You’re a Virgin Who Can’t Drive

Published on October 18th, 2011

Our Senior Female Correspondent, Emily, stops by to discuss her love of teen movies with Alex.

Welcome to the MacGuffin Men, Emily – thanks for providing us with our first real female voice… outside of you loaning us your literal voice each week, of course. You and I share a love of teen movies, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Mean Girls is at least partially responsible for the existence of our friendship. I assume you (like myself) started watching teen movies towards the beginning of your own teens, but you haven’t stopped watching them after aging out of their target audience. What is it about teen movies that you like? Is the appeal in that they are about teenagers, and you find movie teenagers interesting, or do you just watch teen movies because you find them funny?

Thanks, Alex! I actually started watching teen movies as a pre-teen, and then for most of my teenage years I became much too goth for such popular media. It wasn’t until I was far away from high school that I started watching teen movies again. I watched Mean Girls – which I am not ashamed to say is one of my favourite movies of all time – for the first time during undergrad, once I no longer had to face the girls at my high school who insisted on (unironically) calling themselves The Plastics.

Generally, I like teen movies because they are funny, sometimes unintentionally. I’m not sure that the writer of John Tucker Must Die meant for Kate’s love of “old school Elvis Costello” and “obscure podcasts” to be serious or not*, but that might be the funniest line in the whole movie. A good teen movie will also follow a simple but effective story arc, which just makes me warm and fuzzy inside. Main character lives relatively mediocre or problem-free existence! Is suddenly faced with a challenge/struggle/moral dilemma/heartbreak. Will they overcome their problem? Yes! They will! And they will grow as human beings! In the next 85-90 minutes! There will also be underage sex, drinking, drug-use, foul language, bitch slaps, short skirts, inappropriate humour AND MORE. What’s not to love?

"Kate, we think you've been listening to too many obscure podcasts."

*Note: The full quote is even better than we remembered. “Alright, well then maybe you’re not her type. She’s into stuff like old school Elvis Costello, she listens to obscure podcasts, she reads Dave Eggers. You know, she’s deep, man.”







Yeah, that line in John Tucker has always been weird (and hilarious); I feel like that character was written with a Zooey Deschanel/Lizzy Caplan type actress in mind, not a typical Brittany Snow blonde type. They clearly cast all roles for looks and/or timely R&B stardom instead of acting ability. How dare they put such a blemish on an otherwise flawless film!

I agree with your sentiment about the teen movie genre as a whole – those are all things I love to see, and laugh at, in my PG-13 comedies. I’ve always felt like part of the teen genre has been a lot of wish fulfillment as well; I never went to a party where the girl I thought I was in love with for breakfast pastry-related reasons realized she thought I was awesome, but I feel like it would have been cool to have that happen. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I never watched Can’t Hardly Wait during high school; just a couple times in middle school, and then I became mildly addicted to it in university (and still am). That being said, I had a remarkably pleasant high school experience (I attribute this to taking gym class every year and valiantly tripping over my own feet defending the legit jocks in basketball games); I wasn’t friends with our version of the Plastics, but they didn’t spit on me for looking at them or anything, so they seemed like less than terrible people. Who knows though, maybe they would have called themselves that had Mean Girls been released more than a month before I graduated.

Do you ever see yourself, or some sort of version of yourself, in a teen movie character? Do you see a little bit of yourself in Cady, or I suppose Janis Ian? I know part of the reason I found Friday Night Lights (IT’S A TEEN SHOW, I’M ALLOWED TO BRING IT UP!) so engaging was that I found one of the characters to remind me of how my high school self would react, but I generally don’t see much of myself in these teen movie characters. Ethan Embry was too self-confident, as were Anthony Michael Hall and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Damien was both too self-confident and too gay. Ferris Bueller was able to seemingly stop time far easier than I could, and his girlfriend was impossibly foxy. Again, I think the movies are very much wish-fulfillment in that I would have liked to be more confident, but it’s not like I was thinking that way when I was sixteen. We, or I at least, look back at these movies as a way we wish we acted, or some fairy tale type of high school in Shermer Illinois where we could take the day off to hop on a Chicago parade float and charmingly lip sync to Danke Shoen. Do you see teen movies as a type of that for yourself? Or again, just the funnies? Do you feel like you need to be able to see either part of yourself or something like that in media you really love? I don’t mean for everything (I have little interest in baseball, Brad Pitt, or little kids playing guitar, but I liked Moneyball plenty), but just things you feel like you want to watch a ton of times, like Mean Girls.

