80s Vs. 90s: The Teen Movies

80s Vs. 90s: The Teen Movies
by ron provine


     Sometimes, after a night of unusually heavy
drinking, I will stagger to wherever I am nesting for
the night (beds, couches, and dear friends' laundry
piles are all equally comfortable at these points)and
fall into a halting, intense sort of sleep.  And
during these sleeps, I sometimes have what a
psychoanalyst (if I could afford one) might call a
Sisyphian dream.  Sisyphus was this Greek guy who
lived long ago and pissed off Zeus somehow (nobody
remebers just how, maybe he castrated the bull Zeus
had taken the form of to make sweet love to a Greek
maiden who, judging from the forms Zeus often took to
screw them, apparently have been reincarnated as the
women on those XXXXXX Internet Bondage and Bestiality
Sex Sites).  As punishment for whatever it is he did,
Sisyphus was forced to roll a boulder up a very high
hill in Hades.  But each time just as the boulder
reached the top, Sisyphus would lose his footing and
the boulder would roll slowly but unalterably down the
hill like Al Gore talking to a crowd of high
schoolers:  slow, dull, but impossible to stop.  

Well in my dream, I am sitting on a bed, wearing a sweater vest, hair tossled and face full of freckles and a couple of zits. I am calling Molly Ringwald to beg her to go to the Winter Formal with me. In the dreams, things go surprisingly well, she is just about to say yes when I hear in the background on her end the unmistakeable roar of a Porsche 911 engine, and the line goes dead. I know she is running downstairs, to the front door, into the arms of the cool, nice rich boy she has loved all along. I awaken from these dreams frustrated and rattled and only some more vodka and a few valiums will calm me.
The unabashed, naked romanticism of 80's teen movies has thoroughly permeated my consciousness. Where others hear satanic messages in rock and roll songs, I hear references to John Hughes movies and Brat Pack Lore. That song by Sponge called "Molly" is obviously about Molly Ringwald. Come on, 'Sixteen Candles down the drain' is a line in it. And sometime after 16 Candles, her career really *did* go down the drain. Now she does Liftetime made for TV movies and instead of an audience of lust-struck teenage boys her audience is bitter housewives and their disinterested daughters. Now that he landed the coveted role as Bill Gates in Pirates of Silicon Valley, I hear Anthony Michael Hall won't return *her* phone calls. And if you play the Safety Dance backwards, I am sure it says "NOW IGON, NOW".
So when it finally became obvious that the new wave of late 90's teen films were little more than the classics of my youth slightly repackaged, I had hopes that the kids today would turn out alright after all. You know, like we did. Minus the substance abuse, and the slacking, and the whole grunge thing. (Soundgarden still speaks to us...it says Change the Fucking Station"). But who am I kidding? The kids these days are all fucked up, so are we, so were our parents and our children will be too. The most I was really hoping for was a synth rock revival, maybe a Tears for Fears reunion tour.
My girlfriend and I spent a couple of months painstakingly researching these new teen movies by going to them, sitting through them, and then painstakingly avoiding any contact with any of the actual 90's youths in the theatres to see the same movies on our way out for fear of catching whatever the hell it is the kids nowadays all seem to suffer from. Nothing some synthesizer music wouldn't solve, or more to the point a few good solid whacks to the head with a Hancock keyboard.
After our research I regret to inform you, the 90's teen movies suck. They suck hard. They suck harder than Reese Wittherspoon does to Ryan Phillipe on the rare occasions they both take off their makeup long enough to have any fun.
The problem is, there is no sense of fun anymore. At least not like we had. You know, the right sort of fun. Look at movies like Real Genius, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science and the like. These movies taught us valuable lessons. Smart kids are going to rule the world, if they just stay true to themselves and their ideals, and if they find a nice man who lives in secret catacombs just beneath their college. There is a girl for every boy and a boy for every girl and the girl or boy of your dreams can be yours, will come and rescue you if you just have faith. People are people and bad people can be converted, changed for the better, or at least changed so as to be tolerable. Or if not, they can be left to themselves while everybody else goes off in triumph. I am not so naive as to claim these are lessons about how the world actually is....they are lessons about what our characters can be like, our internal lives and personalities, the way we can *try* to be.
The movies of the 90's seem to boil down to wish fulfilment. The cool oppressors are tortured at the end in loving detail, in Cruel Intentions the antagonist is humiliated in front of her entire prep school, which is actually very much the way you might expect John Hughes to end a movie. Except that the humiliation is not merely implied, nor is it done quickly and then replaced with scenes of happy gloating victors, rather the humiliation lingers, is fauned over, and indeed the villain rather than the 'victor' (she has lost a boy she loved, the victory is Pyrrhic at best) is the focus of the ending. And when the victor finally is shown again, she seems to have been altered for the worse, or at least turned more jaded and vicious. In the 90's, it seems, to win one must first lose one's innocence, whereas in the 80's a victory entailed a return to innocence.
Similarly in Jawbreaker, the humiliation of the antagonists is brutal and brooding and the celebration at the end is a celebration not of having achieved any sort of ideal, but only of having destroyed the enemies. Even in Revenge of the Nerds, the heroes are so loveable and inept that the real focus is on how the hell these guys won, rather than on celebrating the destruction of the evil frat boys.
There is a dark, pouty streak that runs through the 90's movies, they are brutal wish fulfilment on screen. And the protagonists are still cool for the most part. The 80's movies often came down to dorks v cool kids, and then in the end everybody realized they were all the same, or at least similar enough to nod at each other in the hallways. In the 90's, only the cool kids even show up on screen. It is the nice cool kids v the mean cool kids sometimes, the misunderstood but still objectively cool kids agains the established order, but geeks just don't get sympathetic roles anymore. And that's a shame.
I miss the romanticism, the optimism, the fundamental cheer of the 80's movies, and it is too bad that the 90's so warped our collective unconscious that it is now profitable to appeal to dark, sinister, worthless motives within us that cry out only for blood. Sixteen Candles down the drain indeed. A decade gone to shit.
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