Column, Movie Diary

The Movie Diary: The final frontier

 I love the United States. I feel lucky to live in this country and be afforded the liberties and opportunities made available to me here. We’re not perfect, by any measure, but I think we’ve done far more good in the world than bad. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m a little concerned about our future. 

One of the reasons I’m concerned is based on the distressing attitude of America’s youngest generations. Sure, many young professionals are more forward-thinking with positive attitudes toward technology, social issues, and the environment, but it feels like the majority are more comfortable staring into their iPhone or Xbox than grappling with the challenges of life. (Boy, do I sound like a Boomer!)

In generations past, the U.S. youth sought to enter diverse and compelling careers that helped weave the fabric of the American dream. For instance, in the early days of America, most children aspired to become explorers like Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, or Lewis and Clark. These adventurers were celebrated for their daring journeys to new lands and discoveries, and the children who looked up to them became the frontiersmen, pioneers, and cowboys who opened up the heart of America. 

And then came the dream of the soldier. Throughout U.S. history (particularly during times of war or conflict), many children aspired to become soldiers, fighting for their country and defending its ideals. This ambition was especially prevalent during the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.

With the rise of industrialization and technological innovation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many children aspired to become inventors or entrepreneurs like Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, or Henry Ford. These individuals were admired for their creativity, ingenuity, and contributions to society and the children who emulated them became the future inventors and businessmen who propelled the U.S. economy to a world superpower.

During the “Space Race” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, many U.S. children dreamed of becoming astronauts looking to explore outer space and all the questions therein. The Apollo moon landing missions in the 1960s inspired a generation of young Americans to reach for the stars with careers in aviation, tech, and the armed services. 

But now, things are different.

Today, the entertainment industry holds significant appeal for many U.S. kids. Careers in acting, music, dance, and visual arts are the most popular aspirations, fueled by exposure to the internet via multiple social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok. In fact, the most cited career ambition of young Americans today is “influencer.”

And therein lies my problem.

While the U.S. is being co-opted by narcissistic tendencies fueled by social media, other countries’ children are battling for real occupations that have substance and meaning.

For instance, in India, children often aspire to become doctors, engineers, scientists, or civil servants. These occupations are highly regarded for their potential to bring social status, financial stability, and opportunities for upward mobility.

These same aspirations hold true in Nigeria and many other African nations. But do Nigerian children want to become influencers? Maybe a few. But the majority are undoubtedly looking for ways to improve their social standing with occupations that help their families instead of feeding their egos. 

Most distressing, however, is China, where children commonly dream of becoming scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. But their most aspirational occupation is that of an astronaut. These ambitions reflect China’s emphasis on academic excellence, technological innovation, and economic development (and world dominance if you read the fine print). 

U.S. kids want to be influencers; China’s kids want to be astronauts. I don’t like where this trend is heading…

In this week’s feature, “Spaceman,” starring Adam Sandler (in a particularly serious role), we meet an astronaut drifting deep into the solar system to investigate a mysterious event. Oddly, his solitary journey is disrupted when he encounters an alien being onboard his spacecraft. Instead of inciting fear, however, the being forces the astronaut to contemplate his life. 

This film is an interesting, almost meditative journey into one man’s struggle to understand who he is and why he’s made certain decisions in his life. It’s less sci-fi and more psychological thriller at its core, so consider that before jumping in.

A stellar “B” for “Spaceman,” now available to stream on Netflix.

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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