Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bubblegum Culture

Teen movie, 1965

I watched this recent movie the other day called "John Tucker Must Die" that made "The Craft" look like "No Country For Old Men" and "The Breakfast Club" look like "Citizen Kane." It seemed so stupid, shallow, and without relevance to the realities teens really face. And yet I wondered if it was really all those things -- or was I just becoming an old fuddy-duddy? I was open to the possibility that I didn't appreciate it because I just wasn't 16 -- and that perhaps it really was a good movie, only I couldn't recognize it.

Teen movie, 1985

Somehow, I remember "The Breakfast Club" and "Say Anything" having a bit more depth than "John Tucker Must Die." "Breakfast Club" dealt with rebellion, pain, abuse, and friendship. It was, to an extent, about teens attempting to forge their own identities in the face of a system that wanted them to just follow preprogrammed roles. It addressed frustrations and emotions that I could relate to; and as such, I felt very involved with the movie, and even changed (slightly) by it.

Teen movie, 1996

In contrast, "John Tucker Must Die" is about a plain girl who gets turned into a Cool Girl as part of the plot of three Cool Girls to get revenge on a cute guy who cheated on them. Lest you think this film is in any way a serious examination on any or all issues inferred by the description, let me describe one scene to you:

The girls secretly feed their target, John Tucker, estrogen. Within minutes, he gets a tender "breastal" area, a craving for chocolate, a higher voice, and all weepy. I mean, every stereotype you could think of for women, that's what he was after eating the estrogen. It was this scene that solidified everything I hated about the movie in one slick sequence. "John Tucker Must Die" must die.

The girls in this movie were the most two-dimensional characters you can possibly think of. They were like the "Spice Girls" -- each one had a gimmick. The Smart One. The Sporty One. And the Slutty Hippie. Unlike the characters in "The Breakfast Club," I couldn't fathom wanting to get to know any of them.

Teen movie, 2006

To be fair, I guess "John Tucker Must Die" is a standard teen sex comedy, only it was made in 2006 and not 1983 so there really isn't that much exposed flesh. Probably had more to do with a 1960s beach movie than "Porkys." Which is what I think films like this really are -- beach movies, bubblegum, harmless. Entertainment for the masses with nothing really threatening in them, nothing to challenge the status quo or make young people think.

That brings up another thing -- many of the teen idols that are really hot right now seem like throwbacks to American Bandstand, the sort entertainers that Dick Clark would put his seal of approval on. The Jonas Brothers. Miley Cyrus. Where are the rebels? Where are the entertainment sensations that change a generation? Elvis? Beatles? The Clash? Nirvana? Hello, anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

From dangerous...

Today's teen idols seem younger than the ones when I was a kid. I remember Michael Jackson, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Prince -- they were all adults. Now the music acts are more often than not the same age or similar in age to their audience. I guess in a way that's a good thing? But as teenage products of a machine often called "Disney" or "Nickelodeon," how much counter-cultural messages can you actually have? Or want to have? Or think to have? Or be allowed to have? harmless.

But there are worse things than to have "clean" acts for teens. Just because I wouldn't necessarily put a lot of this music on my iPod doesn't mean it's not good or relevant music. I just think it's interesting that we are kind of in another "Bubblegum Pop" phase in music.

I think a revival of "The Archies" are in order. And I'm not being sarcastic, I actually think Archie Publications should do a talent search for the next "Archies" band and get it distributed through Disney or Nick. They'd make a fortune.

Time for an "Archies" comeback...


  1. That's crazy. I was just thinking of the Annette Funicello beach movies this morning too.

    I don't think you're just getting old. I think that movies really are getting worse. There's so much studio and corporate oversight, that everything gets scrubbed with stupidity and blandness.

    It's like that scene in The Incredibles, where the kid says "If everyone is special, than no one is special." These movies and musci try so hard to appeal to the broadest audience, and end up becoming crap because they don't really say anything.

  2. Well, John Tucker Must Die was a commercial and critical failure, so assuming it "connects" with today's youth the same way beloved successful films do/did is kind of problematic.

    No doubt John Hughes films were better/deeper/whatever, that's probably why people still talk about them twenty-odd years later, while people barely remember JTMD two years later. It'd be more fair to compare it to Private Resort or Senior Week or any of the justly-forgotten 1980s teen comedies that I used to watch on HBO on Sunday afternoon.

