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Of Books, Libraries and Imagination; Kids, Porn and the Web; Imagine a World

Aired January 2, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to a special edition of our program.

Tonight, two conventions with artists who are raising the red flag over our children in a digital world. In a moment, I'll speak with Beeban Kidron, the British film director whose new documentary, "InRealLife," takes a provocative look at online dependency.

But first to author and storyteller Neil Gaiman. I spoke with him after one of his speeches extolling that least digital of artifacts, the book, became a bit of a viral sensation.


AMANPOUR: Thank you for being here.

NEIL GAIMAN, AUTHOR AND SCREENWRITER: Thank you for inviting me.

AMANPOUR: So with your passion, just how did you react listening to Malala? You know, she's 16, making such a convincing case.

It's so convincing and it's so true. That's the -- it's one of the things that absolutely fascinates me right now, is giving books to kids; educating the young, giving them access to reading and to fiction is one of the most important things we can possibly do.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it is really under threat?

GAIMAN: Yes. I really do. And I think it's under threat, though, not because of evil. I think it's under threat because, A, you have austerity and, B, there is an absolutely mistaken idea that a library is shelves of books somewhere.

And why do you need shelves of books? You can have a million books on your iPad, so why would you worry about this thing? Let's close it and save money.

And it misses everything I think that libraries are good for and librarians are good for and libraries as common spaces, libraries as places where you can discover what you like, where a child can walk along, pull books off a shelf, where those who are not Internet savvy can go and discover books.

AMANPOUR: And you've talked about the unique experience, the journey, the imagination that books, libraries, can give a child.

Tell me about that.

GAIMAN: I was -- I was a booky kid. I will never forget the joy of getting my parents to drop me off at the local library on their way to work and just going in and reading my way through the children's library, going and exploring in the card catalog back when they had card catalogs, pulling books off the shelf and then nervously edging out into the adult world.

And dealing with librarians, discovering the joy of things like the inter-library loan, where you can tell them you want a book they don't have, and they will go and get it for you.


GAIMAN: Absolute magic.

And I think the most important thing is that you are teaching a child how to imagine. The imagination, it's a muscle. It's a really important thing, if you want to build the future, if you want to create a literate generation, if you want to create a generation that is not criminal.

AMANPOUR: Before I get to the cover of what you've just brought in, I want to just follow up on what you've just said, and you've quoted it before, what Albert Einstein said, that "If you want your children to be intelligent," he said, "read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."

GAIMAN: What I love about that is it's telling you a bunch of things. First of all, it's telling you read to children. I think that's an obligation.

I think as parents, as friends, as adults, the joy of reading to children, the joy of doing the voices, the joy of finding some time where you are not being distracted by telephones, by televisions, by all of the glorious distractions of the 21st century and you make some time and you read and tell stories, is huge.

And it tells children that they can go into these books, into these forests of words. They can take these 26 symbols and a handful of punctuation marks and build them into stories themselves.

AMANPOUR: And you've spoken very convincingly, for instance, to students in the United States, among others, and I was really struck by what you said about the perils of success and the virtues of making mistakes and failures and learning.

And you said that once upon a time, you misspelled the name Caroline, and from that, I presume, came "Coraline," your book --

GAIMAN: Exactly.

AMANPOUR: -- and the famous, famous film. Tell me a little bit about mistakes and what kids should know growing up.

GAIMAN: I think what you need to -- one of the things you need to know is that mistakes are fine. There's nothing wrong with mistakes. Mistakes demonstrate that you're actually out in the world and you're doing something. You are active. You're engaged.

I worry because I meet people who want to be writers or they want to be artists or they want to be musicians, but they're sure it has to be perfect. And that terror of trying to be perfect stops them doing anything. They do nothing.

What I try and tell people is use your mistakes. Treasure your mistakes.

I remember typing a letter to somebody named Caroline and looking down and I'd mistyped it into Coraline. And I thought, that should be a name. What a great name! I wonder what somebody like that will be like? And the next thing, I wrote my book and then some years later I'm at the Academy Awards seeing if we were going to win. We didn't. But it was great.


AMANPOUR: What about, you know, scaring the pants out of children?

GAIMAN: Oh, I think --

AMANPOUR: With that book?

GAIMAN: It's such a great English tradition, though, great British tradition. It -- I -- for me, it was "Doctor Who." For me, as a little kid, it was the joy of watching "Doctor Who" from behind the sofa where they couldn't get out and get you. And it taught me something really fun, which is it's OK to be scared in small doses. It's OK to be scared safely. And it teaches you to be brave.

