I’m having a bit of a renaissance period in my life. My daughter is just entering her teens and one of the things we’ve always loved to do together is watch movies. So I’ve started dusting off the films that I loved as a teen for us to watch. And the reaction to them has not been what I expected.
I’m talking about MY reaction to them.
It’s easy to remember something from your past with fondness and rose-tinted glasses. I remember being an avid watcher of all the 80s movies that defined my teens – think Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Top Gun, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Porky’s, Back to the Future, Police Academy, Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Airplane, Dirty Dancing, Fast Times at Ridgemont High …I know. I’m showing my age.
But there’s something really weird about watching these movies again now that our social norms have shifted, and movements like #metoo are changing the narrative of how social and gender roles are depicted and played out onscreen.
Watching these movies can make for some really uncomfortable viewing. Hearing gay characters being called ‘fags’ or ‘faggots’ by their schoolmates; seeing hyper-masculine rich boys taking every opportunity to ‘nail the drunk girl’ at the frat party; superficial blonde cheerleaders mocking and bullying the girls that looked ‘different’ (read: showed some individuality); implied sexual assaults that were the ‘norm’ of what girls endured; the standard token insult of ‘slut’ for girls who slept around or who were known to be ‘easy’; focusing on a woman’s jiggling breasts as a completely normal close-up shot as she ran or sat in a plane seat during turbulence. The list goes on and on. Even the darling of 80s teen movies, Molly Ringwald, wrote a recent piece in the New Yorker about reassessing her own thoughts towards The Breakfast Club in light of today’s conversation about female sexual assault.
And don’t even get me started about the lack of diversity in ALL of these films.
These were the onscreen characters that I, and others of my generation, were given as role-models for how to be a ‘normal’ teenager. And with the benefit of hindsight, along with the changing landscape for what is now understood to be misogynistic rape culture, I can’t help but wonder how that may have impacted what society looks like today.
Which is more than a little disturbing.
What does give me a small glimmer of hope is my daughter’s reaction when she watches these ‘old’ films with me. Most of the time, she’s enjoying the story, but when particularly problematic dialogue or scenes that depict really cringe-worthy stereotypes are played out, she will look at me and ask, "Did he/she really just say/do that? How is that OK?!" Which immediately makes me feel better about her standards for what is and isn’t okay in her mind.
I’m trying to keep on top of what today’s teens are watching, and the messages they are sending. Having recently seen Love, Simon, as well as Wonder, plus making my way through as many teen-centric shows like Thirteen Reasons Why, I can honestly say that this generation of film and TV makers are making pretty good attempts to address many of the issues that are relevant to young people today. There is still a long way to go before we get to a place where our onscreen characters and their onscreen lives are fully inclusive, both in gender, sexuality, and race, but they are streets ahead of the whitewashed, hetero-normative stories I grew up with.
Which begs the question: what issues and behaviours will this generation’s films depict and stand for? And in thirty years time, will they be seen as socially backward or applauded for their inclusiveness?Support Villainesse