Last week, the New York Post ran an article with a headline that claimed, “Millennials don’t really care about classic movies.” Another one for the ever-growing “Millennials are killing _____” collection. However, as I read the article, a few things about the data struck me as sloppy and/or shallow, so I decided that a longer response was in order.
The data seems to be generated by a DVD retailer, a red light if there ever was one. It claims that it used a pool of 1,000 Millennials and 1,000 people 50 years old or older to generate its data.
Where is Gen X?
The article covers Millennials (the age range varies but it’s generally people born around 1980, give or take several years) and people 50 years old and over (born 1967 or before). So, um, where are the people born between 1968 and 1979, a large share of Gen X? Do they not watch movies? Or were they left out to make the gap between Millennials and Boomers look larger? Any way you look at it, it’s sloppy.
The article starts with this stunning pronouncement:
A new study finds that less than a quarter of millennials have watched a film from start to finish that was made back in the 1940s or 50s and only a third have seen one from the 1960s.
Is an online poll a study? Oh well, I guess we shouldn’t get caught up in semantics. The article does not tell us how many people over 50 have seen a complete film from the 1940s or 1950s.
Next, we get this very confusing paragraph:
Thirty percent of young people also admit to never having watched a black and white film all the way through – as opposed to 85 percent of those over 50 – with 20 percent branding the films “boring.”
I think they mean that 70% of the Millennials have seen a black and white film, while 85% of the over 50 group have. But what it looks like is that 85% over-fifties have never seen a black and white movie. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Sloppy, sloppy.
Why it’s deceptive
Let’s talk about black and white films. Color movies have been available since the earliest days of the silent era but black and white was the usual choice for the so-called Golden Age of talkies. If a film was in color, it was for a reason as color productions were significantly more expensive.
That difference faded away but major black and white productions were still released into the 1960s. (Nowadays, the dynamic has flipped and the majority of films are in color with black and white being considered a creative decision.)
The point? People born in 1967 and before would have been alive when black and white pictures were mainstream. So stop acting like it’s so remarkable that they have seen these films. THEY WERE THERE THE FIRST TIME.
Two can play at this unscientific poll game. I asked Millennials to participate in a Twitter poll and tell me the approximate age of the oldest movie they have seen from beginning to end:
You may note that 75% of the respondents in this HIGHLY academic study said that they have seen a silent movie from beginning to end. Put that in your smug Boomer pipe and smoke it.
MILLENNIALS RESCUING SILENT FILM, OVERWHELMINGLY WATCH PRE-SOUND FILM
In order to illustrate that the Big Bad Millennials aren’t watching old movies, the article published two lists of the movies most of the kids and over-fifties had seen:
Um, the over-fifties only have one black and white film on their list and It’s a Wonderful Life is a bit of an outlier as it enjoys status as a holiday tradition among its fans. I know plenty of people who watch it who wouldn’t otherwise touch TCM with a plastic fishing rod.
PEOPLE LIKE MOVIES THAT WERE FIRST RELEASED WHEN THEY WERE IN THEIR TEENS AND TWENTIES, PLUS, LIKE, TWO OR THREE OTHERS.
Time marches on…
We are now as far away from the 1950s as people of the 1950s were from the earliest days of projected cinema. Yet we would find it ridiculous to read complaints about how those whippersnapper beatniks aren’t watching enough Melies or why girls in poodle skirts aren’t listening to more Tin Pan Alley music.
As we move further and further away from the original context of pop culture, appreciation for that pop culture becomes less about nostalgia and more about antique appreciation. We don’t have to have lived through the Victorian era to admire the workmanship of fine porcelain tea sets from the era. We don’t have to have survived the First World War to appreciate the brilliant serials of Feuillade. See the connection?
Very few of the original stars of the 1930s and 1940s survive today and soon that era will join silent films as orphaned pop culture. The people who champion it will not be veterans of the industry or fans who saw the films when they were new. It will be up to the next generation to carry on.
Millennials are the Future. Sorry.
Do some young people turn their noses up at “old” movies? Certainly. But I’ll tell you this: the nastiest, most dismissive remarks about silent film that I have personally heard all came from people in their 50s-80s. Most people in their teens, twenties and thirties have been willing to sit down and at least watch a Chaplin, Melies or Hal Roach picture.
We need fans of all ages, younger ones for their fresh perspective and older ones for their enormous knowledge. Frankly, I have heard younger silent film fans dismissed as “hipsters” and seen them chased away from online discussions. That sort of thing makes me incredibly angry because where would these older fans be if a parent, grandparent, family friend or fellow movie buff hadn’t helped them? Obviously, the vast majority of older silent fans are lovely and welcoming but we must acknowledge that there are some who don’t want kids in their tree fort.
The Post article is incredibly silly and lacks even basic logic but, in a topsy-turvy way, it does show the need to welcome younger viewers and support their curiosity. They’ll be keeping silent and classic films alive for the next generation.
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