In May a pair of second graders asked me if I would copy off coloring sheets for them of something called Five Nights at Freddy’s. Thinking it must be the latest Disney movie, I agreed. When I summoned up the images of the Freddie characters on my HP crystal ball, however, there was something not quite mermaids and Spongebobs about it. These anti-muppets had big chompy teeth and bulbous eyes that caused the thought “Hannibal Lecter Teddy Bear” to flicker across my frontal lobe. When I did a bit of research I discovered that Freddy’s is a game played online where kids are lured into the back of a restaurant and murdered, their bodies stashed inside robots. People start catching on to this plot when blood starts coming out of the robots’ eyes. Apparently it’s all the rage. So why was I reminded of the Ray Bradbury story, The Veldt? (pictured above).
I was in a restaurant with small children recently. They were wiggly and squiggly. They spilled things. They didn’t eat. They squealed. Their parents were patient, used calm voices, tried diversions. They had brought some small toys anticipating the problem. Arms, legs and fried rice continued to flail. I managed to have a conversation for a few seconds and when I glanced back at the kids and they were quite suddenly still, silent, powered down, perfect cherubs. Did the grownups slip them a mickey? No, they slipped them cartoons on their cell phones. Sweet, innocent, happy cartoons but Wow. Kids on. Kids off. The Dad gave me an apologetic look that said “desperate times call for desperate measures.”
Was I so easily placated in the 60s watching Captain Kangaroo and Johnny Quest? Did my parents feel a tinge of guilt that our fascination with moving images was allowing them a minute to get a shower or cook breakfast? Yet the look of unmitigated calm on those kids faces brought back memories of The Veldt.
I recently was at a “cabin” in the Smokies with my grandchildren. The view was stunning and the accommodations lavish. With a pool table, a jacuzzi, hot tub, and two big screen TVs the boys hardly had to bother with nature, dirt, frogs, chiggers, rocks or poison oak. I watched the three of them like little sausages on the couch with the mammoth rectangular glow from “That 70’s Show” on their faces and could not help but flash on that techno-psycho nursery in The Veldt. So I re-read the story, where else but online.
I’m not suggesting that kids today are more brainwashed or violent or spoiled than I was but I can’t help but be a little spooked by Bradbury who in 1950, well before computers, iphones and TV screens the size of bed sheets were common, envisioned a room where children could simply imagine an environment and it would be realized complete with sounds and “odorophonics”. In the story, the “telepathic emanations” of the kids’ minds begin to veer from the parent approved Aladdin, Dr. Doolittle and Alice in Wonderland to the African Veldt, a place of savagery, blood and death. By the time the parents realize that their “Happylife Home” which does every mundane task for the family has become “wife, mother and nursemaid” and that the children don’t really need them … well I won’t spoil it but it does not end well. Science fiction, besides being entertaining causes us to think outside the digital screen. It makes us wonder what could happen or even what is happening while we’ve been busy chillin’ at Freddy’s.
– Margaret Baker. Hashtag #91, July 2017.