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The Revolution Will Be Handheld

My daughter’s world revolves around whatever small screen she happens to be holding in her hand. Until recently, this seemed to me a sign of the coming apocalypse.

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Yes, the major studios dump badly recycled garbage on us every summer (everyone involved in Adam Sandler’s recent That’s My Boy should be tried in The Hague). The difference now, though, is that this level of crappy disposable cultural production is where it deserves to have landed all along – where my daughter and I can take it or leave it. Buy the headphones on the plane or not. Watch the middle third months later on cable while we’re folding clothes or not. The choice is now wholly ours.

My daughter can personally regulate the culture she consumes from the electronic rock in her hand -- she can join the cultural conversation herself at a level frighteningly close to that of the professionals.

I’ve been writing films for years, and in the seven years since I started teaching filmmaking, I’ve seen the cost of indie film production reduce precipitously. Seven years ago it was common to see a student spend $30,000 on a twenty-minute film and not uncommon for them to spend $60,000. Today my teenager cuts a video for a school project on iMovie as casually as she texts her friends. I tell her how Lena Dunham began with YouTube shorts in college that blossomed into her micro-budget features, Dealing and Tiny Furniture, before her explosion onto HBO with Girls.

My daughter just nods. She’s not amazed. For her, that revolution has already been won. Why should she waste her time feeling nostalgic for success on the big screen when she’s got a brave new universe in the palm of her hand?

Trey Ellis is a novelist, screenwriter, playwright and Associate Professor at Columbia University’s School of the Arts.

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