To my dearest children, on the occasion of the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”:
Like most parents today, I am dedicated to your general bliss, encouraged to support your choices and desires. To this end, I have endured many hours of “Caillou,” several increasingly inane Chipmunk movies, and a limited number of episodes of “Dance Moms.”
And yet, after all of that, you refuse to accompany me to “Star Wars.”
Seriously: I am the only person in the family who’s remotely excited about AARP Han Solo, or rusty R2D2, or an orange droid and some other intergalactic people. I’ve tried not to spoil myself too much, as I am holding out hope that I can get you to sit beside me in a darkened theater for 136 minutes, bribed with Milk Duds and Dots.
But you claim not to care about Dots. I guess the dentist finally got to you. And yes, I understand that you’re not sci-fi people. I’m the only one in the family who got physically upset over Cylon unveilings on “Battlestar Galactica,” and who once — OK, maybe more than once — set up a small shrine to Jean-Luc Picard.
But here’s the tragedy of modern parenting: It’s a lot harder now to impose culture by force. Long, long ago, in the days before texting, and even the Walkman, our family car trips had an implicit rule: The parents controlled the radio. The children endured. Or slept, allowing unwanted music to slip in by osmosis. This is how I know, and cannot unlearn, the lyrics to every 1950s doo-wop song.
Today, it’s all earbuds and Beats by Dre, choices and personalization. If the TV is occupied, you move to the nearest computer. Our Netflix account has separate profiles for each user, to block you from stumbling on “Bojack Horseman,” yes, but also to shield your delicate eyes from whatever you don’t feel like seeing. You can ignore the meager offerings on our 743 cable channels, and proceed directly to the Disney Channel On Demand in order to watch the same episode of “Austin and Ally” for the 34th time. That, you say, is interesting. “Star Wars”? You’ve declared that you won’t like it.
I was 4 when I first saw “Star Wars: A New Hope.” My dad didn’t ask me whether I wanted to go, or wonder if my future would be marred by the sight of a light saber. I just tagged along and drank it in, the droids and the Stormtroopers and Darth Vader’s heavy breathing.
It was strange and sometimes dark, and the only princess in sight had really weird hair. But it was general culture that everybody shared — and so I mulled it over and played with the action figures and toy TIE fighters, never thinking to ask for a pink version of the Millennium Falcon or a Star Wars Friends Wookiee Styling Salon.
I’ve made this cultural literacy argument to you, explained that it’s useful to know what other kids are talking about — the same way that it will behoove you to understand what the Patriots are doing (as much as that’s knowable), the same way it does me good to know the basics of Minecraft and to keep up with the romantic life of Taylor Swift.
I’ve even tried force, a little. On a car ride several years ago, when you couldn’t escape, we set up your uncle’s laptop and started screening “A New Hope.”
I remember what one of you said, at the time: “Oh, so that’s Darth Vader.” I felt a jolt of triumph.
Then you started whining and we shut it off.
Parents today are wimps.