Guide Screening Generation X: The Politics and Popular Memory of Youth in Contemporary Cinema

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Hot Moves , and Joy of Sex [all ]. The new abundance of teen sexuality on screen also coincided with an increasing social awareness that the age of first intercourse was dropping for American youth, and the few earlier films that solemnly featured teens losing their virginity--such as Rich Kids , The Blue Lagoon , Endless Love --faded into the new appeal of carnal comedies about the plight of sexual pursuits.

At the same time, Halloween and similar films like Friday the 13th and Slumber Party Massacre were capitalizing on the moralistic aspect of teen sexuality, slaughtering wholesale those youth who deigned to cross the threshold of sexual awareness, even though these films usually hinged on a major suspension of realism. The early '80s then witnessed a remarkable intensification in American youth movie production with the appearance of numerous popular teen horror films in and the release of Fast Times at Ridgemont High in , the first commercially successful hybrid of the contemporary sex, school, and delinquency elements.

Between and , there were six major approaches to youth cinema offered by Hollywood, most revised from past trends in the genre: the science saga, the horror thriller, the romantic melodrama, the sex comedy, the juvenile delinquent film, and the school picture that often borrowed generic elements from the rest.

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The one approach to not endure past was the science film, which had its experimental trials during the moon exploration years with sporadic examples like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and Escape to Witch Mountain These movies and those that followed tried to simultaneously stimulate youthful excitement about technology and agitate cultural fears of invasion or corruptive intelligence. Such a strategy suited the Reagan '80s, the era of sci-fi blockbusters like E. The Extra-Terrestrial and Back to the Future , when the nascent subgenre found its most formal coherence, with films like WarGames , Real Genius , and The Manhattan Project essentially inspiring and warning young people about the possibilities inherent to their explorations.

This omen became real when SpaceCamp appeared just months after the Space Shuttle disaster in , retroactively confirming that children should avoid ambitions beyond the realm of adult approval lest catastrophe ensue. Thereafter, the subgenre dwindled as relatively few films about youth and science were made aside from weak exploitation attempts featuring teens playing corruptive video games e.

Today almost all concepts of youth and science are subsumed in unrealistic fantasies, like the alternate reality parable Another Earth , or minimalized in passing images of responsible home computer use as in Easy A , with the presence of technology in teens' lives remaining quite conspicuously scant in their daily experiences. Thus, while this subgenre was the subject of a full chapter in the first edition of this book, it is omitted here.

The horror film tended to offer the highest grosses literally and figuratively and often showed the least knowledge of true youth conditions. Within the new youth horror subgenre, teenage nudity and brutal violence had come to be expected, showing teens not only as sexually active but as morally culpable for their adultery, then paying with their lives for these transgressions.

Screening Generation X : the politics and popular memory of youth in contemporary cinema

The youth horror film--especially in the "slasher" category so easily parodied by in Student Bodies --thereby brought attention to teen sexuality and responsibility, and other issues, by the most dramatic means possible. While the subgenre apparently lost its prominence at the multiplex by the end of the '80s, its popularity was elevated through the home video market for much of the next decade, in cheap sequels to previous hits, and in less brutal supernatural stories like Christine and Night of the Demons Following this trajectory, teen horror found rejuvenating attention in self-conscious postmodern productions of the late '90s such as Scream and The Faculty And a more certain sign that the previous appeal of simplistic teen homicide was waning in favor of scary cerebral schemes emerged with the flourishing trend of youth fantasy films in the '00s, which often relied on respected literary pedigrees and enticed wider audiences through tepid violence and virtually subconscious sexual tension.


  • Generation Multiplex.
  • Stories from Iwate: Iwate Monogatari.
  • Perdition (The Dred Chronicles).

