Plato on Pop

Philosophy and pop culture

Re-viewing Movies and the “Already-scene”

Why do we re-view movies and television programs?

Why do we re-view movies and television programs? When it comes to television, I'm much more likely to watch a sitcom like The Simpsons in reruns than a drama like Mad Men. And as I've gotten older I've become less and less interested in re-viewing movies. Some, like Good Will Hunting, I want to remember as I first saw and reacted to them. Others, like The Sixth Sense or The Crying Game, I just don't think I would enjoy seeing with the surprises no longer surprises.

Children, though, will often watch the same thing over and over-and then never want to watch it again. Realizing this, the creators of Blues Clues originally aired the show in a novel way. I'm told that when Blues Clues first came on the air, they would show the same episode every day for five days in a row and then do the same with a new episode each successive week. They did not stick with that approach, however. I expect the reason was not that children objected, but that parents changed the channel when they saw it was a repeat.

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Reception depends largely on expectations. Because movies and television are big business, studios and networks don't just leave it to chance that we'll find out about their latest products. And the ubiquity of some classics can push us to apathy. Consider the impact of what I call the "already scene." The quintessential example is the shower (stabbing) scene in Psycho, which everyone has seen even if they haven't seen the movie. Because most people have seen the scene before seeing the movie, it loses its power to surprise and scare.

While many children will have seen clips of Mary Poppins and The Wizard of Oz before seeing the full movies, very few will have read the books on which the movies are based. In fact, most people don't even realize that these movies are based on books. I sincerely hope the same fate does not await Harry Potter. Indeed, as the father of a seven year-old and a five-year old, it is my goal to keep them from seeing the movies until they have read the books. But Harry Potter is everywhere; my children already know who he is, and it will be very difficult to keep them from seeing the movies.

My son is also interested in Star Wars and has already seen the animated Clone Wars movie. Unlike our generation, he may actually watch the Star Wars movies in order starting with chapter one rather than, like us, with chapter four. That will surely impoverish his viewing experience. He won't get to meet Yoda for the first time on Dagobah; and it will be no surprise to him that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father. How sad.

Copyright William Irwin

William Irwin, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at King’s College in Pennsylvania.

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