The trouble with L.A. is everybody’s trying to act so super cool all the time and into their own space, like they’d be ruined if they had to feel anything. Nobody wants to feel the pain in things anymore. Jeanie i Foxes.
I sometimes think back on my adolescence and the films I watched back then, and I wonder how it is for kids growing up today. I had a lot of help from books and films, but it doesn’t seem like kids these days can benefit as much from popular culture as I did. I’m talking about fictional characters I could identify with as a teenager. Films and books were partly an escape for me too, but it wasn’t all escapism.
It appears that the youth has had an inexhaustible appetite for vampire and dystopian films in recent years. If you search for teen movies online you will find lists containing some relatively new movies, such as Margaret (2011) and Elephant (2003), but otherwise these lists have many of the same films I watched in the 80s and 90s. You can add a few more titles if you search for “coming of age movies”, but I’m not sure it’ll make much difference. There are a lot of films that make good entertainment, but they may not encourage kids to contemplate life and show them how to navigate through it. These films may not be something they keep going back to through life, as I have. I must admit I haven’t followed new releases very closely in recent years, but I am left with the impression that many of the films are pure entertainment (romantic comedies, horror movies and movies that are intended just as much for established adults as teenagers).
The situation isn’t much better on TV. When my daughter was in the right age for Disney and Nick Jr. she liked series like Jungle Junction, Handy Manny, Little Einsteins, Stanley, JoJo’s Circus and Dora the Explorer. These series had a positive message, but it seems like the quality drops dramatically when the kids transfer to the channels for the older children. Then Disney and Nickelodeon seem to focus on a boring sitcom-formula where it’s frequently cooler to be dumb and rude than smart and polite.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope many can look back on their adolescnence about 20 years from now and say that the films had the same meaning for them as they had for me. It is of course possible that others don’t need the films the same way I did. There were of course a lot of bad films in the 80’s as well, so it is entirely possible that there is some quality between the junk today too, providing they make the right choices, but I’m not sure.
I don’t think it was easy growing up in the 70s and 80s, and I doubt very much whether it is any easier today. I guess it’s always been challenging and the difficulties I had were mostly concerned with my introversion, and what the experts like to call a “failure in certain life functions” (nonverbal learning disabilities), learning disabilities in general and social difficulties. It was too early to get a diagnosis, but it was evident to everyone that I appeared to be different. I was different. I wanted to participate more when I was young, but didn’t have the skills or the interests to make that possible. I was probably like a jigsaw piece that was left on the table, and then cleared away into the wrong jigsaw puzzle box. So there was no room for me in the picture, I was in the wrong one, and I didn’t like it. I experienced quite a bit of pressure at home to become more like others.
My parents thought it was something I could just decide to do. I had to go through a rather brutal process of becoming an adult. I have figured out a few things, but I have probably always been one that thrives in his own jigsaw puzzle. I like making my own puzzle, and not try to adapt to the other pieces. But the road ahead was and still is challenging in a world that really doesn’t allow for individualism or difference. That’s why I was very excited about films with characters I could relate to. I felt that I had something in common with teenagers in some of the films, although these fictional people lived in American cities, and had a very different upbringing. There was quite a bit I could transfer to my own situation. I thought it was like that for everyone, but it is possible this identification was especially strong in my case as I had difficulty communicating with people in my own environment. These are some of the movies I remember.
The quote I started with says a lot about what is wrong in these families. The adults didn’t want to feel, while the children felt intensely, maybe too much. Some of them try to suppress their feelings and thoughts, as Annie in Foxes did, but that rarely works. The film is about a group of teenage girls living in San Francisco Valley in the late 1970s. The girls have the usual teen challenges. The film might be most relevant for girls, but there are also some problems that are general.
Deirdre (played by Kandice Stroh) had an active sex life, but major problems with relationships. Madge (Marilyn Kagan) is unhappy about being overweight, a virgin and her overprotective parents. Annie (Cherrie Curry) is in constant trouble because she has run away from home. Her father is very controlling, violent and also a policeman. She tries to make life more livable through the abuse of alcohol and drugs. Jeanie tries to take care of their friends, but has some challenges herself. Her parents are divorced, Jeanie has a strained relationship with her mother, while she longs for a closer relationship with her father. He’s a tour manager for a rock band, and inaccessible in every way..
Alienation is a major theme in the film. There is a large gap between parents and children, as well as a destruction of norms, and a perception of the world as meaningless or hopeless. I think it looks like that to the kids in the film at least. This was during the 1970’s disco culture with its sexual promiscuity and drug abuse. Most of the adults weren’t really present. They didn’t have time for the kids, and that seems to make the film topical today too.
