Thursday, 19 June 2014

Genre: Teen Culture in Film and Television

I've almost graduated out of the system. That is, out of the bewildering, all-consuming years they call adolescence. Being a teenager means everything, and then nothing. Your world is a thin strip of moonlight from a door cracked just slightly open. And what is beyond that? You don't know. So of course being young and curious, you are fucking obsessed with it. It's an ideal world where freedom runs wild, happiness is choice and you're free to dance with danger.
Representation of teen in media is tricky business. Na├»ve portrayals of teenagers are ridiculed yet sensationalised ones are criticised and dubbed "dangerous" and "inflammatory". It is the realistic ones which reign over these. They are masterpieces which portray the bittersweet experience with a brutal honesty, capturing the fragility of our worlds and enthusiasm for the forbidden. 
Below are my five favourite depictions of teen culture in media: 
(please note that I have excluded all Sofia Coppola works from this post as I intend to do write-up on her soon)

The Spectacular Now

Remember that moment when you realised that once you become an adult theres no going back? That "this is the youngest we're ever going to be"?. That once you step into adulthood, theres nothing but disappointment, darkness and responsibility awaiting you? You're hovering around the age of 17 and you realise theres a simple beauty to being a teenager. Because you've been a child for as long as you know but now you're going to be an adult for the rest of your life. Such a notion has never been captured so sensitively as in James Ponsoldt's film The Spectacular Now. The protagonist, Sutter Keely sees no hope in the future and instead invests fully in today, in now and nothing in tomorrow. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I picked up a library copy of The Perks of Being A Wallflower when I was 12. At the time, the names Charlie, Sam and Patrick meant nothing to me. Today, Perks only a widely revered book but a celebrated film enjoyed and valued by teens and adults alike. These names now mean everything to nearly everyone. We all know a Patrick, the class clown who cannot help but attract attention (and trouble) to himself until we later learn that it is a coping mechanism for darker consequences. There are the Charlies, the quiet ill-appreciated misfits lost in their worlds of words and consumed by the idea of their own loneliness. And the Sams, discredited by  a history of bad choices and now scrambling to find self-worth. What is distinctive about this film is that the author of the novel, Steven Chbosky, actually had the rare opportunity to adapt the screenplay and direct the film himself. Poignant is a word too often used to describe any good teen drama film. But no film fits the description better than Perks. 


The British have a particular skill for giving an audience brutal portrayals of teens. There is no benefit of the doubt. Skins is a television series perpetuated by teens and teens alone. Unlike American teen shows, the actors themselves are actually adolescents. The events they represent are not just a form artistry but wholly relevant to the life they now experience. More significantly however, the writers of Skins are teenagers. Skins consists of real experiences re-crafted for the screen. Structurally, the series is most unique. Every two seasons, the cast is refreshed to allow for a new "generation". The first season is primarily focused on the glamour, the charm and allure of such things as substance abuse, partying and casual sex. The second focuses on "the downfall", the consequences of living life in moments.


Cynical and knowing, conventionality was never a choice for these two recent high-school graduates. It's witty, genuine comedy with memorable performances, possibly being the best of Scarlett Johansson's. Astoundingly original, this film wastes no time on sentimentality and has more than earned its cult following. It focuses not on petty heartbreak or self-pity but rather sharp observation and a consistently objective perspective on fast-changing lives, on being forced into adulthood. These two teenagers aren't quite there yet, so they meander somewhere in between adolescence and maturity, in a place they call Ghostworld. 


SLiDe provides a depiction of Australian teenagers that manages to be just as entertaining and exciting as it is insightful and real. This unlikely group of friends wreck havoc around the city of Brisbane: sneaking into clubs, music festivals, VIP areas, shopping centres at twilight and onto cruises, blackmailing customers of sex workers for money, hosting parties in hotel rooms. But they experience nearly everything a standard Australian teenager has: they work endless hours catering for extra cash, they leave someone behind at schoolies, go swimming at 4am before final exams. Its a dynamic group from the reckless, heady Luke to the promiscuous Scarlett, mysterious pink-haired Eva, to the ambitious perfectionist Tammy and finally to the awkward, adorable mess that is Ed. 

My Mad Fat Diary

I have saved the best until last. 
My Mad Fat Diary single-handedly encapsulates everything thats is painful, confusing, intriguing, singular, significant, freeing and yet frustratingly restricting about being a teenager. 
Having just been released from a psychiatric hospital, Rae Earl endeavours to make a life worth living for herself. She creates a facade of perfection, of confidence in order to win the friendships of five other young teens. The no-nonsense, rather confronting depiction of mental illness is truly astounding. It is television's best kept secret. 


  1. This is a very well written and interesting post! I haven't seen all of the TV shows you've listed here, but I can tell they fit perfectly just by the way you described them.

    1. Thank you Brittani :) They are all truly transcendent depictions of teen culture. You should definitely give them a shot if you have the chance.