Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Intern Special Report

The brilliant, shining minds behind The Turner Report decided to grant me, the summer intern, the privilege of my very own blog post. So, dear readers, I humbly introduce you to the first ever Intern Special Report.

American Teen, a critically-acclaimed documentary following five Indiana high school seniors for a school year, has been making waves in the online community with its marketing techniques. After Paramount Vantage acquired the distribution rights to the movie for a reported $1 million, it produced a promotional poster for the movie that featured the five main students from the film in poses meant to evoke the iconic poster for 1985’s The Breakfast Club. Here they are, side by side:

In the poster, the five students can clearly be put into a stereotypical high school role (i.e. geek, jock, princess, etc.). From what I understand, the studio is trying to market the documentary like this to appeal to teens. I’ve read in major newspapers and seen on news shows that the producers of this movie think that they’ve got a movie that is somehow important to teenagers/high schoolers. Paramount Vantage’s Vice President of marketing and publicity says that she thinks that “high school kids will relate to this movie.” (LA Times)

As a teenager/high schooler, I can say I don’t really think that they will. I don’t need a cutting-edge documentary to tell me that the archetypes perpetuated in Hollywood are patently false. I can see that every day. One of the captains of my lacrosse team swing dances and sings in a chamber chorus. Probably the smartest person I know is also one of the hardest partiers I have ever seen. The star of the school musical was one of the most popular seniors in school last year. There is no stereotypical geek, no jock, no princess. As soon as you try to put a real student in one of those roles, you have to realize that he doesn’t really fit: that there is so much more to each person than the sport they play or the grades they get. Even most of us, as immature high school students, know better than to characterize another teen based on what stereotype he should fall into.

Frankly, it gets tiring watching movies and seeing these archetypes so accentuated in movies and TV shows. There’s a reason that in this day and age those stereotypes are used mostly to mock themselves (see Not Another Teen Movie). We are so tired of seeing the same old characters in the same old situations in movie after movie after TV show. Recent movies such as Juno and Superbad were hits because they threw away old stereotypes and dealt with character development and plot. In Juno, the main character was not “the rebel.” She was a teenager thrust into a situation that she had to cope with. The movie focused on how she dealt with her pregnancy, not the fact that she didn’t follow societal norms. In a good number of other movies I have seen, plot seems to be the jock realizing that the art geek is pretty enough to ask to prom.

I guess that what I’m trying to get at here in the first (and hopefully not last!) intern special report is that those poor marketing saps over at Paramount have a lose-lose situation. On the one hand, they can’t advertise their documentary as one that shows teenagers that we don’t have to conform to stereotypes, because we already know that. On the other, they can’t advertise the movie as a new Breakfast Club because we just don’t want to see another stereotype-ridden film. That’s what I call a rock and a hard place. No matter what the producers of the movie do, the movie will fall into a category itself: anti-stereotype or stereotype-reinforcing. I haven’t seen the movie, but if I do I’ll go knowing that I’ll be forcefed stereotypes, even though that wasn’t the director’s intent (the director mentions that “[the kids] are these different, familiar stereotypes, but ultimately the point is they're so much more complicated than that”). These stereotypes have been perpetuated to such a great extent that they’re stuck in my brain and the brains of my peers, and no matter what we do to break them, no matter how many different extra-curriculars we participate in, it’s a part of the social development of a teenager to learn these types and either accept or reject them. Here’s hoping that Hollywood can finally learn that… oh, who am I kidding. They’ll never learn.

Jake Dinerman
Squire of Snark


CocaCola said...

I'm a very young blogger, so please forgive me for some technical errors I'll probably have in this post. I personally am looking forward to seeing this documentary. It's true that these stereotypes aren't very common anymore, but there are still a few people in every school that fit into it. The girls in the "popular" crowd still have to be pretty and nerds still have to be super smart and looked down upon. The movie may emphasize these stereotypes that don't have as big of a role in highschool life as the "breakfast club" but it will still be highly entertaining. The stereotypes aren't the only reason I want to see this documentary, I want to see into other highschooler's lives because really, I only have my own. Oh, and I'm actually fourteen.

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