    And all the rebellious teen pop stars are busy not being sponsored by Disney/Nickelodeon.

  3. Anonymous12:44 PM

    Yeah. I don't really equate Breakfast Club to something like John Tucker Must Die.

    I'd say it was more analogous to Mean Girls or know, something with more drama and intelligence. JTMD ties in more with something like Just One of the Guys.

  4. This post is just an excuse to talk about how much you love The Craft without coming right out & saying it! Gotcha!

  5. You may be looking at this the wrong way. Teenagers have rarely listened to teenpop music. It tends to be preteens or tweens that get into acts like the Jonas Bros or Miley Cyrus. Teenagers today are more likely to listen to Green Day, or (if they were The O.C. fans) Death Cab for Cutie. Not that Green Day or Death Cab for Cutie are so rebellious, but when your parents are the people who listened to the Sex Pistols it's hard to rebel. So what you get is the sensation of rebellion without any actual rebellion. (Green Day's American Idiot sounds pretty rebellious until you realize that Mom is humming along.) And calling Miley Cyrus a new phenomenon ignores Spears or N'Sync or the Osmond Brothers. (Not to mention, I think Miley is much more vocally interesting than a lot of older teen music.)

  6. It's probably unfair to compare movies to the Breakfast Club because it is a really good movie. But, if you movie is not as good as The Craft, your movie needs some work.

    Our pop culture has been homogonized to the mind of a 6 year old. I know. I have a 6 year old and pretty much eveything the movies, music and TV have produced in the past year (except for Dark Knight) seem to have been custom made to make her want to spend my money. Kids are very different today. They love kids stuff. When I was a kid, by about age 6, I did not want to have anything to do with kids stuff other than cartoons and violent toys. There was no way you were going to get me to watch kids movies (other than Star Wars) listen to kids music or watch kids tv. Would not be caught dead! When I was a kid if some kid had kid's stuff at school (other than Star Wars, GI Joe or Tranformers) we would steal and often break it. New Kids on the Block cassette? Broken. Debbie Gibson? Broken. Tiffany? Broken. Kids these days idolized these other kids. It does not make any sense to me. Well, I'm off to take my Geritol.

  7. The entertainment you're describing, though, isn't aimed at teen-agers. Especially Jonas Brothers, etc... At least not high schoolers. It's aimed at "tweens". Or at least that's my impression. The Hannah Montana shirts sold at box stores are in the children's section, not the section aimed at actual high schoolers. Most high school girls probably aren't looking to put Hannah Montana bedsheets on their bed.

    And the same is sort of true about movies like "John Tucker Must Die" (which is why they don't slip nudity, the only things parents find objectionable, into the movie). Middle school children and some high schoolers are no doubt the intended audience. But when Rated R movies are actually aimed at teenagers, you can guess who the PG-13 movies are aimed at.

  8. Anonymous4:26 PM

    Aww, Chris. How can you hate on a movie that has Johnny Depp, Dr. Fleischman, Hector Elizondo AND the Diceman?

    I'll have to agree with the sanitizing of what's seen as "kid's entertainment" being part of the problem. But really, it's nothing new. Disney allowed Annette to do the Beach Party movies but dictated how she'd be dressed. The Monkees were going great guns until the members started displaying something other than their scripted personalities. Jump ahead to New Kids and Tiffany when suddenly they wanted to grow beyond the manufactured image. (Also known as "Donnie torches a hotel carpet" and "Tifany fires the creepy overly controling manager.")

    In the 70s, the Monkees were actually part of the CBS Saturday morning line-up. Same shows that ran on prime time with veiled references to the REAL 60s youth culture. I doubt the TV watchdog groups would allow a network to run them in that slot today. Instead kids get watered down stuff like Hannah Montana and That's So Raven. Shows that make Saved By The Bell look edgy.

    While Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Ferris...heck throw in Some Kind of Pretty Wonderful in Pink (Face it, they were the same movie.) were the "smart" teen movies, they never would've been made if John Hughes didn't have the clout of writing hits like Mr. Mom and the original Vacation. He was making "movies" as opposed to "something for the kids." When he embraced that philosophy we wound up with Curly Sue and the Beethoven movies.

