22 June 2009
When A Text Is More Than Just A Text
I was in the basement the other night, half watching a movie, when the Resident Diva came downstairs with a couple of friends. Since it has taken the Diva, who is a new high school graduate, a while to find a summer job, we have seen more of her around the house lately than we have all year.
She has the usual teenage aversion to being around adults whenever her friends are here, which means that she normally expects us to disappear to somewhere upstairs. But I was watching Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins - even though I've seen the movie three or four times, there is something about it that makes me want to see my favorite parts over and over.
So the three girls plopped down on the sectional and proceeded to try to display through their body language that they were ready to watch the DVD they'd brought with them. I'd just gotten comfortable, though, and it was a long walk back upstairs, so I wasn't looking to move right away. After a few minutes, the Resident Diva started to pay attention to the movie, laughing at a couple of the funny parts at the beginning.
"How much longer is this?" The girl sitting closest to me, one of the Diva's longtime friends, had brought a couple of sheets of poster board with her. She was making a poster for her boyfriend to hand in his room. Her younger sister was sitting next to her, intently watching the TV screen, as if she was trying to decipher what the Resident Diva and I could possibly see that was funny about the way Mike Epps was acting when he suddenly appeared.
After a few more minutes, the Diva was bored. A conversation started between the three girls. I let them know that I'd seen the movie before, and was just planning to watch until the fight scene between Martin Lawrence and Mo'nique was over.
The girls' conversation started to veer into the mundane aspects of summer and their anticipation of what college life would be like. The girl nearest me volunteered a random tidbit - her father, she said, had been at home the last two days. She turned to her sister to say something and they began to speak in rapid fire Farsi. "Can we watch the DVD now?" came out of the older sisters mouth so fast it was hard for me to answer, because I was still taking in the exchange between the two siblings.
It didn't hit me until later, after I'd left them to watch the horror movie they'd rented, that there was a reason the sisters' father had been at home for the last few days. He was a scientist of sorts, with two PhD's in some area of environmental engineering. An Iranian expatriate, he had a regal bearing, and was very circumspect about his work, so being at home for two days just didn't fit his usual M.O.
Even though he'd left Iran at eighteen to go to school here in America, it didn't take long when you talked to him to understand that he was more of an expatriate than an American citizen, even after twenty odd years stateside. He spoke often and lovingly of his childhood, and the businesses and positions of influence his relatives had back in Iran.
His teen aged daughters, despite regular visits to Iran, were as American as they come. Thinking about it later, I didn't believe these girls fully comprehended what the civil unrest in Iran meant for their aunts, uncles and cousins - their family.
It was at the part of the movie where L.A. talk show host R.J., whose real name was Roscoe Jenkins, drove down the dirt road to the Jenkins family homestead back in a small town in Georgia that the girls' cell phones started beeping, buzzing, and issuing otherworldy melodies. Then the familiar tap tap tap of fingernails against hard plastic sound began, as if they were creating additional background music to add to the movie soundtrack.
There were giggles. Laughs. And the occasional "oooh" that was a surefire conversation starter between the three of them as they stared at the little screens on their phones, taking in the latest update about who was dating who, who was not dating who anymore, who was cute, who was boring - the normal things American teenagers fill their free time doing.
I thought of this today while I read about the way the Iranians who were protesting their election were communicating with the world, risking their very lives to tap out messages that would go around the world in a few seconds, courageous messages that were about body counts and illegal police actions, to let their family and friends abroad know what was really going on in their country. These were more than just text messages. These were declarations of independence.
It is hard to believe that text messaging, a service that I alternately see as either an aggravating, impersonal, or incomplete way to communicate, depending on my mood, can have gone from being the latest social phenomenon to becoming a critical political tool so quickly.
We watched the movie - me with joy, the girls with an increasing sense of resignation - all the way until the fight scene between R.J. and his cousin Clyde was about to begin. By the time I had collected my empty glass and checked the doors, the Diva had deftly inserted the DVD of the scary movie they wanted to watch in the player so fast the opening credits were already running across the screen by the time I was ready to head upstairs.
I left the three of them down there, safe and secure, tapping away at their phones to their friends while they settled in to watch manufactured horror, the red light of the alarm system glowing from above as if it it were an actual sentry whose job it was to watch over them.