Evidence, Godfrey Reggio’s Short Film on What TV Does to Kids’ Brains

Between 1982 and 2002, direc­tor God­frey Reg­gio shot his well known Qat­si tril­o­gy — Koy­aanisqat­si, Powaqqat­si, and Naqoyqat­si. Some­where between the 2nd and 3rd install­ment, Reg­gio took a lit­tle detour and direct­ed a short eight minute film called Evi­dence. The main char­ac­ters? Kids watch­ing car­toons (Dum­bo, actu­al­ly) and look­ing “drugged,” “like the patients of a men­tal hos­pi­tal,” he writes on his web site.

The vil­lain? “Tele­vi­sion tech­nol­o­gy,” which “is eat­ing the sub­jects who sit before its gaze.” The weapon? Tele­vi­sion again. That “radi­a­tion gun aimed at the view­er” “holds its sub­jects in total con­trol.” A lit­tle house of hor­rors, to be sure. We have added Koy­aanisqat­si (fea­tur­ing the music of Philip Glass) and Evi­dence to our col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online.

via @katciz, the direc­tor of the new inter­ac­tive film Out My Win­dow.

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Comments (23)
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  • Hank says:

    “drugged”? “like the patients of a men­tal hos­pi­tal”? “vil­lain”? “…eat­ing the sub­jects”? “weapon”? “radi­a­tion gun”? puh-leeze. i saw kids engrossed, focused, pro­cess­ing, rapt, per­haps. i agree that kids ought to be shel­tered from tv for the most part but please make a rea­son­able case for that and spare me the histri­on­ics.

  • stef says:


    the kids have the dead­pan stare of junkies, take anoth­er look.

  • Hank says:

    stef — mean­ing what, exact­ly? that there­fore they real­ly are junkies or even like junkies. hon­est­ly, in any way at all, “like junkies”? it’s a poor anal­o­gy. you are pro­ject­ing a bias. you see a dead­pan stare, i see rapt atten­tion. by def­i­n­i­tion a “dead­pan stare” would indi­cate lit­tle or no com­pre­hen­sion where i think quite the oppo­site is the case here.

  • Peter Dixon says:

    I agree. These kids are full of “rapt atten­tion.” They are watch­ing a movie (grant­ed … Dum­bo!), their imag­i­na­tions inter­act­ing with a com­bi­na­tion of sto­ry­telling and imagery. If it was just mind­less t.v. with it’s gen­er­al pauci­ty of sto­ry­telling val­ue, and dis­gust­ing adver­tis­ing, then I might agree with the “radi­a­tion gun” fig­u­ra­tion.

  • Steve says:

    Per­son­al­ly, what I hope peo­ple take from this is the reminder that tele­vi­sion is indeed a pow­er­ful drug. There can be valu­able tele­vi­sion, of course. But those who are unaware that it is used as a weapon (extreme repetition/manipulation by a cor­po­rate “author­i­ty”) are liv­ing in the dark, and like­ly afraid to recon­sid­er the role of TV in their lives. If TV is essen­tial to our hap­pi­ness or the hap­pi­ness of our chil­dren, we are in big trou­ble.

  • Hank says:

    last post i promise. i agree that tv is most­ly bad for kids. what i ques­tion is whether the faces of kids can be used as evi­dence of that. not only do i think not, but in this case the evi­dence is entire­ly uncon­vinc­ing. (the heavy-lid­ded eyes of the drug user is nowhere here in the faces of these wide-eyed kids) this is sim­ply knee jerk reac­tion against tv. i sus­pect that if some­one else had pre­sent­ed this clip and report­ed that the kids were watch­ing a con­cert of clas­si­cal music or a pup­pet show or a sto­ry hour sto­ry, the kids would have looked quite the same and the respons­es would have been quite dif­fer­ent if there’d be a response at all. my only point is that tv’s harm is one thing, kids look­ing at some­thing is anoth­er. we should be able to regard what facts we have with­out prej­u­dice.

