I had the unique opportunity to watch The Shining with my 15-year-old daughter this past Halloween and I learned something – Stanley Kubrick’s once groundbreaking film The Shining isn’t scary anymore . . . at least, not to her. Stephen King’s classic novel and the groundbreaking film by the same name may have frightened the heck out of 1980’s audiences, but it doesn’t appear to be having the same effect on Generation Z. A quick survey of my two daughters (ages 14 and 15) and a group of their friends revealed an eye-opening commentary on film making, the horror genre, and the world they are growing up in. Some of the group’s more interesting comments included:
- “The build-up is too slow.” “
- “Nothing’s happening and when something finally does happen at the end its not scary at all.”
- “Wait, that’s it? The mom and kid lived!”
- “The concept is creepy, the movie has suspense, but it didn’t ‘scare’ me.”
- “The little boy is suspenseful . . . everything about him screams suspense, but the redrum thing got annoying.”
- “I’ve seen all of the scenes you call famous before in parodies, spoofs, and memes, so its hard to be scared when I’ve seen the blood thing before on Psych, the crazy dad thing on The Simpsons – Treehouse of Horror, and the creepy twins thing like a million times before.”
- “That lady is a horrible mom! Your kid talks to his finger, tells you that a kid named Tony lives inside his mouth that tells him things, and you let your husband beat him up. You and your kid need help woman!”
Like The Exorcist, The Omen, and Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining comes out of a time in film making when establishing setting, creating atmosphere, and allowing a plot to unfold at its own pace were accepted by audiences as creative, artistic, and even expected. Sadly, the days of reaching a modern, young audience with an atmospheric think-piece might be dead and gone. The systematic, steady, and let’s face it slow, pace of The Shining did nothing, but bore my group of teens into reaching for their phones to look up the real ‘Overlook Hotel’. Oddly enough, they were all captivated by Stephen King’s real-life experiences in the emptied out Stanley Hotel that led to his penning The Shining. When I asked why they found Stephen King’s true story more interesting than the film, they all basically said the same thing – because that’s what really happened. Is it possible Generation Z has become so obsessed with facts, that they have lost the ability to suspend their disbelief for even a few hours? For the sake of art in its many forms, I hope not. Suspension of disbelief issues aside, their thoughts on The Shining’s influence on pop culture were spot on.
My little, informal focus group is right – The Shining’s more famous scenes have permeated pop-culture to the point that they have lost some, if not all, of their original impact. There are literally hundreds of references to the scenes, lines, and images found throughout the film, the few that I am aware of include: The Simpsons (1994) – The Shinning; Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2008) – Dennis Reynolds an Erotic Life; The Office (2009) – Cafe Disco; Family Guy (2009) – Peter, Peter, Caviar Eater, PTV, and Love Thy Trophy; Psych (2012) – Heeeeere’s Lassie. It doesn’t take a genius to see that once humor/satire is added to something horrifying, it will be seen in a new, less frightening light. While I did come to agree with them on this point, I was truly blown away by their thoughts on Wendy and her relationship with her son, Danny.
I have seen The Shining many times and have never thought of Wendy as anything, but the heroine of the piece; my Generation Zers had a very different opinion of her, to say the least. The group, including my two daughters, passionately and resoundingly agreed that Wendy was a ‘bad parent’. They felt she should have done more to help her son, Danny, BEFORE she agreed to move a vulnerable child into an isolated situation with his abuser i.e. his father. They held that Wendy should have separated from her husband, after he dislocated Danny’s shoulder in a drunken rage. Moreover, they felt that Wendy ignored her son’s need for some serious, professional help as none of them felt he was in healthy mental place. To my utter amazement, my Gen Z group were much more concerned about Danny’s emotional/mental issues surrounding his imaginary friend ‘Tony’, than the scary twins in the hallway! To them, Wendy was a negligent parent and a very stupid woman for putting herself and her son in harm’s way. The question is – are they right?
Regardless of whether or not I agree with their views on Wendy’s parenting, it was truly inspiring to hear a group of young women talking about how they would: a) never put up with an abusive man b) do anything for their son, including getting him professional help c) never, in a million years, allow themselves to be placed in a potentially dangerous situation. Listening to them, I found myself wanting to join their ‘fictional cause’ to save Danny! And maybe that is what Generation Z is all about – causes, the rights of others being protected, and the vulnerable getting their needs met? Only time will tell if they are able to take their passion and put into impactful praxis that changes lives for the better. Finally, there is one important underlying reason my focus group was not scared of The Shining – they face a terror on a daily basis that The Shining’s original audience never did: school related violence. Here are a few of their more humorous and poignant remarks on what did scare them:
- “This movie isn’t scary, possibly getting shot at school every day is.”
- “Yeah, I mean I’m extra nice to kids other kids pick on, cause when they come back to shoot up the place. I’ll be like, hey, remember me, I was chill with you . . . no need to kill me . . . and then I’d run.”
- “They tell us not to bully other kids and I want to yell at the teachers, why the hell would we do that?! Last time I checked, we want to live . . . well most of us.”
- “But, I wouldn’t want the teachers to have guns . . . I mean, what if they don’t like a kid or they have mental problems and just start shooting.”
My husband and I drop our teens off at their middle and high school buildings every morning (I know they could take the bus, but isn’t life hard enough – lol) and the one thing we make sure we say is “Love You!” – for the simple reason that those words might be the last words we ever get to say to them. This might sound overly dramatic, but believe me its not. I did my best to listen to the conversation and not interject, because I didn’t want any of them to filter their thoughts through what they thought I wanted them to say; instead, I fired up my laptop and starting making notes because there was something important about this group of seven kids conversation.
When you live with the fear of being shot to death every time you walk through the doors of your school, its going to take a lot more than a hallway of blood and creepy twins to scare you.
As hard as it was for me to hear my beautiful daughters, let alone, their friends talk about their fears, I learned a great deal. Without any prompts or help from me, these teens were able to verbalize quite plainly the reason school/mass shootings have increased – mental illness. That’s when it all started to click into place for me, they wanted to help Danny because in their minds he was the most vulnerable, and therefore, represented the biggest threat to them; this might also be the reason they found his character the most suspenseful. Their instincts about Danny and desire to help him are reflective of the kind of fears my focus group deals with everyday. Some of their solutions included: getting Danny medication, sending him to intense counseling, moving him away from his abusive father, and making sure he wasn’t bullied by anyone at school.
Generation Z might not be able to suspend disbelief, they certainly spend too much time on their phones, and they seem to have the uncanny ability to get offended by absolutely anything; still, there is a method to their madness. By obsessing over facts, staying up to date with their larger circle of influence on their phones, and getting offended on behalf of others – they have found a way to process their very real fears about being murdered during lunch. After listening to my audience’s commentary, it is easy to see why The Shining failed to terrorize – their lives are scarier than the demons dwelling at The Overlook. Continue reading