The sex comedy and romantic melodrama are companions, for despite the often gratuitous content of many of these films, they all consider the trial by fire that is the discovery of young lust and love, usually in that connected order. Youth romances, unlike sexual exploits, have a timeless quality, going back for centuries and arguably reaching their pinnacle with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet , which is built on the most common device of family conflict. In fact, all young love stories can be categorized by identifying the obstacle to the protagonists' romance: class, race, age, distance, and so forth.

Youth cinema in the post-WWII era moved beyond chaste tales of innocent romantic struggle toward more mature consequences of love gone wrong, resulting in pregnancy Blue Denim , , date rape Where the Boys Are , , and mental illness Splendor in the Grass , By the '70s, Hollywood viewed young love through a nostalgic lens and avoided these grave tensions in films such as Summer of '42 and American Graffiti , and that avoidance worked again for the '80s audience in cheery contemporary stories like Valley Girl , Sixteen Candles , Secret Admirer , Seven Minutes in Heaven both , and One Crazy Summer All the same, the conflicts of young romance continually captured audience imaginations for further generations, as with the murder-for-love plot in To Die For , the cross-class clash of Titanic , the transgendered taboo of Boys Don't Cry , the international intrigue of What a Girl Wants , the cultural dissention in Towelhead , and the barely pubescent peregrinations in Moonrise Kingdom Then by the mid.

The output of juvenile delinquent dramas was the most voluminous of youth subgenres until the early twenty-first century, when studios and audiences became especially uncomfortable with the topic after the Columbine murders in Such films have always been controversial, because they offer a rich appreciation for the aggressive expressions that teens most crave and parents most fear. The subgenre nonetheless persists with a clear range of immorality across its productions, which have become more refined since the older days of gang fights West Side Story [], The Warriors [] and drug trips Wild in the Streets [], Beyond the Valley of the Dolls [].

This range now runs from harmless mischief that youth enact in daily life--such examples as Adventures in Babysitting , Snow Day , and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid films —12 --to life-threatening criminality of teen thugs in films like Class of , Boyz N the Hood , and Loren Cass I look at five specific delinquent styles that represent this spectrum, starting with movies about "deviant dancing" from Beat Street to Footloose and concluding with crime films after Columbine such as Elephant and Gran Torino School films are probably the most foundational subgenre of youth films, yet they often consider teenage identities quite separately from other subgenres.

In most school films, the educational setting becomes an index for youth issues, featuring a variety of youth culture styles and types, as best represented by The Breakfast Club in Five character roles played out in that film--the nerd, the delinquent, the rebel, the popular girl, and the athlete--are the roles most commonly seen in all school films, going back to examples such as High School Confidential!

The cycles in school films are best revealed through tracing the characters that embody those cycles, from the nerdy outcasts of Lucas and Dear Lemon Lima to the tormented clique queens of Heathers and Mean Girls to the jock heroes of Vision Quest and Coach Carter These subgenres remained in place into twenty-first.

Looking back, after the boom in the early '80s, the output of successful American youth films began to decline by the late '80s, as the "Brat Pack" of popular teen stars in the mid-'80s began taking adult roles and Hollywood moved away from the limited market of teen stories. Many little-seen youth films did continue to be made at this time, and while many were quite good, most were by small studios and thus had restricted releases. With the exception of a few notable films, such as those about African American crime in the early '90s, Hollywood did not demonstrate a refreshed interest in youth films until the mid-'90s, which once more ebbed in the early '00s only to rise again a few years later with teen fantasies.

Part of the reason for this cycle is the cyclical nature of genres in general, and the short-lived recycling of teen films in particular. As the media industries have been merging and consolidating their products during this time, the movie market inevitably works to synergize its influences with teen-oriented TV shows and Internet sites as well. This strategy certainly appeared to be working at the turn of the century, since the Internet had established its prominence as a means of two-way youth communication, and television networks expanded with more channels carrying teen shows that often found synergistic cult followings with movies, music, and fan blogs, as with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson's Creek , and later Veronica Mars , Friday Night Lights , and Glee.

