“Hello, friends, family, and, of course, film students. I’m so pleased you could all make it. I’m Dr. Hammond, head of the film department. Welcome to our end-of-the-year awards ceremony highlighting our best pieces of the year. I know your time is valuable so we’re going to get straight to it.”
My brother was right: this was a fairly slow-moving ceremony. A clip from each film that won an award was shown after the honor it won was announced. The short clips were too short to get into and yet long enough to drag on. I pulled out my phone and texted Hayden.
Can it be used in a sporting competition? It was my turn to ask and I was pretty sure I had narrowed down his answer to Twenty Questions to a few different options. It wasn’t a person, it wasn’t a place, it didn’t breathe, it could be carried.
It took his phone a second to vibrate, and when he pulled it out and read my question, he smiled.
His fingers moved over his screen typing for way longer than it took to write a simple yes or no. I squeezed his knee and he chuckled. Sure enough, when his answer came back, it was an analysis of my question.
Sporting competition is such a general term. Do you mean only a sporting competition? Or do you mean that one of its uses can be in a sporting competition?
Do people like to play games with you? Or is it pretty much a one-time occurrence and then they learn their lesson?
Is that one of your questions? Because that would make eighteen. Also, seeing as how this is the second time you’ve played this game with me, you tell me.
Bec elbowed me in the side and I looked up to see my brother’s name on the big screen with the title of his piece: Reprogramming a Generation.
“This next piece,” Dr. Hammond said, “is one of my very favorites. The insight and perspective that Drew shows us is raw, honest, and real. And because of those things, along with the documentation process itself, Drew has won the ultimate award this year: overall best piece. Congratulations, Drew. I wish we could see the whole film today because there is so much there, but that’s impossible. So let us take a short look at your video and then please come up and accept your award.”
On the screen, my brother’s name and the title of the piece faded, replaced by the UCLA campus. Students were walking to class, the halls were full, and the camera kept zooming in on people on their phones. Then the scene changed to one I recognized immediately, our house. Drew’s voice came on.
“How is selfworth measured today? By the amount of likes a post gets, by how many friends we collect, by how many retweets we accumulate? Do we even know what we really think until we post our thoughts online and let others tell us if they are worthy?” While he was speaking, the camera moved slowly down the hall. My face had gone numb because I knew where he was going. I remembered that camera glued to his face over his last year of visits home.
“G, what are you doing?” he asked.
I was sitting on the couch, my phone out. He asked again. The part he wasn’t showing on film was the four times he’d asked me that same question and I answered him. Now he was showing the time where I was ignoring him because he had officially gone past the annoying stage.
“G, what are you doing?”
Finally my on-screen face looked up. “I’m checking our pic that I posted to Instagram.”
“How many likes has it gotten?”
My on-screen version smiled then and my real-life self looked down. “Only fifteen. If it doesn’t get more, I’m deleting it.”
Drew laughed. “Hey, I’m going to make a video of this for my class, okay?”
“Like a Vine or something?”
“No, just for a project.”
“This would be the most boring video ever.”
The audience laughed.
Bec growled next to me. “I’m having an immature brain again.”
“Me too,” Hayden said, and squeezed my arm.
“I’m fine,” I whispered, trying to make that declaration true.
The film kept going, though, and I wanted it to stop so badly. Now it was just Drew, which was better, walking down the hall again a little later in the day. “If I posted a picture of a tree I’d seen fall in the woods and nobody ‘liked’ it, would I start to question if it really happened?”
“Real original,” Bec muttered.
Now Drew was in the kitchen, where my mom was on the computer probably checking out real estate and my dad was on his phone probably playing a game to relax. Next Drew held his phone in front of the camera, where it showed a text from my mom that said, Come down for dinner.
“Did you text me about dinner, Mom?”
She looked up and smiled uncomfortably at his camera. “Yes, it’s ready. Go get your sister.”
I didn’t want him to get me because I knew what happened next. I was hoping this was a time, like in all the other films we’d seen tonight, that it stopped in the middle of a scene. But I wasn’t so lucky. My on-screen self was now in my room.
“Dinner, G,” Drew said. This time I was on my laptop. I had been doing homework but he didn’t show that part. “How many likes now?”
“Forty likes, five retweets.”
“So that must mean it’s good.”
“Yep.” I shut my laptop and stood, smiling at him and the camera. “Your face is likable, I guess. Who knew?”
“Good thing your friends told us that or we’d have never known.” I knew he was being sarcastic that day and I was sarcastic right back when I said, “So true.” But it only proved the point his film was trying to make. That’s when the screen went black. That’s when Drew stood up and walked to the podium. He had a confident smile on his face.
“Thank you for this great honor,” he said, holding the small plaque that his teacher had handed to him. “And I hope my friends are tweeting this, otherwise it didn’t really happen, right?” He pointed to a couple of guys in the front row and the audience laughed. “I too wish more of this film could’ve been shown tonight because toward the end I show the darker side to this addiction of the need for validation. And a lot of the times the people we crave this validation from are complete strangers. It doesn’t matter who is telling us they like something. It’s just the amount of people telling us that. So if I get a hundred likes for this later on Instagram, then I’ll know it’s special.” He held up the plaque. “If I get two, it must be worthless. What is this addiction creating? And is it too late to undo the damage?”