"Coraline" is all about being brave.

AMANPOUR: And you brought "Sandman."

GAIMAN: I did.

AMANPOUR: That's your comic.

GAIMAN: It's the first --

AMANPOUR: It's the first one that's come out in more than a decade.

GAIMAN: It is. I wrote the last --

AMANPOUR: -- if we can --

GAIMAN: -- "Sandman" in 1996, it was published. And now it's the 25th anniversary. And I thought, 25 years after the first one came out, I have to come go back and write more. So I'm getting six episodes and the beautiful covers, some of the most wonderful art by a glorious artist named Jay H. Williams III (ph). And I'm -- and the fun thing is getting to bring these characters out again.


AMANPOUR: And after a break, what happens when a child puts down a book and picks up a smartphone? Filmmaker Beeban Kidron captured the intimate digital lives of teenagers. Her disturbing insights when we come back.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Now do you know what your children are doing on the Internet? This is perhaps the scariest piece of technology for many parents out there, and a new online survey just out here in Britain reveals that primary school age children admit they stay awake into the early hours of the morning on the Internet unsupervised. That's 9- to 11-year olds.

And one in five of them say they've gone out to meet the people they've found in cyberspace. Again, alone and unsupervised.

So what impact is the web having on a generation that doesn't know anything else? British film director Beeban Kidron is perhaps most famous for directing the blockbuster movie, "Bridget Jones' (Diary)."

But as a mother of teens, she was frightened enough by teenage behavior to turn her cameras on them and their virtual world, and she joined me here recently to discuss her new documentary, "InRealLife."


AMANPOUR: Beeban Kidron, welcome to the program.

What made you decide to make this documentary? It's pretty violent in every aspect.

BEEBAN KIDRON, FILM DIRECTOR: Well, it is. But I felt that the world around me was just sort of closing in. And I suddenly realized that then, you know, over a year since I had seen a young person without some sort of device in their hands.

And I was walking into my own kitchen and there were six young people, six teenagers, one on a computer, one on a game console, and four of them lined up on the sofa, each one like this. And I looked at the picture and I thought, well, I understand generationally why they may not be talking to me. But why aren't they talking to each other?

AMANPOUR: And it's not just about looking at their smart devices, it's about what they're doing.

KIDRON: It is. I think the question I started to ask myself was not is this good or bad, but what does it change. And I think that that was actually the great gift of the film, in a way, was that I was trying to see whether it was going to change, what kind of human beings these young people would be.

AMANPOUR: Well, we're going to play a clip in a second. But just to say that one of the most incredible learning experiences for teenagers is about sex and sexuality. And what they're getting online is a completely distorted view in terms of pornography, right?

KIDRON: Absolutely. And if you think about the purpose of pornography, it's very adult, male-centered. It's very, very bad about things like consent and about gender images and so on. And if that is your entry level to what you think sex is and what is normal, think about what that means as you try and practice it in your real life.

AMANPOUR: Let's play this clip.



KIDRON: What do you think about those (inaudible)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, they're perfect, like that's what you want. That's what you'd look for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You sort of try out a girl and get a perfect image of what you've watched on the Internet.


AMANPOUR: So it's called "InRealLife," your documentary, but it's clearly not about real life. I mean, after all, you and I know that porn is acting. Those kids don't know.

KIDRON: No, I mean, you heard him say then -- he's actually a very wonderful young man and he's very sort of self-reflective in the end, after days spent with me. I finally thanked him, I said, you know, how do you think it changes who you are?

And he turned 'round to me and he said, "It's ruined love. It ruins love for us all," and what he described is how the images of porn are the images that he is trying to recreate in his relationships with young women.

AMANPOUR: What about girls? What are they most affected by?

KIDRON: Well, I think that you have to look at the other side of that, which is that, you know, we say a lot about advertising and celebrity, but the young women I came across are comparing themselves to pornified images of women.

And I think that a lot of the sort of -- the sense of being rewarded on the Internet for looking sexy, getting a lot more likes, being more popular, is incrementally pushing young women into a sexualized version of themselves.

AMANPOUR: In the film you mention a statistic: 80 percent of young people think they can get away with bullying online as opposed to in real life. And we talk about this because every day we read more and more stories about how young people are committing suicide because of online bullying, 80 percent of bullies think they can get away with it.

KIDRON: Yes, because it is this culture of anonymity and I think that there is something really disturbing about feeling you can take a poke and no one will find you.

