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Three Things This Week
1. Happy Fortnite-ween!
What it is: Fortnite’s annual Halloween tradition of a “Fortnitemares” mode went live on October 21 and will be available in the game until November 3.
Why it’s extra spooky: Fortnite typically pulls out all the stops for their holiday-themed skins and gameplay. Zombies and a giant monster were big hits of past spooky seasons. This year’s special mode includes the option to hunt other players as a killer ghost, which adds an interesting wrinkle to the gameplay (do you really want to have a shootout with a player who might return to invisibly sabotage the rest of your game session?). And if your teen is opting out of in-person costume parties, you may find him or her on Fortnite, wearing spooky-skin on their avatar and being entertained by reggae artist J Balvin’s live Halloween-themed in-game concert.
2. The Big Pandemic Lesson Won’t Come from Remote Learning
What it is: In mid-July, the Pew Research Center surveyed 10,211 American adults across different age groups to see if they believed there was a lesson for mankind in the pandemic. 86% said yes.
Why it’s both sobering and encouraging: 35% of people surveyed believe that there’s a message from God to be gleaned from the coronavirus outbreak. That means that there are lots of people seeking to find a deeper meaning in the chaos of this year. Over 3,000 survey participants wrote a personal response to sum up what they’d learned from the pandemic. These responses, from people young and old, are eye-opening. Many pointed to COVID as a wake-up call to the importance of relationships, family, and faith. On the flip side, the big takeaways for many others were political in nature, as respondents pointed to the decline of once-trusted institutions, failure of public officials, and the raging public polarization that the pandemic brought to the surface. Post-COVID, it seems we all agree that increased polarization is bad for our social fabric, but nobody seems able to figure out what to do about it.
3. The TikTok Election
What it is: A BBC investigation found that lots of TikTok influencers were being paid to post anti-Trump content without disclosing their sponsorships.
Why it could shape the US election: TikTok has banned political ads from its platform, but the app is certainly not free from political content. Bigtent Creative, a media company, paid TikTok influencers to create skits, shorts, and dances. Note that followers wouldn’t necessarily recognize these posts as being sponsored, because they were meant to be “on brand” with what these influencers typically post. Bigtent claims that the content they paid for was meant to support a bi-partisan effort to get out the vote, but many of the TikTokers made blatant statements against President Trump. Since the BBC went public with their findings, many of the anti-Trump posts were taken down, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t viewed by hundreds of thousands of teenagers. Influencers themselves don’t seem to understand TikTok’s rules about disclosure, so it’s extremely likely that their fans don’t, either. It’s a bit cynical to assume anyone with a political message is being paid off by deep pockets, but it’s important to be aware that it is happening (on both sides of the aisle) more often than most of us realize.
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The Queen's Gambit
The Queen’s Gambit is a new coming-of-age series about a self-destructive young chess prodigy named Beth Harmon. Teens who don’t care about the rave reviews might be drawn in by the cover art, which shows a young and impressive-looking Anya Taylor-Joy looking up from her chessboard. Look carefully at the poster, though and you’ll also notice that some of the chess pieces are liquor and pill bottles; the show, it turns out, is as much about chess as it is about addiction, and overcoming childhood trauma.
“It’s an entire world of just 64 squares,” Harmon tells a reporter in episode 3. “I feel safe in it. I can control it, I can dominate it, and it’s predictable. So if I get hurt, I only have myself to blame.” Following her traumatic placement in an orphanage, chess becomes a way for Harmon to reassert order into the chaos of her life, her own version of what T.S. Eliot called “the still point of the turning world.” In many ways it’s a beautiful and poetic series; the acting is great and the 1960s sets are gorgeous. And yet, what at first seems like Netflix’s attempt to contrive a TV-MA rating gradually begins to take over a fair amount of the show’s tone.
At the orphanage, her first friend (the foul-mouthed outsider, Jolene) unknowingly ushers Harmon into an early drug addiction, and much of the show’s drama involves her reliance on these drugs as she grows in skill and notoriety. Then, her adopted mother turns out to be an alcoholic who enables the grip these vices have on her new daughter.
Still, introverted, gifted teens may relate with Harmon’s solitary air. As Angela Watercutter writes for Wired, “Watching gifted chess players is a reminder that brilliance exists in everyone, even if you don’t understand their game.” Check out the Parents’ Guide on IMDB for more information on the show’s TV-MA rating. Or, if your teens have already seen it, ask what they thought about Harmon’s character and her relationship with her adoptive mother. And don’t be surprised if they’re a little more interested than usual in a game of chess with you.