The Politics and Popular Memory of Youth in Contemporary Cinema

Further, the industry discovered the financial advantages of making big-budget films about youth--such as Titanic , Spider-Man , and Transformers -. The youth population by this point was clearly witness to another wide wave of films that catered to their interests and surveyed their images, films that were undoubtedly influenced by and built on the evolution of cinematic youth representations in previous decades.

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The rich and compelling history of films about youth informs us of more than the changing social conditions and perceptions of young people; it gives us a special appreciation for how successive generations have endured the conflicts of claiming identity and seeking recognition for their actions. This endurance was seen most visibly in the post—World War II teen films as young people restively entered the Cold War era their parents created, and then again in the '60s counterculture films, through the falsely liberatory sex romps of the '80s, and in the current abundance of teen fantasies.

This study examines American youth films since to determine how recent generations of young people have been represented in American cinema and what that representation tells us about the various phenomena that constitute the contemporary coming-of-age process. Through this examination I demonstrate not only that youth films constitute a legitimate genre worthy of study on their own terms, but that they are imbued with a unique cultural significance: they question our evolving identities from youth to adulthood while simultaneously shaping and maintaining those identities.

This is a work of film criticism based on the analysis of hundreds of films that are my primary texts, and my method employs genre theory to study social representation. Social approaches to film seek an understanding of cinematic images of groups and individuals under the tacit assumption that films are both aesthetic and cultural documents produced by an industry whose aim is to appeal to populations that will find the films worth seeing.

Genre analysis considers patterns, motifs, and trends across a spectrum of films that share a commonality, usually subject matter and theme such as melodrama, science fiction, and horror , and further explores how the elements of a genre are manifested and change over time. My study considers how American films about teenagers have utilized different techniques and stories to represent young people within a codified system that delineates distinct subgenres and character types within the "youth film" genre.

Unlike other genres that are based exclusively on subject matter, the youth genre is based on the ages of the films' characters, and thus the thematic concerns of its subgenres can be seen as more directly connected to specific notions of different youth behaviors and styles. The authors of these studies employ various approaches to their investigations, all of which are built on the belief that films are cultural artifacts revealing much about not only the people who are depicted in them but also those who make and view them.

These approaches can be primarily interpretive, utilizing a subjective understanding of the films and the population in question, or more quantitative, attempting an objective "content analysis" to disclose various features of the films. I study the images of youth in American cinema by combining both of these approaches.

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I feel that in any social study of cinema one cannot and should not rely solely on quantitative and statistical information, and an "objective" study of a medium as personal and social as film would not be effective in such matters as attitude, nuance, and style. However, I also feel that relying solely on inferential readings of films is problematic, for such a study can become so subjective as to be indifferent to other perspectives. I therefore aim to understand the subtleties and possible interpretations of youth films while also understanding the social and industrial contexts of the films' productions; I try to identify and analyze the "image" of youth with as much information as possible about what inspired and manifested that image and how that image developed over time.

The films are thus my primary texts, while broader studies of youth cinema provide my theoretical and historical foundation, supplemented with current perspectives from critics who reviewed the films in their time of release. I do not study the reception of youth images however, and leave such a study to those who can pursue thorough audience research.

Genre theory has been developed alongside social analysis methods. While many critics observed the social influence of movies on viewers from the earliest days of cinema, serious genre examinations did not proceed until after World War II. Paul Willemen in described the two functions that genre theory was then designed to fulfill: 1 "to challenge and displace the dominant notions of cinema installed and defended on the basis of the assumed excellence of the 'taste' of a few journalists and reviewers, appealing to the 'age-old canons and principles' of Art in general," and 2 "in the wake of the realisation that any form of artistic production is a rule-bound activity firmly embedded in social history, [genre theory] set about discovering the structures which underpinned groups of films and gave them their social grounding.

Theoretical arguments abounded before and after Willemen's work, and these polemics continue to this day with no consensus in sight.

