Are Teenagers Misrepresented in Modern Cinema?

Ultimately, it’s a subjective issue however throughout this, we will explore the place of the teenager in a modern Hollywood film. To look at the trend set for the recent batch of teenage films, this needs to be traced back to the first Twilight film. Following Twilight, a recent trend has emerged to try to engage the group that made certain films marketable – films such as The Maze RunnerDivergentThe Book Thief and Fault in Our Stars to name a few. This key demographic is teenagers. But what of their representation within the films that are being aimed?

Moving back into the 1980s the teen comedy was almost a dime a dozen although now there is an insane pressure to move to darker, more brooding grounds. The lightness of touch of the Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Clubs of the world is long gone and in with your Hunger Games or The Maze Runner. During the teenage years, an identity is created, the personality shaped as you shape into the person to carry you through the older years. Whilst a great role model for the younger females in the audience, Katniss Everdeen (the protagonist of The Hunger Games) is hardly a fair representation of teenagers in our time. Taking people out of the real and moving into the dystopian or science fictional is a moving trend in Hollywood cinema to help in adding new elements of drama to what is effectively normal life.

If we compare the two extremes of the point, The Breakfast Club and The Hunger Games, they are arguably the same: a tale of authority figures attempting all facets of control such as controlling the entire of Panem or ensuring that you’re in detention on your Saturday. The issue arrises from the representation. Katniss is seen as the saviour, the one who can overcome the evil regime whereas even John Bender cannot overcome the all powerful authority figure in Assistant Principal Dick Vernon.

The representation of teenagers within Hughes’ seminal 1985 work, The Breakfast Club is to create multiple well-rounded and completely flawed characters attempting to find their place in society and whether this is the place they want. Given the breadth of characters that Hughes created in his writing, it allowed for multiple aspects of the teenage mind to be explored. The insecurity, the rebellion and the effects of pushy parents, these key themes are consistently explored within what is a teen comedy.

By comparison, whilst arguably The Hunger Games deals with larger, more real themes such as the effects of the media and politics, the main arc is based around Katniss and how she becomes more the matriarch – not just of her family but also her district and ultimately the symbol of the rebellion, the Mockingjay. Katniss is very straight-faced and the appearance of other similarly aged teenagers are sparse, for this we turn to Peeta. Again, Peeta is more represented as jumping straight from childhood up to being a key player in the game of President Snow and his all encompassing power over the districts- something not typically associated with a teenager finding themselves.

So what are we left with? If we take that since the 1980s, the film teenager has become more serious, surely there’s another side to this? Frat comedies. During the 1980s, for every Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, there was a Porkys. Frat comedies are a longstanding trope within mainstream American cinema – it is arguable that during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s with the rise of the Frat Pack, they went through a heyday of their own. These are more male-led and based comedies about discussing nights out and how to get with the girls – examples being Anchorman, American Pie, Knocked Up and Superbad. Very few of these are based around the teenage market and an even fewer amount giving a gender equal role model.

This isn’t to say that there is no hope or no exception to the rules however generally speaking, there is a decline in the way that teenagers are viewed in modern cinema. Do people feel that the high school idea is too well-worn? Is there a market for an old-fashioned Say Anything…-type or is there to be an even larger gender divide in film: this is a boy film with men talking about their penis’ and this is a woman film with Melissa McCarthy being slightly crude.

Fewer and fewer mainstream films are pointing towards the flawed and completely rounded characters of the John Hughes era and sticking more to tropes – the virgin, the fat friend, the ‘free and easy’ and the popular one – or simply portraying their teenage characters as already knowing their place in the world. Maybe it’s just me and I should dig out the old John Hughes Box Set again…


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