  • Dani says:

    I think this is very sen­sa­tion­al­ist and I would­n’t call it “evi­dence” in any way. Some kids might look a bit “drugged” but a lot of them look, to me, just focus. Also, know­ing they were watch­ing Dum­bo, who can tell if they weren’t watch­ing the Pink Ele­phants on Parade sequence??? I would look like that if I was watch­ing that sequence even today… More seri­ous­ly, the edit­ing here does a LOT of dif­fer­ence and it serves the “drugged kids” point real­ly well. I mean, this isn’t uncut. We only see the points where the kids were real­ly star­ing at the tv but how do we know that’s how they stayed for the whole thing? Did­n’t the kids laugh? Com­ment­ed about what they were watch­ing??? If it was one kid alone in a room watch­ing, I might buy that, but with all of them sit­ting togeth­er like that, I find it real­ly hard to believe. Also, notice how when the cam­era is pass­ing through the kids, it goes to the kid with the weird­est look in their face. That’s cam­era edit­ing right there. I don’t see what’s not on cam­era. I don’t see all the kid’s reac­tions all the time, I see what the film­mak­er wants me to see. If the film­mak­er is try­ing to prove a point — “kids look like drug addicts when watch­ing tv” — that’s what he’s gonna try to show. Also, there’s the music, which REALLY adds to the dark tone of it all.

    Tv is bad for kids??? Well, I watched a lot of tv when I was a kid… I’m not the best one to say, but I think I grew up alright. Grant­ed, I did­n’t watch tv ALL THE TIME. I played out­side, with oth­er peo­ple too. I ran around, climbed trees, played tag with oth­er kids, AND I watched tv. I mean, hey, don’t let your kid watch­ing tv 24 hours a day and def­i­nite­ly watch out for what exact­ly your kid is watch­ing on tv, but this “tv is a weapon (…) eat­ing the sub­jects who sit before its gaze” is an old, sen­sa­tion­al­ist view. When this was made, it’s accept­able, but nowa­days… I don’t buy it.

  • Sandra says:

    I remem­ber see­ing iden­ti­cal expres­sions on dozens of kids years ago. Why? In grade school, I used to vol­un­teer to read to the younger class­es. They would sit clus­tered around a chair, lis­ten­ing with rapt atten­tion while Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­to­ry or some oth­er book was read aloud.

    When they were thor­ough­ly engaged they would sit motion­less, mouths open, eyes fixed, wait­ing for the next turn of the page.

    Does that make lit­er­a­ture a “radi­a­tion gun” that “holds its sub­jects in total con­trol”? Give me a break.

  • Judith says:

    Inter­est­ing. Sad­ly, this is how many par­ents like to see their kids, using tele­vi­sion as a seda­tive.
    San­dra, did­n’t you have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to express your indi­vid­u­al­i­ty into your read­ing? Did­n’t you respond to your audi­ence when the need arose? Did­n’t you engage them with ques­tions? Did­n’t you expect they would turn the words into pic­tures using their own imag­i­na­tions or were they sim­ply engrossed in your voice?

  • Mike says:

    I very much agree with Hank and San­dra. These chil­dren are enchant­ed. I feel that way myself some­times, when I’m attend­ing a play or a sym­pho­ny. Sad­ly, those moments are rare now that I’ve grown up and have lost the sense of won­der that all lit­tle chil­dren have.

  • Nicolas says:

    Such an old, retard­ed spec­u­la­tive the­o­ry!
    This is just sim­ply the human facial expres­sion of being tru­ly engaged. Sim­i­lar gaze can be seen on adult faces while surf­ing the net, at the movie, the­ater, church, con­cert, muse­um…

  • Mike says:

    One more thing. It’s fun­ny that a film­mak­er would use a film to make his indict­ment. “Dum­bo” was released in 1941 — eight years before the birth of net­work tele­vi­sion, and long before home TV sets were in wide use. Ask your­self: If these chil­dren were watch­ing the film for the first time on the big screen in a the­atre, would they appear any less entranced? Or is there just some­thing about that evil cath­ode ray tube?

  • ChadK says:

    I think any­one with the expe­ri­ence of being a par­ent of a 6–8 year will tell you, they can’t even imag­ine speak­ing to their child for a minute sol­id with unbro­ken eye con­tact, no fid­get­ing, no wan­der­ing around. That’s what is so strik­ing about this video. The hid­den cam­era gives us some­thing we won’t see any oth­er way.

