Unsocial Media

Delta Winds cover 2015Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Unsocial Media

Christina Teed

In any family, there is a certain degree of dysfunction. Add in contemporary Americans' constant use of social media, and there is bound to be some separation. Henry Rubin's 2012 film Disconnect is a prime example of how our wired world can detach us from the people we are supposed to love the most.

An early scene in the film shows the Boyd family-Rich, Lydia, Abby, and Ben-going through the motions of eating dinner as a family. With his headphones constantly plugged in or around his neck, young teenager Ben is obviously passionate about music but a social outcast. His father, Rich, does not show much interest in Ben. With his cellphone glued to his ear, workaholic Rich does not give much time to anyone in his family. Ben's mother, Lydia, struggles to hold the family together. When she notices Ben texting, she asks, "Could you please not do that at the table?" Ben quickly replies, "He is," looking at his father, who also has his phone out. This scene is significant because it shows that Rich's behavior makes Ben's behavior seem acceptable. When Ben's popular older sister Abby derisively asks, "Is that your girlfriend?" a bemused Rich adds, "Girlfriend? Well, you type away." Rich completely dismisses any authority Lydia had. As the scene continues, we see the kids leave the table after hardly touching their food, and Rich receives a phone call prompting his dismissal as well. Left alone at the table is Lydia, the only one who is more concerned with her family than her phone.

Unknowingly, Ben has fallen victim to cyber bullying. The "girlfriend" he is quizzed about at the table-whom he has met through Facebook-is a fake girl created by two boys at his school. The pranksters convince Ben to send his "girlfriend" a nude photo of himself, which they soon leak to the entire school. Feeling humiliated and desperate, Ben attempts to end his life. When Abby finds him unconscious in his room, dangling in his self-constructed noose, she shows care and concern for her brother for the first time in the film.

The shock of the hanging reverberates as we next see a jolted Rich rushing into a hospital room, his wife and daughter in tears beside the bed of the still unconscious Ben. As the days pass and Ben's condition lingers, Lydia chooses to stay by her son's side. Like any devastated mother, she wants to make sure Ben is not alone when he wakes up. Similarly, Abby's grief over the tragedy has affected every aspect of her life. The lack of sympathy from her "cool" friends makes her realize how important her family is to her. When Abby spits in the face of her oblivious BFF, we know that Ben's sister has dramatically reversed her priorities.

Rich has a more complex struggle in dealing with his son's suicide attempt. Instead of staying by his son's side at the hospital, he focuses on finding out the cause of his son's act. He soon realizes that he hardly knows his son. Rich gets in contact with Ben's "girlfriend" and learns that Ben thinks Rich does not love him. This admission upsets Rich because he assumes his love for Ben is implied. Fathers love their children, yet when one does not show his love, a child may not believe he is loved. Rich never expressed any care or genuine interest in Ben, and therefore Ben assumes his father does not love him.

When the family finally sees the photo of Ben on the Internet, they realize why Ben has tried to end his life. Figuring out the cause just increases Lydia's and Abby's desire to stay by Ben's side, yet this discovery pushes Rich further away from his son as he tries to find who made Ben take the picture. When Rich does find Jason Dixon-the boy responsible-he confronts the boy's ex-cop father and the two get into a fight. Ironically, after blows have rained down upon him, Rich remembers what he cares about in life. Seeing (and feeling) another father protect his son provides this realization. Discovering Ben's motivation for ending his life is not nearly as crucial for Rich as standing by his family during the tragedy. There is some promise that Rich will change his ways when he returns to the hospital room and states, "Everything I love is in this room."

Though my family has never experienced a tragedy such as this, I see some prominent similarities between this family and my own. We seem to have an obsession with social media similar to the families in this movie. I am almost always online, as is my brother. My father is attached to his phone just as Rich is. In contrast there's my mother, who, like Lydia, would rather see us spend time as a family than socialize through a computer.

My brother and I have a relationship comparable to that of Ben and Abby. We do not get along often, and whenever we're in public we pretend to have no relation to each other. My brother is in a different social circle, and our interests-as well as our personalities-are almost polar opposites. But even though we have our differences, we still have this friendship only siblings can share, and I know that if any catastrophe were to befall him, I would be just as distraught as Abby is over Ben's fate.

My father's parallels to the character of Rich extend beyond their mutual obsessions with the phone. Both are highly successful in their professions-so much so they are almost completely absorbed by work. My relationship with my father is almost as strained as Ben's relationship with his father, yet I do know that my father does care about me. Even though he focuses most of his time on business, my father, unlike Rich, always makes sure to tell me he loves me. We do not see much of Lydia in the film, but what is obvious is her immense love for her family-exactly as my mother loves my family. These women quietly and for the most part thanklessly fight the battle every day to remind their husbands and children of the ties that should bind them.

In many movies, the families and situations feel unrealistic. Many viewers cannot relate to the stories or the characters, superheroes suavely saving the world against impossible odds in the company of their eye-candy, size-zero supermodel girlfriends. Disconnect is a refreshing change that captures the lives of families in this media-obsessed world. It shows that in a world so connected through online media, a family member can still be detached and alone. This movie teaches us to put down the cell phone and talk to the people who need us the most.