Film Friday: Screenagers

Why? Why, out of all the documentaries, is this the one that La Chat parents are freaking out about?

I mean, this is…

This has to be the worst documentary I’ve ever seen.

Screenagers (2016) is a new documentary concerned about teenagers and their relationships to, well… screens. It has also aroused a gaggle of concerned parents into a battalion bent on restricting screen usage in La Chat – especially amongst the Year 7-9s.

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Those awards look impressive, but they’re only saying this documentary was shown at these unknown film festivals. Source: Chapelboro

So… How does the documentary hold up?

Short answer: It’s amateurish. Long answer:

Screenagers is the brainchild of Dr. Delaney Ruston, who conceived of the film when her 13 year old daughter asked for a smartphone. The documentary then dives into a variety of issues, including young girl’s mental health and sexting, violent video games, the effect of screens on attention at school, internet addiction and –

And that’s the first problem: the documentary – which is only 67 minutes long – tries to cover too many topics, thereby rendering all of them underdeveloped and victim to either laughably biased or, in some cases, outright false information.

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Familiarize yourself with these logical fallacies. You’ll need them.

For example, when diving into the segment regarding video games, Screenagers briefly covers the question of whether violent video games cause real-life violence. While, in all fairness, Dr. Ruston does mention that academic opinion is split on this issue, she backs up the side of violent video games cause violence via anecdotes (a logical fallacy), Texas Sharpshooters (another logical fallacy) and the opinions of Jack Thompson – an anti-video game attorney who was disbarred for giving the court false statements. Ruston brings up a specific case, a bill in US Congress that attempted to restrict the sale of violent video games to children. Ruston points out the video game industry rallied against the bill, raising “more money than the NRA” (she never explains what this means) and successfully blocked it. By doing this, this event comes off as one plucky Senator fighting off the ‘Big Video Game’ industry – never mind the bill in question was largely criticized for being unconstitutional and a flagrant violation of free speech, but hey.

However, before any form of rebuttal can even be thought of, the topic is quickly changed to young girl’s interaction with social media and the toxic effect it can have on them. This is where the documentary’s strongest – and weakest – point lies. It relies heavily on the testimony of teenagers themselves. This is unique, allowing a more personal outlook on the issue, with the people involved in it – teenagers – giving their opinion on it. However, this also proves a problem, as it means most of the examples brought up in the documentary – the ones the various La Chat parents are freaking out about – are represented as systemic problems when they are more than likely isolated anecdotes.

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The anecdotal fallacy: an unfortunately common one. Source: eVille Times

However, logical fallacies are nothing in comparison with outright falsehoods. At one point, child psychologist Laura Kastner states: “the idea of teenagers being overworked is a myth. If anything they’re not working enough.” That’s quite the statement, considering almost every other piece of information relating to this topic  says otherwise. While, yes, technically students today aren’t performing as many scheduled extracurricular activities as before, the rigor of educational courses has increased, resulting in more time and emphasis spent on studying and exams – and an increase in mental health issues.

The personal style of the documentary extends beyond the stories and into the editing. It feels intimate, homemade, like a person you know edited it. In other words, it’s terrible. The documentary relies heavily on famous, popular songs, opening with ‘Radioactive’ by Imagine Dragons. The problem arises with the editors not quite knowing how to properly edit footage to coincide with the music, resulting in an awkward opening montage featuring stock footage of attractive but non-threatening teenagers doing outdoor activities in slow-motion.

Continuing this weird style, inexplicably, during several interviews in Screenagers, the shot would randomly change mid-sentence to a shot of the interviewee’s feet. In one case, three young teenage girls were talking to the camera when a shot of their sandalled feet exploded on the screen. It seems as if the director tried to liven up the interviews by cutting to something else, but only had shots of the subject’s feet.

 

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Literally the director while creating the soundtrack.

Screenagers, either due to negligence or malevolent intention, will often commit the ‘Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy’ during its information heavy sections. The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy is a logical fallacy wherein a party uses real information, but presents it in isolation of other contextual information necessary to paint a bigger picture (it gets its name from a story wherein a man in Texas fires a gun wildly at a house, and then draws a Bullseye around where most of the bullets landed, making it appear like he is a good shot).

For example, one interview features a young man who battled screen addiction, with his father mentioning that before he left for University, he was a hardworking student whose GPA never dropped below a 3.95 (basically a straight 7 student). However, while the fact that he developed a screen addiction is heartbreaking, it ignores the fact that this young man featured telltale signs of an anxiety disorder – namely, hardworking, grades-oriented, and fear of failing his parents. Typically, most screen addictions tend to be the result of anxiety disorders and, but rather than address the root cause of the man’s mental health issue, Screenagers would rather cast the blame on the nebulous terror of ‘screens’.

However, by far the most offensive and insulting part of Screenagers is the credit sequence. Offensive because it features what sounds like a middle-aged white man rapping about how being on your phone makes you “look like a fool” – an act which offends anyone with functioning ears.

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As the guy who reviewed Straight Outta Compton, I can assure you that white people ruin everything. Source: Living

This… Of all the documentaries, this is the one parents are describing as “an eye-opener” with “lots to think about”? Granted, it is an eye-opener – into how easily audiences can be manipulated by logical fallacies – and it does give us “lots to think about” – such as how to approach a hot-topic in a non-hysterical fashion.

Despite my criticisms, Screenagers is well-intentioned and creative in its approach in primarily interviewing teenagers rather than adults who ‘know better’. However, these do not make up for its numerous, amateurish flaws.

Screenagers gets a 2.5/7

Let us know what you thought about it in the comment section below!