Thumbs Film Review - An All-THUMBS Film About Texting

It’s all around us and there is NO escape!

Go into a bar populated by 20 somethings, and marvel at the people clicking intensely upon their digital slates, seemingly oblivious to anybody around them.

Take a bus filled with young puppies, all absorbed in messaging cyber-babble into the ether, and feel like a complete pariah if you are not doing the same.

Wander around this world without a digital device in your hand and you will truly understand what alienation feels like.

It’s called TEXTING and it is a pandemic amongst our youth in every corner of the society.

And now comes a film purporting to be a seminal documentary about the texting phenomenon entitled, THUMBS, directed by an Academy Award winner named, Bill Couturié, who won Oscar recognition, not as a director, but rather as a producer of the 1989 documentary entitled, “Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt,” that tells the story of the NAMES project AIDS memorial quilt.     Couturié also received Emmy acclaim as a producer/director/writer for a 1987 documentary entitled,  “Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam, based upon correspondence written by US soldiers during the Vietnam war.  

It all adds up to the fact that Couturié has displayed considerable talents in the realm of documentary film.

EXCEPT, with respect to THUMBS, he has failed badly.

You see, THUMBS is NOT a documentary in any real sense.  Rather it is a de facto infomercial or propaganda piece for LG Mobile Electronics Mobile, the subsidiary of Korean conglomerate LG Electronics, with global sales approximating US $50 billion, plus the MTV Networks, purveyors of such insufferable mind rot as “My Super Sweet 16, “ a decadent celebration of rich brats and their overindulgent, insufferably ostentatious, nouveau riche parents.  Both LG Mobile and MTV networks provided financing and full support for THUMBS, and have gone so far as to host lavish receptions promoting the film in both New York and Los Angeles.   No surprise since any film that extols the merits of TEXTING mania serves the aims of both corporations:  in the case of LG Mobile, they want more teens hooked on texting in order to expand cell phone sales...and in the case of MTV, their mercenary execs want even more young people “dumbed down” via texting addiction so that they will become ever more accepting of the mind numbing idiocy embodied in the “reality TV show” contagion that has infected the airwaves throughout the land.

Based around the LG National Texting Championship, a contest designed to reward the fastest texting skills, THUMBS is supposed to be (according to press materials).....”an investigative look into the elaborate world on teenage texters.”  Well, the bad news for those who admire good documentaries is that the alleged “investigation” amounts to little more than a fluffy superficial piece about the preparations of six good-looking suburban kids, leading up to the LG championship, presented in a very stereotypical and lazy manner, the kind of dummy material that MTV tends to embrace since it is a network devoted to providing concepts and ideas that incessantly feed the lowest common denominator.   THUMBS fails badly as good documentary by taking a largely one-sided, pro-texting perspective, with only a few adversarial tidbits, in the vein of.... “oh, texting is fantastic, BUT I suppose we should discourage the kids from clicking the keys while driving or in the classroom!

In fact, the entire concept of creating an award event for speedy texters is yet another example of how insipid and trite achievements are heralded in our increasingly vacuous demented society, at the expense of the kinds of efforts that truly deserve some kind of reward.  To that effect, we now have award events for every kind of ridiculous “accomplishment,” best exemplified by a Showtime Network award show for porn actors, in which young coitus pros collect trophies for performing the best blow job or the most exciting anal intercourse.  

You now can add a texting award event to this litany of societal praise for preposterous and useless “talents,” my favorite being the ability of these kids to text rapidly and accurately while blindfolded!   Wow! That’s exactly the kind of pointless aspiration that the socially irresponsible tastemakers at the TV networks ought to encourage amongst our youth.    Of course, these cynical TV execs could create some kind of entertaining national TV award event that lauds achievements by paramedics or nurses or others who are doing something of utilitarian value….but hell, you don’t want to encourage young people to aspire toward goals and skills that are actually meaningful and that would serve the common good, now would you?  No, it’s far better to offer carrots toward kids in the pursuit of NOTHING of value.

And people wonder why America faces a national debt crisis today….or is unable to manufacture vital goods any longer, having shipped its manufacturing base offshore…..or is in the midst of a massive infrastructural crisis, with deteriorating roads and bridges,  and alarming labor shortages in key vocations that allow the societal machine to operate smoothly…..or has spawned generations of new citizens whose chief talents revolve around day trading equities or flipping real estate. 

