Written by: Benjamin Wiebe
As the days get shorter, the television will light up the living rooms of most houses as soon as the moon makes the sky it’s home at night. For university students, midterms have become the most pressing matter. It’s a challenging time that can threaten to isolate young adults, especially when most have become tired of their roommates after months of living together. It’s in these trying times that we must find ways to connect with one another.
Film, television, and video games are perhaps the most underutilized ways of connecting with one another. The age of streaming has made each of these more individual than ever before. All of these started as communal tasks; films could only be viewed with friends and strangers in the darkened movie theatre. Television was a uniquely familial ritual, playing in living rooms for an entire family. And video games could only be accessed in an arcade, with the latest tech that showcased the high scores of anyone who played in that location. This lost culture has often been the appeal of 80’s period pieces, such as the hit Netflix series Stranger Things (2016). And yet, in the present, these activities have lost all their communal importance. Any student with a Netflix subscription can watch nearly any series from the last 20 years on their phones or laptops all by themselves. Video games have their own consoles, becoming larger and more complex than their arcade counterparts, and in the age of the internet, have largely done away with local multiplayer.
That isn’t to say that these mediums have lost the communal power they once had. The existence of Reddit forums for every game, show, and movie speaks to the contrary. Humans are social beings, and pop culture offers a way for us to interact with one another. Watching a television show enables discussion of what happened and what may happen in the next episode. Listening to a new music release allows for discussion of how each song connects to one another and the stories they tell.
Stories connect us, and pop culture is built around stories.
While these surface interactions can be found by logging into Twitter and tweeting about the new Taylor Swift release, there is something bigger that comes from talking with those around you about pop culture. Our ability to experience art together. To interpret these stories together and come to different conclusions is a beautiful thing. And yet, as accessibility to different forms of culture has massively opened, we have individualized the experience of art and forgotten the communal aspect of it all. What I am advocating for is the return of community to the local world around us from the online world.
How we choose to harness the power of art can vary, but it is fundamental that we interact with others around us. Whether it is by organizing watch parties, game nights, or movie nights, we need to remember to interact with others. The best group events I had were when I had ample time to discuss art with others. When my friends coordinated a Rocky Horror Picture Show movie night, we had a blast, despite the film’s quality. The ability to talk about the insanity of the plot, its deranged musical numbers and its greater meaning as it persists to sexuality and monogamy revealed dimensions of the film I hadn’t considered before. And most importantly, it revealed more about us and our implicit bias toward how we construct meaning out of the film.
Stories are special in transporting the audience to new worlds and allowing groups to experience different emotions simultaneously. Whether it’s a rock song, a scary movie or a hilarious party game, these pieces of art enrich our souls by taking us on new journeys that make us feel something. And when we come to the end of those journeys, what we feel will be different from one another. And that makes it such a powerful art form that is further deepened when we share our journeys with others and listen to theirs in return.
Horror films are uniquely positioned to be the most unifying films for group watches.
Fear is the most powerful human emotion, and the catharsis that comes from victory over fear brings us together. The horror genre is full of various sub-genres, containing various tones that can be accessible to everyone. It can be deathly serious, cheesy, fantastical, or deeply funny. The emotional vulnerability required for horror to connect with audiences makes us further receptive to these other emotions. This isn’t all too disconnected from why video game narratives can be so powerful. When you become a part of the story, as an active agent, you feel the emotions that the main character feels so much more seamlessly. And when you can discuss your personal journey with others that have undergone the same crucibles, you begin to see another side of others and how they relate to the world.
This month, as you consume more entertainment, think of how you can get others involved with you. While we can live and function well on our own, stories were never meant to be kept to ourselves. Whether it is watching something new or something familiar, you will find new dimensions in art and others that you never expected. And that is a beautiful thing.