Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Kids in America

As I have so many times before, I must apologize for the long silence. Between my part time job, my freelance work, applying for new jobs, volunteering for Split Lip, and participating in two separate bridal parties, I have very little spare time. Unfortunately, I've had to shove blogging down to the bottom of my list. But rest assured, I got back to the United States safe and sound, and I've reconnected with most of my friends and family. It's good to be home.

But today I don't want to talk about any of that. 

Today I want to talk about teenagers.

Over the past few days, I've been watching the CW show Riverdale while I eat dinner. It's based on the characters from classic Archie comics--but instead of following the wholesome, all-American plots from the comics, the show's creators have turned it into a campy, murder mystery noir. It's utterly delightful. It's feminist, and they at least try to address issues of race (Josie & the Pussycats are black!)--though they could still do a lot better on that front. Jughead is my boyfriend. Back off, ladies. 

He's one of the oldest "teenage" actors on the show, so that makes me feel like less of a creep.

Anyway, Riverdale has once again made me wonder why I love stories about teenagers so much. I really do. 1990's teen comedies are my favorite movie genre. 10 Things I Hate About You, Empire Records, Clueless--I could watch them once a month and never get sick of them. Some 1980's and early 2000's teen comedies are strong enough that I consider them 1990's teen comedies as well. Heathers and Mean Girls certainly make the cut. John Hughes movies are okay. I still like them, but they don't hold a candle to the renaissance of the 90's. 

I enjoy reading stories about teenagers as well. During my recent trip to Southeast Asia, I devoured seven YA novels, most of which were fantastic--with a few notable exceptions. You can read my reviews of them here. I also like books for adults that feature teenage protagonists. Donna Tartt's The Secret History and Karen Russell's Swamplandia! come to mind.

And of course, I frequently write about teenagers. My novel is a YA novel. Obviously, there's something about adolescence that appeals to me.

It's not nostalgia for my own teenage years. Not that they were horrific--middle school and junior high were much worse--but I do feel like my life generally improves the older I get. I wouldn't go back to being a teenager, that's for sure.

Part of it is probably that everyone loves a good "coming of age" story, and teen stories almost always provide that narrative. But I think there's more to it than that. I suspect my preference has something to do with teenage emotions, which are ALL OVER THE DAMN PLACE. Adults often accuse teens of being melodramatic as though it's a bad thing. But I find it wonderful that every little thing matters so very much to teenagers. Any small rejection, and it's the end of the world. Any sign of requited love, and it's the best day ever.

And at the same time, teens seem better equipped to handle situations that are truly dramatic, perhaps because they're already so steeped in their emotions that they don't feel as though they have to hide them. Terrible, tragic events often occur in these stories, and the teens either get themselves through it without the help of adults, or they're the ones helping the adults through it. In Empire Records, for instance, Joe Reaves is ready to give up his record store after Lucas' major monetary mistake--but the teenage employees feel such loyalty to Joe and to the shop that they come up with a ridiculous plan to save it. They have significantly more hope than Joe.

I consider myself a fairly optimistic person. But I honestly think I'm jealous of teenagers, and that's why I enjoy their stories. I was raised Catholic and Midwestern--hiding our emotions is just what we do. Not even hiding them, exactly. It's more like we wouldn't want to burden others with our feelings. It's impolite. It's shameful.

I've tried to push back against this damaging impulse in my own adult life--with some success, I think--but it's a hard habit to break. And so I'm envious of these fictional teenagers, who are unabashedly open and free.

And on that note, let's listen to Kim Wilde's 1981 classic "Kids in America," since it's been stuck in my head ever since I used it as the title for this post. And because Archie and Veronica covered it on the episode of Riverdale I watched last night.  

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