I’ve seen E.T. at least a dozen times. No matter how many times I watch it, I still get a little thrill every time Elliot and E.T. fly across the moon. I weep with little Gertie as she holds out her flower-pot parting gift. I snuffle and gulp down a sob every time E.T. holds out his glow stick finger to Elliot’s forehead and tells him,”I’ll be right here.”
I watched it for the first time with my boys the other night. It took some convincing on my part. They are used to Marvel and Galaxies protected by Guardians. Special effects and CGI. The family adventure dramas I grew up with are too slow-paced for them. Not enough stuff gets blown up.
Even though I know E.T. backward and forward, watching it with my kids I was struck by something new this time. Maybe it’s been on my mind. Maybe because I now have a kid around the same age or older than Elliot.
E.T. could never happen today. I’m not even talking about the extra-terrestrial part of E.T. In fact, the sentient alien being part would likely be more believable than the fact that for the most part, kids were left alone. For long stretches of the afternoon and evenings, after school, on weekends, in the mornings, alone. Alone. Without adult supervision.
If E.T. were made today, Michael and his friends would have been lined up on the couch playing Minecraft on a server, too busy to order a pizza. Elliot never would have tracked down E.T. because Elliot never would have been allowed outside on his bike by himself. His access to sugar and Reese’s Pieces would have been strictly managed. He would have had to lure E.T. back to his home with kale chips or fruit kabobs. Gertie was left on her own in the house, Michael was backing cars out of the driveway. Kids were drinking unlimited cans of Coke. Grade schoolers were encouraged to use scalpels and given access to chloroform. Kids were allowed out on Halloween by themselves.
It was just like I remember.
If E.T. was made today, he would have simply used a phone home app.
The Goonies? They would have all been in sanctioned after school programs. Data would have been in Chess Club and Early Engineers. Chunk would have been on Weight Watchers. Mouth? Mouth would still be Mouth. There’s a Mouth in every generation. But no treasure hunts, no long stretches of time to go exploring or spelunking. Not without grown-ups hovering nearby.
How about Home Alone? Child Protective Services would swoop in faster than you can say aftershave to take Kevin into custody. Some neighbor surely would notice; not the increase in activity at the house mind you, but a ten year old kid walking outside by himself. This is the stuff that gets noticed nowadays.
The Karate Kid? No way Daniel-son would be allowed to hang out with Mr. Miagi. An unmarried middle-aged man? Are you kidding? Hello! Pedophile Alert! If Daniel of today showed early promise in karate, he would be signed up for classes. The travel team, club tournaments. There would be no classic “Sweep the Knee!” for the win because everyone’s a winner!
The Princess Bride? No thanks, Grandpa, you don’t need to read to me, I can binge watch Netflix or YouTube videos to learn how to strengthen my archer queens.
The Breakfast Club? Over-involved parents would call meetings to discuss their child’s detention and threaten to sue if the decision isn’t reversed.
Back to the Future? Skateboarding without a helmet? NO way.
All those things we took for granted because it was the norm. Biking around for hours, swimming unchaperoned, roaming and hanging out. Smoking in the woods. Ok, ok, smoking in the woods wasn’t such a good idea. But I never thought I would look back on the movies I grew up with and feel sad for my kids because they’re growing up in a time when most of those things seem more unbelievable than coming across an alien from another planet.
There’s a reason why the blockbusters of today take place between the pages of a comic book, or increasingly, in a postapocalyptic world. It seems the only place where kids are free to roam around un-supervised is in Sci-Fi.
Kids haven’t changed, not really. John Bender was surely a Dauntless the same way Data was an Erudite before there was Divergent. The Outsiders were the rebels of District 9 before The Hunger Games. And before the Age of Ultron there was a simpler extra-terrestrial named E.T. and a movie about a boy who was free to grow up with the magic of possibility.
My kids prefer their own generation’s movies, as they should. The movies I grew up with have a rawness they aren’t used to. Sometimes the emotions are too real for them, too overwhelming, especially for my older boy who shows the same sob swallowing tendencies I did. (I do.)
I promised my son I would try not to cry too loudly and snottily as we sat together on the couch the other night. Of course I failed, though I tried mightily to stifle my sniffles. I watched out of the corner of one glistening eye as he cried too. We were probably crying for very different reasons, but he got it. He has a heart light.
There’s still enough magic in those movies to hit home, even if the world they take place in is almost as unrecognizable to my kids as the Marvel universe is to me.