My sister and I were recently sitting through movie previews before Beauty And The Beast, when a film trailer came on for a new movie called Everything, Everything. The story is about an 18-year-old girl who has an immunodeficiency disease and has to stay cooped up inside the safety of her disinfected home, or else she’ll die. It seemed like Rapunzel with some serious health issues.
My sister leans over to me and says, “Geez! What happened to all the fun teen movies?”
We laughed, but later on, I really began to think about her question and the slew of YA movies that are blowing up my feed in popularity.
I asked myself, are we are treating teens too much like adults, or have teens been forced to mature due to cultural and societal changes, and popular culture has stopped sugar coating our formidable years?
Take The Fault In Our Stars, about two teens with cancer who meet and fall in love, but are both ultimately coming to terms with their mortality. Full disclosure, I neither saw the movie nor read the book, but the film grossed over $300M worldwide at the box office. Suffice to say, it was popular.
More recently, Netflix debut 13 Reasons Why, a series based on the popular YA novel by Jay Asher. The story is narrated by high school protagonist Hannah Baker, who begins the first episode by telling the audience she has committed suicide. However, before doing so, she sent 13 tapes to the 13 people who ultimately played a part in her fateful decision. To date, 13 Reasons Why is Netflix’s most popular show in its history on social media. I binge watched the series in three days, and I simply couldn’t look away.
There’s been a lot of commentary on why this show is both helpful and hurtful for teens, as it portrays very graphic depictions of sexual assault, bullying, and suicide. These are all very important topics for teens, and ones that deserve our attention, no matter how uneasy or uncomfortable they make us feel.
But why has pop culture seemingly taken all the fun out of being a teen? My memory floods with a mixed bag of nostalgic 80s and 90s flicks that were the backdrop of my adolescence.
Aside from my absurd amount of argyle sweater vests and cargo shorts (it was the late 90s), my biggest anxiety was whether Andie would choose Ducky or Blaine as her Prom date. I was caught up in the drama of how Preston Meyers would get his letter to Amanda Beckett and finally confess his love to her at their graduation party. And I was faced with the most frightening question of all…can you really do that with an apple pie?
As a 35-year-old, I straddle the line between being a Millennial and Gen-X. My adolescence was vastly different than teens and young Millennials today. Everyday essentials like social media, iPhones and Netflix were non-existent. There was no 24–7 streaming content with the push of a button. I still had a landline in my dorm room, and “Facebook” was literally a book of all the names and photos of my incoming college Freshman class.
I wasn’t watching teen movies about suicide, cancer, or living in a hypoallergenic home-bubble. I was daydreaming about Jake confidently leaning against his red Porsche outside my home, and asking myself if Cher’s wardrobe collection was full of couture classics or fashion faux-pas. The worst thing that could seemingly happen to me was being stuck in detention with these fools.
It is said that my generation became “adults” on September 11, 2001. I was a Junior in college, and it was the first time that people like me experienced first-hand that “safety” was an illusion, and no matter how good of a person you are, terrible things can happen.
Today, teens are a lot more immune to this reality. Maybe their hearts are stronger, their skin thicker, and their views of the world less ignorant than mine were. They’ve grown up with ISIS, shootings at elementary schools, slut shaming on social media, and kids live-streaming their suicide in front of their peers.
Perhaps pop culture is respecting the teen experience more, by creating stories that are heavier, darker, and ultimately, more realistic about the world. But sometimes, I long for the days of losing myself in silly movie soundtracks, the comfort of having a quirky best friend as my sidekick, and a first kiss over sixteen candles. I wonder if today’s teens would revel in or reject such sugary portrayals of teen life.