Quite recently, I watched the movie Men, Women, and Children, a film released in theaters late last year. Based on a novel of the same name authored by Chad Kultgen, the comedy-drama stars notable actors such as Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Dean Norris, and newcomer Ansel Elgort. The trailer can be seen here.
The film revolves around certain high school teenagers, their parents, and how they each deal with the Internet effects on their interpersonal connections and relationships, including parenting, love and marriage, self-esteem or image, etc. Various social media platforms are referenced, like Facebook, Tumblr, online dating/escort sites, iMessage/texting, etc. Throughout the movie, these Internet outlets play a significant role in the issues that arise for, and between, the characters. Overall, the film acts as a sort of social commentary on the effects and consequences the Internet-permeated age of today has on personal relationships within society. This idea certainly falls in line with the running theme of Nancy Baym’s Personal Connections in the Digital Age.
In particular, various aspects of the film reminded me of the concept of moral panic that Baym defines and analyzes within her discussion of the Social Construction of Technology perspective. As the film focuses on teenagers’ personal use and development alongside these Internet platforms, all with the parents being involved with some level of concern, it relates to the whole idea of moral panic that Baym describes. She specifies that these rhetorics of the dangers of new technological media focus on the well being of children, especially teenage girls. In Men, Women, and Children, Jennifer Garner plays a highly protective mother, Patricia, who pays insanely close attention to her teenage daughter’s Internet use. Patricia checks her daughter’s Internet history frequently, GPS tracks her daughter, and even goes so far as to install a device that connects her daughter’s mobile Internet and data use to her own personal phone that relays everything that goes through her daughter’s phone. Lastly, Patricia leads a support group for other parents in the community that advises other parents how to monitor the Internet use of their children. I related this storyline in this movie as a visual example of that “moral panic” that Baym describes. Patricia symbolizes the anxieties that, in Baym’s words, can come with these uncontrollable social forces that become the focus of efforts to understand a cultural trend (Baym, 31). Much more in the movie seems to be relevant to many of the concepts we will study in this class, so it’ll be interesting to see how it might continue to act as an example as we continue to go along through this quarter!