So among the things we got for my daughter for Christmas was the boardgame Zathura, based on the film and book of the same name. She and I saw the film earlier in December, and she really enjoyed it. The concept of a game turning into a reality from which one could only escape by playing the game to its conclusion both fascinates and disturbs her: she’s been asking me various questions about the film’s narrative to try and sort this out.
So perhaps I wasn’t thinking too clearly getting her the game. When she unwrapped it and saw what it was, she recoiled as if it were a poisonous snake. I said, “Maybe we could play it later”, she looked at me, wide-eyed. “No, no, NO!”
Later in the day, though, she brought me two of the pieces. “Maybe we could just look at the board?” she asked. I said, “Sure, let’s look at the rules and maybe we’ll see about playing.”
“Not TODAY,” she said. Why not? I asked. You don’t think the game is actually like the one in the movie, right? No, probably not, she conceded. So why not play with it today.
“Because it’s CHRISTMAS, I don’t want to take the chance that it will send us into space today. Some other day, maybe.”
And it doesn’t happen only to young children.
I saw Rosemary’s Baby when it was first released. I was in my middle to late teens. I knew perfectly well that devils did not exist in this world, much less could they mate with human females so that the women could give birth to devil children. But somehow that movie got past my rational defense lines and creeped me out. Totally.
That is cuter than all get out.
Somebody got someone from my office this game for secret santa. There ought to be a word for a useless item that is acceptable as a gift, but no one in there right mind would buy for themselves.
So, what’s going on? Don’t really know, but did a little thinking.
At some point in our lives we learn to “index” experiences to the “frames” in which we have those experiences. Beyond that, we begin to figure out how the various frames — real life, movies, TV news, game shows, etc. — are related to one another. [And a few of us go on to get advanced degrees and then this whole system falls apart. But that’s another matter.]
But this frame business is not very well developed in young children. What your daughter knows about the movies is that she’s never seen anyone or anything leave the movie-screen and come into the audience, nor has she ever seen anyone leave the audience and walk into the movie world. She’s never seen any of that. Further, when she’s at the movies, she’s with mommy and or daddy, who therefor make the movie theater a safe zone.
But things are different at home when she unwraps a present and all of a sudden she see’s something that existed in movieland when she first saw it. But it’s not in movieland any more. It’s escaped and is right HERE NOW in her home. As long as she was in the theater that physical setting and the whole ritual of going there protected her. All that stuff WAS her MOVIE FRAME. Without that physical and social stuff, her movie frame is very fragile. So maybe that Zathura game she just opened might be real. In any event, no point in taking chances. Not on Christmas.
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Why’d all those people believe the Orson Welles War of the World’s broadcast? They missed the frame.
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Goffman discusses this sort of thing in Frame Analysis.
Tangentially related anecdote: One Christmas as a child, my wife asked her parents for a “magic wand.” They couldn’t get any other suggestions for gifts out of her because, by her logic, if she had a magic wand she could simply create anything else she wanted. My in-laws found some kind of baton and wrapped it up for her, but I’m told there were many tears when she discovered that the wand was “broken.” I also believe that there is home video of her hitting the family dog with the wand … to turn it into a pony, of course.