down too because I’m a millennial.

Delaney Rusten and husband go to local Best Buy.

Moving away from the school, we transition to the story of one mom/blogger and her righteous crusade to preserve her children from the evils of the internet world. How do we prevent change? Punitive rules, restrictions, and regulations. Hell, let’s create a surveillance state! Anything our child produces is subject to scrutiny and search at any time! Basically this mother has created an 18 page contract for her [teenage] children to sign if they want to have a cell phone. She ends her segment saying “I will always know the password”. Which I find disturbing as hell. No, not because I’m a teenager. Because I’m a human. No one should be subject to that much scrutiny. People need to learn and experience things. And if they want to watch porn, as long as it’s not the really heinous stuff I think we’re all good. Delaney decides that the contract is a wonderful idea and decides to transfer it to her own home, providing Tessa with an iPhone and a multi-page single spaced contract to accompany it. And with that, the problem has been solved. Sure Delaney, sure.

Again, the film goes into a weird and bizarre tangent that doesn’t make much sense. It begins to talk about the problem of video games, okay, sure, fine Delaney. But then a bunch of kids start talking about masculinity and traditional gender roles? What? Besides the fact that a lot of boys play video games, was this really necessary? Was a montage of girls playing with barbies and boys playing with trucks really beneficial to the point of this film? But okay, fine. Have your little soapbox to preach a little bit about gender roles. I’m not even sure what your point is. Do you think they’re terrible and need to be torn down like the Berlin Wall, or do you think that it’s another way the liberal agenda is turning our youth gay?

“This is good!” -Delaney Rusten, probably

Of course, Delaney chooses to beat the dead horse that violent video games are bad for you. Hell, it’s not a dead horse, at this point it is the powdered skeleton that used to be a horse. But whatever, say they are turning kids violent, they are decreasing empathy, yada yada yada. One point I particularly object to is that they can be used as training simulators for school shooters and terrorists. That is the biggest load of bull I’ve heard from this movie yet. First of all, games like Call of Duty aren’t meant to be hyper realistic military shooting games. They are meant to be fun. Which is why a lot of people who later shoot up schools play them, and why a lot of people who will never be violent in their lives play them. Second, if you want real training to perform any combat action, you won’t be playing games critics like to cite as corrupting our youth. You’d be playing at least a somewhat realistic video game, or at the very least a game like ARMA 3 which at least tries to be somewhat accurate. Thirdly, just stop. Your cause is bad and you should feel bad. And Delaney’s son, Chase, plays one of my favorite games of all time, Civ 5. Here’s a tip Chase: get the Brave New World Expansion pack. Then maybe we can play multi sometime.

As the film keeps stuttering along we arrive on the dangers of social media. Ah social media. Where everyone is a 10/10 knockout bombshell who has perfect boobs. Also where everyone is a nefarious liar and basically a digital Sodom and Gomorrah. Oh wait, that’s just what adults think who can’t understand Snapchat. Obviously there can be negative aspects of social media, as a girl states she couldn’t go into school because she sent a picture of her in a bra to a guy at her school which was quickly distributed to the entire school. That’s what makes me question the validity of this story, no one cares about that shit in high school. Especially not if it was just a BRA pic. You are literally more exposed in a swimsuit. People in school weren’t staring at you because you sent a bra pic, you probably hadn’t showered in a week. But whatever, maybe experts like Peggy Orenstein know best that all children only judge each other based off their social media profiles. “It’s not about who you are, it’s about who you’re not”. Well if that was true for this movie, I could judge it for something it isn’t. A good movie.

Before we get to one of the most awful parts of the film, we take a brief pitstop into the house of a single mother, focusing mainly on two of her children Excel and Mitzy. Excel won’t do his homework because he’s too wrapped up in the computer, leaving Mitzy to pick up the slack of her younger brother and complete the homework for him. Listen Mitzy, leave him. Go to college. Get a boyfriend. Go to Arkansas, I don’t know. Don’t let your brother mooch off of your knowledge of basic arithmetic. And mom, I realize you’re a single mother with five kids and probably aren’t the best at figuring out long term consequences, but you really should try to watch your kids. Or at least teach the older kids to be better parents.

Now we go to the tragic tale of one teenage boy. He used to be a straight A student and so immersed in his studies. Yet, one day he began to use a little for fun. Just a little each night, what could go wrong? Until he started to need more and more to fulfill the dopamine rush. It took hours each night, he wasn’t getting any sleep. Eventually he stopped going to school. For three weeks. Then he ran away. Then he went to rehab. Nope, it wasn’t a cocaine addiction. Just video games. So he went to a rehab center. For video games. Honestly the thought process involved to showcase this event of a severely abnormal and fringe case with a psychological addiction is just mindblowing. It’s as if Delaney thinks this is typical for teenage boys to do. Maybe do a film about an actual addiction problem. Like gee, I don’t know, cocaine? And when he returns to his home and to his piano, he plays a theme song for a video game theme. For about a minute. I don’t think Delaney realized this, she probably thought this was some piece by Mozart. How wrong she was. Some could say this was an intentional inclusion to show the melding of video games and respectable moderated living. I don’t. I just think it was a display of ignorance.

Totally a fair comparison.

Our last few scenes focus on human resiliency. Kids may be losing the battle to the screen but there is hope yet! The human spirit will never be triumphed by a dirty machine! Live love humanity! Ugh. A bunch of experts are talking about how screens in a few studies have shown to decrease empathy. Okay, sure. But then they go on to say that within five days of limited to no screentime all negative effects of that vanish. Seriously? You’ve spent years of your life and probably large amounts of money to create this piece of trite about teenagers and screens, all to end it with one of your final scenes essentially nullifying your work. What type of epidemic can just be almost cured in five days? Would the black plague have been a big deal if in five days it just went away? How about heroin? Feeling addicted? Just stop for five days, you’ll be okay! And let’s stop all this bullshit with the inevitable triumph of the human spirit. It’s not true. Humans are weak and susceptible and cruel. For every Rosa Park there are millions of people who are submissive. Humanity will not rise up and defeat this mechanical invasion. We will accept it, and adapt.

Overall, Screenagers was a pretentious waste of my time. It was incorrect in many areas including its logic, its mantras, and its methodology. I could have vomited on a DVD of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, put the DVD through a paper shredder, lit the remains on fire, and whatever remained would still be a better and well composed film than what was presented by Delaney Rusten. Perhaps the greatest failure of this film was in its conception, the director taking on an area where she had little experience and expertise. This was bound to attract criticism by people who know even roughly anything about the subject material, or even have an iota of common sense. Stick to making a movie about something you probably know more about, Delaney. Like Tiger Parenting, holistic medicine, or managing an unsuccessful stock portfolio.

You weren’t that bad, kid.





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