  • Sean Callinan says:

    The scary thing is com­pa­ra­ble kids today can rarely focus on some­thing with this degree of atten­tion.

  • Marianwhit says:

    Away from TV for three years now, I am more cre­ative, pro­duc­tive, and free of mar­ket­ing mes­sages, and I love it. The direc­tor makes obser­va­tions, and puts them out there for you to inter­pret. Try this…as he cuts to each kid, blink only as often as they do. Your eyes will water up just as some of the kid’s do. Speak­ing of all this, I’ve wast­ed too much time look­ing at this screen…got to go do some­thing to account for myself:)

  • Kirsty says:

    These kids are gor­geous! Dum­bo is one of the most mov­ing beau­ti­ful films ever made. It’s quite heart wrench­ing in parts. Car­toons are a rel­a­tive­ly new art form that I believe will be val­ued far more in the future.
    My kids watch a lot of sci­ence pro­grams and doc­u­men­taries and the stuff they come out with some­times is amaz­ing. Just avoid adver­tis­ing.

  • Maxwell Warszawski says:

    If any­thing this shows some­thing with mul­ti­ple stim­uli needs to be added to our edu­ca­tion sys­tems. No longer can we teach by one method of learn­ing, if we wish to hold the atten­tion of stu­dents and kids. This shows the amount of atten­tion and muti­ple facets of the brain being engaged. Beau­ti­ful, in dos­es, with a guide (With a teacher or par­ents to lead cre­ativ­i­ty and deduc­tion). Noth­ing to fear but that which we need to embrace! nnWhat I don’t want to see is a video of kids lis­ten­ing to a teacher give a lec­ture or copy this from the board activ­i­ty! :)

  • Ed says:

    What does he think the view­ers of his films look like?

  • terry hill says:

    You all need to read Jer­ry Man­derʻs book which came out in the 70ʻs http://www.amazon.com/Arguments-Elimination-Television-Jerry-Mander/dp/0688082742/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1403972625&sr=8–2&keywords=jerry+mander
    Also lis­ten to the sec­ond and the last sen­tence of George Orwell in this “final warn­ing” video clip from his deathbed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLFWRyEhf4A&channel=GLOBALPOLITICALAWAKE …then com­ment again. Alo­ha

  • Areta says:

    Actu­al­ly, I thought they all looked quite “Enchant­ed and Engrossed” by what they were watch­ing, and, the emo­tions they were por­tray­ing, their stances they were tak­ing — watch their hands, the still­ness, even if slight­ly and implied­ly por­trayed by the cam­era, and myself watch­ing them, all served the pur­pose of allow­ing myself to just sim­ply enjoy the vision that had by this ‘drama­ti­za­tion?’, been pre­sent­ed to I as the view­er of the com­put­er deliv­ered film that I could then enjoy after hav­ing set out to explore such for my plea­sure, that, I had dis­cov­ered to be seen. So Thank you the the some­what appar­ent­ly pes­simistic researcher for your view via the deliv­ery of your cap­tured images in motion — Tena Koe and Kei Te Pai.

  • Erich says:

    Pro­found state­ment that “this is gen­er­al­ly how chil­dren’s faces appear when they are watch­ing tele­vi­sion.” The ques­tion remains, how­ev­er: Does watch­ing tele­vi­sion make us dumb enough to accept the annoy­ing sound­track as seri­ous music? I won­der.

  • Skye says:

    Or isthe music cheesy on pur­pose? Tread­ing the line between giv­ing a mes­sage force­ful­ly and show­ing up the mind bend­ing effect of music and image? Same with the edit­ing.

  • olivier bolton says:

    Intense…and young minds under the sway of vir­tu­al reality…aren’t we all
    under the spell of this pow­er­ful tool? If there is the right bal­ance between
    dream and real­i­ty, night and day he and she, us and them, nature/nurture
    Life can become a tru­ly trans­mu­ta­tion­al experience…don’t you think!?

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