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Film: It’s a Chicken and Egg Sort of Thing

By Henry P. Raleigh
ART TIMES Winter 2015

drawing by Henry P. Raleigh

The question is, I think, do youth films influence the behavior of our American teens or do teens, in their persistent and unreasoning rebelliousness influence say even, motivate the making of these films? Did for example the 1983 “Risky Business” with Tom Cruise induce teens to the attractions of raising “Old Ned” when their parents left town? Or are they customarily up to no good at such times and nobody had noticed until some filmmakers caught on and made a film about it. That’s the chicken and egg thing, you see. My own youthful experiences do not serve as a measure. Other than smoking like a chimney movies didn't provide me with any neat tips about spending my teen years. First of all teenagers hadn’t been invented in my day. They generally stayed hidden until fully grown and gainfully employed. However, were I younger “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” certainly would seem to be a fun way to go through high school and hang out with Sean Penn’s Spicoli. At any rate by 1985 and “The Breakfast Club” the basic and forever social structure of high school became fixed in cinematic cliché: jock, geek, nerd, cool and most popular- all reacting to coming of age angst, hormonal agitation and the senior prom. But then it gets trickier- threatening shadows appear and who is to blame, I ask you? Was it the filmmakers' eagerness to open more movies nerves cheap exploitation or were the teenagers simply bored with their silly pranking and harmless petting had gone hardcore? Ferris Bueller adorably mischievous in ’86 is replaced by a homicidal maniac in the ’89 “Heathers.” The grand tradition of senior dances is no longer the event where a sweet but socially inadequate girl can come up a gorgeous winner but rather a site for mayhem and slaughter i.e. “Prom Night” of 2008. Losing ones innocence becomes the centerpiece in films as “Superbad” in ’07, “Can’t Hardly Wait” ’98, “American Pie” ’99 and pretty much every high school movie since.

Isn’t this getting out of hand? Who really are the crazed lustful ones- teens or those leering moviemakers? In my own in-depth, on going research I’ve asked millenniums - well, two at least, who, really, had influenced whom in their growing up years? One believed it was 50/50, each side fueling the other in an endless back and forth. The second saw the films as satires of teens and their nefarious activities, the models that filmmakers had only to dress up a little. If this is so it should give you pause considering the recent glut of teenage vampires in films. And shouldn’t we be worried about the sort of murderous teens we see in “The Hunger Games?”

Look dystopia isn’t that far away and you didn’t see any Mickey Rooney or Judy Garlands in that crowd, did you? It pays to keep alert, I can tell you.

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