And I’m curious: if you weren’t watching teen movies in high school due to your overwhelming gothiness, what media were you consuming? Obscure podcasts and old school Elvis Costello records?

I definitely see myself in Janis Ian! Gay best friend, bitchiness, horrible haircut, mall job. That’s not why I like Mean Girls, but it’s part of the reason. Specifically with Mean Girls I think the treatment of the subject matter – teen girls bullying each others and cliques – is interesting and hilarious. That’s probably what I most identify with, as someone who was bullied by other girls, and did her fair share of the same.

Generally, I don’t wish for any characters’ life or confidence in a teen movie. I don’t have any real regrets from high school – certainly awkward moments, and I don’t want to go back and relive any of it – but I really don’t wish I had done things differently. For me, it’s more that I am interested to see how the young women handle things like negotiating sex and learning where they ‘fit,’ how they see themselves. I’m normally yelling in my head “YR DOING IT WRONG,” not “I wish I had have been like her!”

I don’t think I need to see myself in a movie I really like, but the themes have to be interesting for me, and I find that teen movies deal with a lot of ‘identity’ themes that can be hilarious, or wildly inaccurate or thought-provoking (or all of the above).

As for your last question, I was mostly listening to music that I thought was cool (riot grrl & punk and a little musical theatre for good measure), watching movies like Hedwig and the Angry Inch and looking at pictures of Suicide Girls. I didn’t watch much TV or watch too many movies in theatres.

You didn’t watch much TV? You mean you missed the Frasier finale?!!? His goodbye speech was immaculate!

Yeah, you’re making a lot more sense than me; I agree with the enjoying watching the awkwardness. The other day I was reading near those “Because I’m a Girl” people that try and get money from you or something, and somebody wearing headphones walked by one of the workers who appeared to be a high school age-ish girl, and smiled while doing a sort of a ‘no thanks’ wave. The girl, assuming he couldn’t hear her, called after him, “It’s okay! You have a nice smile!” Then the guy turned around and said, “Thank you,” and the girl was so hilariously embarrassed. And you’re right, I do love those types of things in my teen movies, just like I get a kick out of the few times I get to see them in real life. I’m happy I’m smart enough to know that a person with headphones isn’t always listening to super loud music, just like I’m happy I know so much better than these teen movie characters. But oh, it’s just so funny to watch them fuck up.

People tend to talk about the 1980s John Hughes teen movies with a little more seriousness than the movies that come after them, likely because pretty much every media depiction of a teenager is based on a Hughes archetype somewhere along the lines. Do you think the Hughes teen movies (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink [which Hughes only wrote/produced, but was very hands on in production]) are still the peak of the genre, or do you think they’re so well liked because they were dealing with such fertile ground, in that teen movies weren’t really a big thing at the time? Or do you think that maybe these movies have a lot to do with recognizing the world they’re portraying? Is Mean Girls my (and, by the sounds of things, yours too) favourite teen movie because it’s absolutely hilarious, or does it have an upper hand because it was released in a time when we recognized the high school world the kids were dealing with? Would Clueless be our favourite if we were 10 years older, or Sixteen Candles if we were 20 years older? I don’t necessarily think so, partially because I think few movies are as consistently funny as Mean Girls is. I’m just curious to know if my little cousin is going to like whatever the teen movie du jour is in 2015, when she gets old enough that I force her to watch Mean Girls at Thanksgiving.

