The Teen Commandments

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But Williamson is also the guy who came up with the antidote for the Scream thing: Dawson's Creek. He brought us fresh (if sappy and overwrought) weekly teencasts, and drafted a young fantasy world to replace the vacancy at Melrose Place. His breakthroughs, while not quite the artistic achievements of My So-Called Life or Clueless, hit at exactly the right moment. But moments move fast these days, and Dawson's Creek has already started to slip behind the curve, its sincere introspection being replaced by something faster and smarter and perhaps much harder to peg.

LESSON 10: Reality is what you can get away with. As the exceptionally unmotivated couch-dwelling teen hero of Idle Hands flips through the channels, he stops on the news for a second. "I hate this show," he decides, and moves on. As well he should. The alarmist, fear-fed frenzy of daily TV journalism is less relevant to the modern teenager's life, real or fictional, than the nutritional information on the side of a box of Trix. Four weeks ago, the average American male between the ages of 12 and 35 turned on 20/20 to see the Littleton shootings blamed on two of his favorite pastimes: Marilyn Manson and Doom. And so he changed the channel.

The students of the New Teen Cinema, like their real-world counterparts, have a better handle on the melting, surreal landscape of emerging 21st-century media than those who broadcast and program the stuff, and they "get it" in ways that those who demonize their culture will never comprehend. The rapid collision of all things blinking has occurred before the eyes of today's teenagers, and the boundaries between entertainment, advertising, news and high school have merged into a new, higher (from their perspective) understanding of the world. It's natural and tangible.

It's no surprise, then, that MTV's The Real World serves as a sort of allegory in the New Teen Cinema, a parallel universe where life is better, but only just barely. In She's All That, one of the main characters dumps her boyfriend for the Pucklike oddball from The Real World ("The dyslexic volleyball guy?"), and Bianca in 10 Things . . . takes solace in watching five strangers argue in the comfortable surroundings of their Real World Seattle apartment. The characters of the New School understand their media, and feel a part of it, able to walk back and forth between its world and reality. If high school was as easy to manipulate as the nail gun on Doom or the "next" button on a CD player, there'd be no real problems. So long as everyone finds a way to get along, and you've found your one true love by the time you graduate and the credits roll, so long as you can drive away from high school with no enemies and a cool car, life is good.

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Glenn Gaslin