  9. WOW!

    Man, if you hadn't just posted it right up on this here internet, I would've told you to go straight to "", buy a damn account, and pitch that Archies idea. Seriously, the multi-media cross-promotional "synergy" potential is HUGE!!

    I'll echo the comment about there having always been big-business approved teen entertainment. But I think you've hit upon something: the 80s were kind of a special time, in that a lot of the stuff aimed at that coveted "18-24" market had a little class...

  10. To quote John Travolta in SWORDFISH: "You know what the problem with Hollywood is? They make sh*t. Unbelievable, unremarkable sh*t."

    That is entirely true. Hollywood is so homoginized and lacking of originality that they produce brainless drivel to appeal to the broad spectrum of the teaming masses. Now, while I'm not one to ever put much stock in the collective intelligence of the human race these days, I feel movies like this that don't challenge people only aid in the further degredation of intelligence. Yes, movies are meant to entertain, by why can't they do so at a higher level than sexual innuendo and fart jokes?

  11. I thought it was interesting that you started with a pic from one of the AIP Beach movies, mostly because I've always felt those have been unjustly maligned. It's always been my contention that they were pretty damn subversive for their time. One of the main issues throughout all the films is the constant attempt by grown-ups to either infiltrate or co-opt teen culture, to transform it into money somehow. I've always looked at those films as warnings as to what was happening at the time and just prior and what has continued to happen since. The "teenager" is a manufactured existence, a selling point, a way of culturally taming rebellion by selling rebellion.

    Anyhow, it's like Kevenn says, movies are getting worse. There was a time when they were made by people who were very literate - each successive generation has become more literate in television, which is a pretty low form of storytelling (successive short formats wrapped around over-long storytelling engines) so it's this successive degeneration in ability.

  12. I have to disagree a bit here. While a big deal at the time, The Breakfast Club and *especially* The Craft are actually quite shallow and clumsy. (The only John Hughes flick that still holds up at all, IMO, is Some Kind of Wonderful.)

    Teen movies today (Thirteen, Juno) are about 100x as subtle and complex as the stuff I grew up on. (And in the case of Thirteen, harrowing.)

  13. The girls secretly feed their target, John Tucker, estrogen. Within minutes, he gets a tender "breastal" area, a craving for chocolate, a higher voice, and all weepy. I mean, every stereotype you could think of for women, that's what he was after eating the estrogen.


    I'm so glad I skipped on that movie. >:|

  14. Is this the same Breakfast Club that ends with the message that if any counter cultural young lady wants to get on in life and get herself a man, then she must abandon her true self, and wear some nice makeup and clothes?

  15. The epitome of kids' entertainment was Steven Moffat's "Press Gang" for ITV. Nothing before, nothing since.

  16. The last teen comedy I recall that featured real characters in a at least semi-realistic fashion was Mean Girls. Funny and honest, Tina Fey really nailed it. I recall seeing it after a lot of good word of mouth. Myself and a friend were practically rolling in the aisles but much of the teenage audience(I was 22 at the time) didn't seem quite as into it. Maybe being four years removed from high school gave me a better perspective. At the same time, I have a hard time relating to teens now. I walked into Hot Topic the other day and remarked "God, these shirts are horrid looking." And of course, that means I am old. :(

  17. Where are the rebels now?

    Sometimes, being plain or harmless is rebellion against the rebel stereotypes.

  18. Part of the appeal of today's young singers is that a fan can fantasize about living that life. (And there have been teen music idols since... Ricky Nelson? Frank Sinatra?)

    So, Val, what do you think of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants?

  19. The key point here, for me, is that The Man™ has gotten so good at leveraging culture for profit.

    The movies aren't getting worse, they're just refining the formula.

    IMO, it's impossible for there to be a really transgressive or rebellious youth culture these days. Within five minutes of it being covered on 20/20, it'll have themed merch in Hot Topic.

  20. The girls secretly feed their target, John Tucker, estrogen. Within minutes, he gets a tender "breastal" area, a craving for chocolate, a higher voice, and all weepy. I mean, every stereotype you could think of for women, that's what he was after eating the estrogen.

    Within minutes? Must've been that super-estrogen that rapidly transformed Tim Daly into Sean Young in "Dr. Jekyll & Ms. Hyde."