Drugs has been replaced with for example social media and games. I constantly read newspaper headlines about parents that forget or ignore their children because they are either on social media, playstation etc. Christmas is a bad time for many children for example, because if some parents have decided they want to be drunk the whole holiday, they simply leave the children to themselves. It’s as we strive not to feel anything. It’s one of the major evils of modern society; the break down of comunication. Many families experience a lack of communication, predictable (routines) and interaction between parents and children. Towards the end of the film Madge gets married, Annie dies in a traffic accident and Jeanie leaves home to go to university.
Here is a clip from the movie with the quote I began with:
Foxes reminds me a little of Outsiders, which came out three years later, but the setting was in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the 1960s. The plot is the classic conflict between the working and upper classes, or greasers and socs, as the kids in the film called each other. All the actors in this classic became major teen icons: Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise and Diane Lane.
The film was not a huge success and it didn’t get particularly good coverage in the media, but I think it was an important film. I lived in a low-rise until I was 12-13 years old. It wasn’t on the same level of course, but there was a similar struggle between us “block kids” and those who grew up in detached houses in the surrounding area.
I was a big fan of this film, and critics actually liked it too. It was about young people who went to High School of Performing Arts in New York. They were being trained in a very cutthroat business. Some of them tried to reach the goal faster through shortcuts, but they learned some brutal lessons about how risky that is. Even almost adults need guidance.
As in the other films many of the kids had a difficult relationship with their parents, either because their parents were overprotective or because they didn’t care about their kids. Bruno was my favourite character (played by Lee Curerri). I identified with Bruno, an introvert who loved composing music, but wasn’t very keen on socializing. He was happy being who he was. I knew all the songs from the film and the subsequent TV-series by heart, and fantasized about being Bruno. That was clearly an escape-strategy.
I also liked Irene Cara’s character. She had a much better voice, but I decided to show a Bruno moments from the popular TV-series that came after the film. Bruno had a father who cared, but it wasn’t easy to communicate with his son. I think my mother can probably relate to this as well. She was looking in, trying to understand, but she never reached me:
There were many brain-dead films of the 80s, but a few of the quality films have followed me through life. In addition to the aforementioned, I especially remember Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Dead Poets Society and the TV-series Family Ties. I wonder if kids today get the same from their favourite fictional characters as I did. I immersed myself in films, music and books. That helped me get through the difficult adolescence. It was both entertainment, escape and a possible solution. Many kids from these films had to straighten things out themselves, they didn’t get much help from adults. That’s what I‘ve been trying to do myself as well.
Just to mention it. If I am to believe media, the film women have been looking forward to for a long time premiered tonight. They started showing Fifty shades of gray at the local cinema yesterday. I haven’t read the books, but I realized after reading a film review today that it revolves around a man who doesn’t want a normal relationship. He is only interested in a businesslike, sexual relationship. When the female protagonist falls in love with this man after interviewing him for the university newspaper, he demands that she signs a contract in which he defines what sexual acts she must perform.
I’ve heard some defensive fans saying we shouldn’t judge them, or the story, if we haven’t read the books or watched the film. I think I can safely state that I don’t understand the fascination or admiration for this female character. Is this a common female fantasy?
Hollywood-films are usually released earlier in the US than in Europe, but in this case they want this to be out for Valentine’s Day all over the world. I find it creepy that rape is concidered romantic these days.
I’m not sure what is most disturbing, young women enjoying the idea of being a sex slave, or middle aged women accepting what sounds more like abuse than love. This doesn’t seem to be very helpful to young women. I do hope there won’t be any new Kardashian, Lindsey Lohan, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, reality shows about teen moms and especially not any Fifty shades around in a few years when my daughter enters the teens, but that would have been paradise, and I’m not there yet. There will be new and worse ones, but hopefully I can have som influence.
I am exaggerating, but I believe I have to be more active trying to lead my daughter in the right direction. I have noticed that sites that recommend role models for girls frequently refer to cartoon characters or some dubious TV-series. It couldn’t be that bad, could it? No, there are alternatives, but you have to look for them yourself. There is a vast, misty ocean of crappy TV-series and films, but with a pair of critical eyes, you could find some magical moments. One of my favourite female characters is Hermione Granger from Harry Potter. My daughter isn’t old enough to watch the films yet, but I wouldn’t mind if her next hero was someone brainy.
Meanwhile I’m enjoying the rest of the time when I’m still her hero.
I don’t know if I succeeded, but in a way I tried pointing in the same direction as one sparrow did, just as I was about to publish this post. The Christian blogger Where Grace Abounds has some interesting thoughts about the Disney film Frozen. Read Love conquers all. Disney is producing mostly crap these days, but Frozen was magical.
I might also add that I grew up with some good, honourable TV-fathers in series like Bonanza, The Cosby Show, The House on the Prairie, The Waltons. Today kids have 2,5 men and I’m not convinced they even add up to one.