My younger son turns seven in about a month, and the other day I realized that I was about that age when I realized just how important stories were to me.
My parents left me to stay with friends of the family for an afternoon; I have no memory why. But while I was there, I started watching the TV show, Lassie. In the episode, someone is diving in a local pond for some reason, with full diving gear. Timmy, the human main character, finds tracks from swim fins and assumes there’s a monster in the pond. At the climax, the diver gets trapped underwater (I think a rock fell on his leg), and his air is running out.
And that’s when my parents showed up.
I desperately wanted to see how the show came out. I mean, desperately. So much so that forty years later, I can still remember how badly I wanted it. They, however, wanted to go home, no doubt so my dad could sneak a drink and my mom could look the other way, and even the five-minute delay to finish a thirty-minute TV show was too much to ask. And I vividly recall what my dad said as he pulled me out the door.
“Don’t worry, Lassie’ll save him.”
Really? A dog will dive down and move the rock? And you’re not letting me see this?
Of course, my dad could care less. It was just a TV show to him. And in a way, he was right. Certainly it wasn’t any great shakes as drama, and there was absolutely no doubt that the diver would, in fact, be okay. Most likely Lassie summoned help, rather than doing the actual heavy lifting. She was, after all, a dog.
But that was my first experience with dramatics interreptus. Premature climax, if you like. And even back then, just as now, it was important to me. And I’ve tried to never do that to my own kids, although sometimes it’s difficult, since so much of their media (i.e., Minecraft) is open-ended.
But there’s a larger point to this as well: art matters. All art. When someone’s watching, or reading, or listening, that act deserves respect (I’ve written about this before, too). Interrupting it because it’s “just” watching, or reading, or listening, cheapens not only everyone involved, but our society. If we can’t have respect for things like this, then we’re backsliding as a civilization. We’re prioritizing primitive activities like sex, violence, revenge, brutality, hatred, and avarice.
And it might already be too late.