AMANPOUR: What did parents say about this? What is the big worry? I mean, I know as a parent that I worry that our kids are growing up just in a virtual reality without real relationships.

KIDRON: I think the thing that parents were grateful for, that the film describes, is this question of the technology itself being controlled, being not neutral and being very addictive.

I think that now they understand or when they understand that it's a reward mechanism, that it's gamified, that there's someone there pulling the strings, they feel much stronger about intervening and about saying, hang on a minute; do you realize you are being manipulated?

Do you understand how your behavior is actually being -- you know, there is a Svengali in the room.

And I think that gives parents a lot of confidence, because they feel very concerned about cutting kids off.

What has been amazing is the response of teenagers.

AMANPOUR: Which is.?


AMANPOUR: That they blame their parents as well, right, for being too far and too far gone on their smart devices?

KIDRON: Oh, yes. I mean, I could make a whole other film about the things that young people have said about their parents, about the inattention. And that's what I've ended up feeling. It's like it's -- we are the inattentive generation, bringing up the restless generation.

And I think that's not very good for everyone, and we have to look at that. But I do think that companies have a big responsibility in this.

AMANPOUR: Well, did you get any of the companies to talk to you?

KIDRON: No, no. I mean, the -- we all know that their line is that they're just there, not delivering content; they're just like the --


AMANPOUR: Facilitating?

KIDRON: -- facilitating, a utility. And I think that's absolutely unsustainable.

AMANPOUR: Do they just refuse to talk to you?

KIDRON: Yes, some of them strung me along, you know, and said, oh, yes, yes, yes, yes. But the day never came. Others just said, no, this is not something we can be involved in.

They don't feel they have a case to answer. And I think that that's part of what we have to do next, is say, oh, yes, you do.

AMANPOUR: And what is the solution then? Who polices this?

KIDRON: Policing is a difficult --


AMANPOUR: Yes, OK. Who controls? Who monitors?

KIDRON: I think we have to look at it a bit like smoking. It took everybody, yes?

AMANPOUR: And you do say it is addictive. It's addictive like cocaine, like alcohol, like cigarettes.

KIDRON: Oh, absolutely. And it's not what I say. This is evidence- based. You know, they are using reward technology; the dopamine is released in your body. You must get another hit, another like, another touch.

AMANPOUR: Facebook just has announced that it is easing its restrictions on privacy, allowing teens to let anybody see their status updates and the like, not just their friends. And they say it's to give more choices. But it seems like it's really to increase the monetary remuneration for them.

KIDRON: Yes, of course it is. And I think, you know, enough is enough. We -- in every area of life, delivering things safely to the consumer is part of the bottom line. So now we have to ask Facebook to deliver these services safely.

AMANPOUR: Can I take you from the smartphone and the computer screen to the big screen?

Bridget Jones? You were very successful in directing "Bridget Jones." There's a new book that's just come out. Darcy is dead. Is that good or bad? Is that going to make a film or not? What's that going to do to the story?

KIDRON: I think Helen Fielding is a genius. How could she make Bridget Jones III be front page news? There was only one way, and she found it. I would have never thought of that. It's absolutely brilliant and I can't wait to see it.

AMANPOUR: Would you direct a film without Darcy in it?

KIDRON: Of course not.

AMANPOUR: All right. Beeban Kidron, thank you very much indeed.

KIDRON: Pleasure.


AMANPOUR: And after a break, for all its promise and its pitfalls, the Internet cannot replace another search engine that never failed and only requires a card and an imagination, the world's greatest warehouses of ideas, when we return.



AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, with Neil Gaiman as our guide, we've just explored the creative power of books and the quiet places where we can read, think and dream.

So again imagine a world without libraries. In the age of the Internet search engine, when one click can take you from Plato's cave to the planet Pluto, some fear that the library was a dinosaur doomed to extinction.

But a new history of library architecture by James Campbell with beautiful pictures by Will Price reminds us that libraries have always been a citadel of learning in a sea of change. In the Middle Ages, public libraries like this one in Italy were rare and the books were so large and so precious they were kept chained to the desks.

Thanks to Gutenberg and the printing press at the dawn of the Renaissance, books became more accessible, able to be displayed on shelves like these at the Codrington Library at Oxford University.

And libraries like this one in Paris, once the exclusive preserve of monks, became public spaces, where scholars, students and book lovers could sit for hours with the world an open book. From the ornate book-lined walls of an Austrian abbey to an ultramodern incarnation in China, libraries remain very much alive.

That's it for our program tonight. And remember, you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.