I will admit it’s been awhile since I’ve seen those classic John Hughes movies, especially Sixteen Candles and Breakfast Club, and the last time I watched Pretty in Pink I remember being disappointed, but that’s probably the most ridiculous of the three. I respect them for, as you said, creating the archetypes we’re familiar with today, but they will never be my favourite teen movies. I think what’s more meaningful now is what other movies do with those archetypes. Having an ‘original’ example of the genre allows other people build on it, for better or worse.

It’s possible that I like Mean Girls because it was made while I was in high school, but I agree with you that I don’t think that’s its major draw. I think I even recognize the world of the Clueless high school more; at least Tai isn’t a virgin and falls in love with a stoner. I also saw Clueless when it came out and watched it quite a bit as a kid, and despite the bizarre plot line it remains dear to my heart; it’s just not as well written as Mean Girls. I’m sure there’s a higher chance you’ll actually see the teen movies that come out when you’re a teen, but I’d bet your cousin will watch Mean Girls with you if you introduce her to it, as long as she’s not way too cool for such things. There’s also a general trend in the youth of today to privilege media from the 1980s and 90s, and I’m sure that will encompass the 2000s in a few years, too.

Is there anything you wish you could see more of in teen movies? Maybe a little more realism (I’m looking at you, California high school in Easy A where apparently NOBODY is having sex), or a certain type of character that you feel exists in a high school environment but is ignored by the genre? Something I did like about Easy A (which by the way, is the best post-Mean Girls teen movie, even with that massive leap in logic) was that it was the first teen movie I could recall that had a gay character (Dan Byrd aka the guy from Cougar Town) who, with one muted exception, never acts in a stereotypically gay way; he’s just a kid who happens to be gay. Is there anything like that you feel like a teen movie will tackle soon, or something you wish one would?

Hey what about Jack from Dawson’s Creek? Not a movie, sure, but a teen TV series, and aside from his change in hairstyle when he comes out, he never really acts stereotypically gay. Or are we not supposed to let MacGuffin Men readers know that we’re watching Dawson’s Creek… whoops, sorry. I’d love to see a gay character as the protagonist in a teen movie; I think that could be great. The same goes for a teen movie that doesn’t somehow take place in a school full of only white kids. I’d also love to see (what I would consider) a realistic portrayal of sex, or at least, stop pretending that sex doesn’t happen. Easy A is an extreme example, of course. But generally, I just hope I can still watch teen movies with charming main characters, hilarious awkward parents, and serious dramz. Throw a lesson in there if you can, but the less heavy-handed, the better.

As an extra thought – I think TV series about teenagers can be way more progressive than movies (Skins UK, Friday Night Lights, Daria, and [I’m going to say it] Buffy the Vampire Slayer). These don’t fit into the teen movie genre in the same way, of course, but I wonder what accounts for the difference? Anyways, I consume way too much media about people younger than me, apparently.

That’s a great point about television; even with the comparatively small amount of Buffy I have seen, I have always viewed it as a progressive show from what I know about it. And I remember being fairly astounded with how Jack’s sexuality was depicted on Dawson’s Creek, both for the time period that was happening (around 2000) and the fact that it was happening on a television show where Pacey bangs his teacher in the third episode. Friday Night Lights was pretty consistent in doing stuff like this well, I thought, and I particularly like Matt and Julie’s first attempts to have sex, as well as the show not demonizing characters like Tyra and Tim for having sex with a lot of people. They also tackled teen abortion on FNL, which was extremely ballsy and probably couldn’t have happened when they were on a major network (only Grey’s Anatomy can get away with primetime network abortions, and even that was recent).

I think the big part about television sometimes being a more progressive medium than film is simply that there is so much more time to fully embrace their storylines. In a film, there is rarely time to focus on more than a couple of people’s storylines, and so inevitably something will be underdeveloped. But on television, even a show that only runs one season like Freaks and Geeks, you can set something up early almost by accident, and then realize it’s there and interestingly develop it in episode fourteen. It’s just a difference in the two mediums, and one that often helps television do things that movies can’t.

As for your last sentence, I completely disagree. There is no such thing as consuming too much media about teens. You’re still coming over tomorrow to watch Dawson’s Creek, right?



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