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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Flashback Dance: Bildungsroman Movies, Part 1

Hello hello!

So, my blog has a bit of a reputation, I suspect. Sci fi, a bit of urban fantasy, gaming stuff, writing techniques, analysis of everything, occasional dives into horror, feminism (intersectional feminism, or at least I try to make it so), political/cultural trend ruminations--you guys know what to expect by now. One thing you won't see much of is romance-related material. Oh, sure, love stories and examinations of romantic relationships are all over the place, but fluffy comedies and romances? There's only a few I mention.

Caution: embarassing content warning

Well, I'm a somewhat...how do I say this...I tend to be either right on the edge of a trend, falling for something juuuust as it reaches the limelight or slightly before, or I'm at least five years late to the party. Sometimes ten. Often fifteen. I was born between the last gasp of the 80s and the first breath of the 90s, and I even have a generationally appropriate name to prove it. I'll spare you the nostalgia wank that normally follows this pronouncement, because frankly, I missed out on most of the nostalgia. Sure, I was fluent in Disney and could recite off scenes and songs by heart as a kid, but I never owned a Playstation, Nintendo, or even a Gameboy. I missed out on a lot of cartoons because I was reading and also too busy being tortured by girls in elementary school to interact properly with a lot of my classmates.

So, as you can tell from that extremely personal and embarassing paragraph, I missed out on a lot. There are a lot of cultural mainstays that I didn't watch until my (so-called) adulthood, and because I'd run out of documentaries on weird burial rituals, sex trade workers, and alternative lifestyles, I decided to play catch-up and deliberately risked brain-rot to familiarize myself with the often-referenced cultural mainstays I'd missed out on. As a result, I was mostly unprotected by the warm pink haze of nostalgia goggles; some of this stuff was both hauntingly familiar yet alien, a vaguely unsettling experience.

Like Thranduil, I have a few words to say about these movies, and they won't all be friendly.

What did you watch?

In this case, I decided to binge-semi-watch a bunch of teen comedies on my (rare) days off. That included a lot of things I'd only seen once, or had never seen. In this case, The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls, Clueless, The Craft, Pretty in Pink, Footloose, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Heathers, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Graduate, and Say Anything. I had only seen the first two once each, and hadn't finished Mean Girls. Of course, I've seen Ten Things I Hate about You, American Pie, and She's the Man, but they weren't on Netflix, so I haven't rewatched them. I did see Dirty Dancing and Top Gun a while back--a LONG while--but Flashdance was the only one on this list that was a mainstay of my childhood.

The thing that surprised me was how tightly controlled the formulas for these movies tended to be. Now, Flashdance, Top Gun, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and The Graduate kind of fit into one strangely continuous yet diverse category, but the rest can all be comfortably classified as "teen movies". The first ones are not teen movies because they, well, don't involve teenagers at high school, even though they actually have a similar feel. So, why mention them at all? For one thing, they impacted the other movies.

What makes a teen movie?

A teen movie in the 80s and 90s was a distinct creature. It's kind of a bildungsroman, or "coming of age" story, but it's also less...responsibility-laden...than a "true" bildungsroman, such as, say, A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews or Charles' Dickens David Copperfield. Still, in these movies, there is usually:

1. An ensemble cast, or something close to it. There may be a central protagonist, but their friends will be just as important.

2. WHITE PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. SO MANY WHITE PEOPLE. NASA uses the casts of these movies to preform albedo tests for spacecraft.

3. A romance with a fairly shallowly developed opposite sex partner.

4. Fleeting, uncomfortable gay jokes.

5. Character groups that are easily identified by tropes and sociological tribal designations, such as Punks/Goths, Outcasts, Suspiciously Normal Kids, Rich People, The Foreign/Ethnic Ones, Comic Relief Hideous Fat Chick, a Gigantic Cast of other teenagers, Comic Relief Teachers, and Comically Dismayed Parents. (The capitals represent tropes. You may see acronyms in the rest of the article using these terms. There will be a test, so take notes.)

6. A plot involving socio-economic class conflict, A House Party to End All House Parties, the Romantic Misunderstanding, Friends Fighting Friends, and eventually--spoiler?--A Happy and Just (?) Ending.

7. A high-school based setting, often senior year, often culminating in the big dance/prom/fling/whatever. Lots of large, expensive houses are often a part of the setting.

Now, this is going to run long, so next time, let's talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly with temporal context. Some of these movies worked for me, and some made me rant compulsively on Twitter. Why? (Oh gods, why?)

Find out in part 2!

So, which tropes have you noticed in these teen movies? Which other teen movies should I have watched, and where can they be streamed? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

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