Cult Cinema:- Article #11
Cult of the Week: Volume 11
Art imitates life. Until art gets so thoroughly processed by focus groups and marketing departments that it wins an MTV Movie Award. Then, art turns into product, which is imitated by the single-brain-celled form of life that spends a small fortune of its parents’ money texting in random strings of consonants to PunchMuch.
And it’s these creatures that feed off the circle of high school films imitating life imitating art. And what they shit out is what becomes the next film in the cycle.
High school cinema mainly relies on a very simple premise; teen life is entirely driven by social hierarchy and tribal culture. By transforming high school into a cross between The Warriors and Abercrombie and Fitch ads, films like The New Guy and Clueless depend entirely on this compartmentalization of social circles.
Which is, of course, complete and utter bullshit. I have lurked in several high schools while trolling for dates, so I think I know a thing or two about them. 95% of high school students just show up to class, try to surf 4chan in computer class, smoke a little dope behind the Pizza Pizza at lunch, and go home without running some sort of gauntlet of jeering jocks throwing punches. Nor is a new student ever introduced to school midway through the semester, assigned some a buddy/tour guide who scans the cafeteria identifying cliques between reminders to avoid the Mathletes.
Of course, cliques do exist. There are burned out skaters, and guys who think sinking a three-pointer at the buzzer should earn them a blow-job and a fucking crown. But they’re outnumbered by everybody else, despite what Mean Girls would have you believe.
But it’s this kind of nonsense that makes high school a living hell for some people. Hell, if I went to school under the impression that I’d get beaten unconscious if I didn’t like football, I might be a little self-conscious. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, simultaneously created and exploited by 40-year-old screenwriters meeting their deadlines by relying on outdated, oft-repeated tropes. Please, show us again how all a pimply band-nerd needs to do to become a beauty queen is to take off her glasses and let her hair down. And then treat the point guard dating her on a dare as some sort of fucking civil rights hero at the end of the movie, as if inter-clique dating was analogous to miscegenation in 19th century Virginia. Hollywood writers are no longer reflecting reality, they’re inventing it, scripting the various social circles in high school. And if you need further proof of this, take a look at American Teen.
Cult: The Ancient Mystic Order of Homeroom
Basic Tenets: Making friends is impossible if you own neither a muscle car nor an intramural football championship ring.
Adherents: People who need validation for not owning muscle cars and intramural football championship rings; their parents.
Example: American Teen (2008), written and directed by Nanette Burstein
Since Nanette Burnstein’s 2008 film is a documentary, following five teens in their final year of high school in Warsaw, Indiana, it could have been a fascinating look at the student experience. But all it reveals is that teenagers have seen The Breakfast Club too many times. Everything in this film seems to have been massaged to fit the categories and characterizations of previously existing teen comedies. There’s the beautiful but quirky ‘rebel,’ driven by a passion for film and the anti-authoritarian angst of Green Day albums. There’s the spoiled rich girl; Queen Bee of any given Gossip Girl episode. There’s the band geek struggling to find a prom date, the broad-shouldered jock, and the basketball star. And, of course, there’s the scandalous inter-clique romance, a few breakups and cat-fights, and oh so much drama.
What’s irritating about this film is not its characters, who are no more annoying that actually going to high school, but rather how carefully it validates and mirrors standard teen comedies. Add a few snappy one-liners that become dated mid-snark, and American Teen could have easily been scripted by John Hughes after watching a few hours of reality TV. While I won’t presume to suggest that parts of the film were staged (though several critics have), I will take it to task for a construction that aims to make it the 21st century version of Cameron Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High book. Ultimately, it has nothing new to offer, other than to suggest that teen comedies have moulded our youth into abominations incapable of social interaction not patterned on L.A. producers’ outdated concept of high school. Which means it should definitely be up for an MTV Movie Award this year.