Thursday, July 16, 2009
Teen comedies have changed over the last 10 to 20 years because teens have changed.
Of course. The audience is what dictates what's produced, because if a movie shows in an empty theatre, does it make any noise?
Around the '70s and '80s there was a rash of films about teenagers spying on other teenagers. "Private School," "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "H.O.T.S," and of course "Porky's" all depend upon sometimes complicated setups in which teenagers attempt to steal glimpses of the opposite sex undressed in semi-private situations (and often end up naked themselves).
At the movies were the only place you could see what a naked person looked like (besides from fine art books) and drive-ins became the preferred and privileged site of such voyeuristic pleasure by teens. Often for more than just what was on the screen.
In burgeoning age of cable and video, it became easier to experience what was forbidden and withheld. Teen comedies continued to be produced, but they were increasingly out of touch with how teenagers acted and what they wanted - they shifted from a life-style accoutrement to the exploitation they frankly were. I seem to remember some Brendan Fraser films in there somewhere, and the ubiquity of video didn't do teenagers any favors. The increasingly parent-safe "10 Things I Hate About You," "She's All That" or "Clueless" are all based on classics - yet they still feel like your pocket's being picked by 50-year-old men in shark-skin suits.
The "American Pie" movies returned to the earthier trends of the '70s with a knowing, post-modern tone and less desperation in the need to see skin. They simultaneously went farther sexually and embraced a Farrelly Brothers sweetness (which continues through the Apatow comedies) that makes them both controversial and conservative. Now that anyone can see anything online, teen films are no longer merely about the struggle to catch glimpses of naked people, let alone to get laid. Now they strive to make it mean something more than the smarmy sniggling innocence of "Porky's" would have you believe.
The teen films of the '80s are hopelessly dated now, but capture a specific time in everyone's development when being alone with your lust and fantasies was allowed and comodified.
Teens may have not changed so much but their modes of finding out about the opposite sex have. With the Internet and 100 channels on cable, the sense of discovery is no longer in a car, in the back seat, at the drive-in. In front of a glowing screen revealing secrets.
The emotional attachments, the physical and psychological changes we felt while viewing forbidden images (it's something out of "A Clockwork Orange") aren't there for a new generation.
Teen comedies (and sex comedies in general) are carriers of a different kind of information. They're too damn responsible. They're too damn polite.