Well, hell, at least we have THE best mobile texters out there, the kinds of guys who can text blindfolded, with the devices held behind their backs!!!

That should count for something, right???? 


 In fact, great documentaries are films that present BOTH sides of the picture and, if done expertly, a proficient documentary presents incisive material that upsets BOTH the exponents and detractors behind any topic.  A recent example of such a powerful documentary is SERVING LIFE, presented by the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), which this reviewer evaluated a few weeks ago (see review at:    As a film providing sharp insights into a hospice provided by prison inmates on behalf of dying cellmates, SERVING LIFE is the kind of intelligent documentary that angers both those who believe in leniency for prisoners, and those who advocate harsher punishments.   The best documentaries generally infuriate EVERYBODY!

If Couturié had done his job properly in the making of THUMBS, then it is quite possible neither LG Mobile nor MTV networks would be promoting his piece....instead, a smart, even-handed exposé on texting likely would have discomfited both corporations to such a degree that they would be re-examining their contracts with the film-makers in order to  limit the exposure of the documentary to a single screening, and nothing more.

In order to create a genuine investigation into the world of teen texting,  Couturié needed to provide a voice to those who fear where the texting phenomenon will lead our society.    In between shots of kids mirthfully displaying their texting prowess, it would have been great to insert clips from interviews with leading futurists or behavioral psychologists or sociologists who have major qualms about younger generations’ texting addiction.   

In terms of behavioral psychology, there are those who consider the texting device to be a de facto “security blanket” for kids who are afraid to “leave home,” and who feel compelled to remain connected to family or childhood friends almost 24 hours a day.  In that regard, the texting addiction is a pathology for the child who suffers permanent separation anxiety and who cannot tolerate any form of sustainable solitude.  

A few sociologists have speculated that texting reduces a very scary, unpredictable, and complex world to a flat screen that younger generations can control completely and expertly and, in that regard, it dupes younger generations into believing that the real world Is just as easily manipulated.

Several futurists, particularly those acquainted with the nascent, rapidly evolving fields of nanotechnology and robotics, have warned that the big corporations are encouraging an addiction to electronic texting devices as a prelude to implanting micro-chip replicants directly into the human effect, the creation of a hybrid man, part flesh, part computer.  If younger generations develop psychological dependency to the point where they MUST have some kind of digital device in their hands almost 24 hours a day, then it would not take any extraordinary effort by the Establishment to convince them someday to have the devices placed directly inside their bodies.

Obviously, in every documentary, it is the filmmaker(s) choice to determine what will be examined or not.   No documentarian who examines the texting phenomenon is required to address the kinds of controversial topics this reviewer has raised.   But, in the absence of substantive contrarian perspectives, the documentary THUMBS does not transcend what it happens to be:  a mere sales pitch for texting, aka, consumerist mind junk for the MTV brain dead.    In a society drowning in this kind of trivial and intellectually vapid material, it is truly unfortunate that a skillful filmmaker like Couturié has “thrown in the towel” and become little more than a carnival barker acting on behalf of LG Mobile and MTV.   

This interviewer had a chance to speak for some 15 minutes with Couturié at the reception following the film.   He presented his opinion on THUMBS in the manner of a world weary individual who probably fought more than his share of tough battles in order to bring the smart documentaries he made previously.... and, in his answers to a variety of biting questions on the topic of texting, he had a melancholy air of resignation,  expressed along the lines of, “Kids will be kids, and so what if THUMBS is nothing more than a fun piece about texting!”

From a touching tale woven around the AIDS memorial quilt....from a penetrating examination of the Vietnam a frivolous snapshot of cheesy kids texting behind their is a tragic story of powerful filmmaking that has succumbed to cynical and mercenary motives.

Let me end this article with a personal appeal:

Mr.  Couturié....the Universe bestowed a talent upon you for creating thoughtful films.  

Please do NOT waste such talents with this kind of trivial product promotion.

Your audience....our society.....DESERVES better!


THUMBS  (Los Angeles Premiere)

Running Time:   N/A

Presented by LG Mobile and MTV

Produced by Michael Tollin

Directed by Bill Couturié

MTV PREMIERE:  Friday, August  19, 2011  (10PM ET/PT)


Screened at Chinese 6 Theaters Hollywood
Tuesday, August 16, 2011












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