Web Junkie

Jul 16 2015

The documentary “Web Junkie” is about Internet addiction among teenagers in China. It’s filmed inside a boot camp of sorts where parents send children they believe are wasting their lives playing video games online. There is no narrator. We watch young Internet addicts get lectured about how they should live up to their obligations as citizens. In one scene a middle-aged instructor in a depressing classroom draws a brain on a chalkboard then draws a circle inside that brain to represent the amount of intellect required to play “World of Warcraft” or whatever. The instructor tells the teenagers, all boys, that they don’t know how to relate to each other, a message belied by the insightful conversations we later see them having while locked inside their prison-nightmare dorm rooms.

The most compelling scene takes place during a counseling session. The counselor is meeting with a teenage boy and his parents. During the session the boy’s father says that he has given the boy so much over the years, and asks what the boy has ever done for him in return.

The boy, with the blankest of expressions, says he will give his life back to his father if his father needs it.

The father says nothing.

The boy begins to shake with anger. This is real, scary anger. The boy stands and asks his father if he — the father — wishes to die. The other people in the room, including a woman who is presumably the mother, restrain the boy, who is clearly hellbent on attacking his father. The camera focuses on a metal stool in the boy’s left hand.

That moment isn’t about the phenomenon of Internet addiction. It isn’t about family dynamics in China in the first part of the 21st century. Or at least it isn’t only about those things. It’s about how emotional violence begets physical violence. It’s about a child’s deep need for love and the unholy consequences when that need goes unmet. It’s about the look on that boy’s face.

I can imagine a crew from some news show visiting this boot camp and presenting a story about treating Internet addiction or the struggles of the new middle-class in China. It would be nicely packaged with additional context and expert opinion.

But this is different. This transcends all that. There’s no safe journalistic sheen. It’s ugly, memorable, genuine.

Good god, the look on that boy’s face.

(the end)