Pop Culture Rewind: More Pimples and Less Sex, Please


Words || Tieri Cafe

Hollywood needs a goddamn suggestion box. If directors could stop screwing the interns for one second and pay attention to the world around them, I’m sure movies would start to look very different.

Does anybody actually remember high school? From what I remember it consisted of terrible hair, ill-fitting uniforms, and a T-zone so oily the government was trying to buy my face. On my first day, I remember thinking, “This is it – from this day forward I will either be the brain, the athlete, the basketcase, the princess or the criminal for the next six years.” All my pre-existing knowledge was from John Hughes-y movies and TV shows, which tended to construct this totally false insight into what high school would be like. So, speaking as an Australian high school graduate, I call bullshit. Believe it or not, there is more to high school than the hierarchy of popularity and ridiculous amounts of sex, but show biz does not want you to know that.

Anyone who’s ever met a fifteen year old knows just how stupid casting 35-year-olds as high schoolers actually is. Strong jawlines and not a pimple in sight? Bullshit. The media has totally dropped the ball on representing puberty, there’s no doubt about that. What’s worse, though, is that it doesn’t even seem know where the ball is when it comes to representing teenage flings. Since when were sixteen-year olds capable of negotiating mature relationships? I seem to recall the horrendous politics of dating where ‘going out’ meant holding hands with someone at lunchtime with no out-of-school contact. I remember that the epitome of a sophisticated relationship was dating a senior. While literally everyone was talking about sex, barely anyone was having it. And nobody was having anything even close to the steamy, passion-fuelled, love-making teenagers seem to be having on TV.

Even the less romantic sex-comedy genre has a hard time doing an accurate portrayal of adolescent sexuality. American Pie represented sex before graduation as an important rite of passage for guys, as if it were a prerequisite for college. Yet thirty minutes into Easy A, Emma Stone is slut-shamed for losing her virginity at seventeen. One could play double-dutch with these double standards.

Moving on from steamy sex in your teens, let’s look at another thing movies made up: vampires! There’s obviously some allure to having an immortal boyfriend. It began with Twilight, and resulted in this epidemic of vampire and high-school-hybrid entertainment. Girls were, for some reason, infatuated with this dream of having a pasty, blood-sucking lover who’s either afraid of, or sparkles in, the sun. Soon after, The Vampire Diaries took over the small screen and tried to convince us that Stefan (Paul Wesley, 28) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder, 32) were high schoolers. Nina and Stefan started bumping uglies in season one, which seemed fine because both actors were in their twenties, but the characters graduated in season four, meaning that they were technically, according to US law, minors.

This swirling mass of contradictions is so hypnotic that I almost forgot to mention that it wasn’t until the 21st century where same-sex couples were shown onscreen. Kudos to Glee, for helping modernize the perception of homosexuality in young adult content. But realistically, the fact that there is guaranteed controversy in showing homosexual couples onscreen, but there are no qualms in representing teen characters as sexually active minors, is beyond the point of absurdity.

The representation of high school in pop-culture is considerably warped and incredibly exclusive. The American high school setting is the leading representation of secondary school institutions which unfortunately maintains the undying fabrication of teen issues. This effectively has the effect of misinforming teens, making them think that the purpose of high school is to live up to some outdated and ludicrous social constructs. Recent representations of high school in the media, like 13 Reasons Why and Riverdale, demonstrate writers who are aiming to address more serious issues like bullying and other sexualities besides heterosexuality, but even these still have their issues. I will, however, give praise to the pop culture high schools of the past for giving the world some classic quotes that are forever being reblogged on Tumblr.