Since the age of eleven, I’ve been filled with enough teenage angst to drive the plots of more than a few 90s teen dramedies. You may be asking yourself why an eleven-year-old should be so glum? Well, I can blame it all (or most of it) on those melodramatic, oversexed, under-acted teen movies that not only defined Gen X but also left an indelible stain on generations to come.
This aforementioned stain is what propelled me from the world of Scholastic book clubs and Nicktoons and sent me hurdling into pre-mature adolescence, transforming me into a brooding, introspective and more than slightly precocious fifth grader.
Although I was born in 1988 and was technically not “teen” or even “tween” enough to watch these movies when they originally came out, my older cousins, who I looked up to and desperately wanted to fit in with, were all at the perfect age to be seduced by these films. This soon trickled down and permeated my equally impressionable mind.
I remember seeing She’s All That with a group of my fellow fifth grade girlfriends one Saturday night with my dad acting as chaperone. I found the film inspiring. Not only that Rachael Leigh Cook could transform from ugly nerdy duckling, woo the hot quarterback, and dethrone
the bitchy queen bee all in the course of an hour and 45 minutes, but that in just a few years I could and would look, walk and talk just like these beautifully glossy and manicured actors playing “teens” on the screen. This was what it was like to be a teenager to me. I was blissfully unaware at the time that most of these actors were at least 25 years old and were far removed from the teenage experience, much like the writers and directors that created these films.
I took most of my social cues from these films, expecting the world of high school to be just like Can’t Hardly Wait and for everyone to fully embody their respective stereotype. However, once I actually became a teenager and entered high school, these illusions quickly crumbled. Parents were not going out of town every weekend and leaving their kids to throw wild parties, nor were popular jocks taking bets to transform bookworms into homecoming queens. Most of the kids I encountered in high school were normal-looking, not highly stylized nor overly articulate and sophisticated. Maybe this because we were all actually teenagers.
Sure, there were some parties where kids would experiment with alcohol or drugs, but more often than not, the high school parties I attended were full of awkward kids trying to decode if the person across the room really had a crush on them. This was not the high school experience Cruel Intentions prepared me for.
I can safely say that I am not the only person who has gotten caught up in the allure of the 90s teen movie genre. From talking with many of my peers, we reminisce and look back fondly on the movies that were supposed to be depicting our experiences. So many of us feel slighted about the actual experiences depicted on screen. When you really look at it, these were not teen movies we were watching. Yes, they used the same slang as we did and dressed like we did (although in slightly better, more expensive clothing), but these were neither teenagers nor teen experiences we were viewing. These were adults masquerading as teens and dealing with adult issues. Nineties teen movies urged teens to grow up faster and take on more then our inexperienced minds could even wrap our heads around.
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed these films and they certainly left a huge impact on my adolescence, but they also helped me to realize that I would definitely choose studying for the SATs and grabbing pizza after soccer practice rather than having my dad catch me getting it on with a pastry any day.
Written by Simone Tetteh. http://twitter.com/simonetetteh