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Screening Generation X. The Politics and Popular Memory of Youth in Contemporary Cinema

As early as , Andrew Tudor pointed to the "empiricist dilemma" of arbitrary definitions and post hoc descriptors that are often used to describe a genre, in which a genre is defined "on the basis of analyzing a body of films that cannot possibly be said to be [a certain genre] until after the analysis. Steve Neale employed an even broader compass in by suggesting that genres are "ubiquitous, multifaceted phenomena rather than one-dimensional entities to be found only within the realms of Hollywood cinema or of commercial popular culture.

In the case of my study, I consider the image of the American youth population within evident ranges of experience that youth are afforded within the films themselves, such as the educational environment, relationships of family and friends, and types of deviance. These experiences are essentially what define the more precise subgenres within the genre of youth films. Because my study argues primarily from the point at which images of youth are produced--the texts of the films--and not their reception within a historical reality of youth, nor their stylistic components e.

While any study that deals with representation must necessarily consider the context of said representation, my study only occasionally incorporates box office results as a measure of films' success, as well as statistics about historical trends, film release patterns, and the number of films within certain subgenres over time, as far as this information is relevant to particular arguments.

Otherwise, cultural conditions of learning and lifestyle among young people in "real life" are too complex to analyze within the scope of this study. One of the conspicuous problems of genre analysis over the past generation has been the assumption by many scholars that a genre's characteristics and development can be discerned by exclusively studying the most popular and "meaningful" examples of a genre or else a random sample of its offerings.

Obviously this approach presents a number of dilemmas: how the determination of "importance" is made for the sample selected, what is lost in the films not studied, and how claims about the genre may not apply to every film that can be argued to fit the genre's code.

Yet a methodology in which all the available films within a genre, and its respective subgenres, are addressed in order to ensure complete knowledge of that genre is untenable. Many films may be unavailable for viewing; the restrictions of space do not allow for ample discussion of all films; and some films that are only partially germane to a genre may not contribute to an understanding of the genre as a whole. The first problem cannot be avoided: there are simply many films that are so obscure as to be inaccessible, and a scholar is left with the faulty option of making comments on these films based on plot descriptions.

The second problem is unfortunate, demanding that some valuation be placed on films and styles that do warrant more extensive commentary, while others are given shorter coverage or omitted altogether. This and the third problem are symptomatic of the inevitably judgmental nature of generic definition: the author must determine which films are significant, as well as how they operate within a genre. I argue that most youth films fall into one of four subgenres as of , but not all portray youth in such a way that lends deeper insight to the patterns and operations of those subgenres.

Thus I have had to select the films that are most germane to these subgeneric categories, and I have needed to eliminate a number of valuable films and important issues for the sheer sake of concentration and demonstration.

I thus apologize for the marginalization of numerous teen classics in the otherwise endearing cult of personality which they have fostered. That films about youth actually constitute a genre has rather recently been identified in film studies. After the pioneering work of David Considine and a few other authors in the s, two catalogs offered codifications for the youth genre. In his massive compendium Films by Genre: Categories, Styles, Trends, and Movements Defined, with a Filmography for Each , Daniel Lopez identifies the "Teen Movie," which has also been called the "'Juve' Movie," "Teenage Movie," "Teenpic," and "Youth Picture," placing undue weight on the exploitative nature of many films since the s that have featured teenagers.

His further distinction of the "Youth Film" appears a matter of historically specific semantics, because he cites examples only from to and claims that these films "highlighted the concerns of young people querying the Establishment, society and its values," as if films before or since this time frame had failed to do so. Such a dubious category exposes the difficulty of finding accurate descriptors for generic styles and movements, when Lopez would have done better to label the Vietnam-era films to which he was referring by their thematic concerns, calling them perhaps "Anti.

This guide locates one comprehensive genre it labels "Youth," which comprises "fictional work portraying aspects of the trajectory through adolescence, including high school years, peer pressure, first love, beach parties, and initial attempts at adulthood, along with strains in the relationship with family.