Teen film is a category that is directed at adolescences and those entering adulthood. These films have a specific plot directed at common teen-related dilemmas such as fitting in or sexuality. These serious subject matters are almost always unveiled in stereotyped, and inconsequential ways, resulting in the films taking on more of a comedic feel rather than a serious look into the lives of adolescent individuals. Timothy Shary, a leading authority on the representation of youth in movies, argues that the social setting of youth suffer from the “lack of institutionalized social structure allows for moral conditions in which youth are forced to make decisions usually reserved for adults, and it is problematic as children lack the wisdom needed to comprehend the consequences of their actions” (Shary, 2012). Shary believes that youth, especially women, are victims of the culture of adolescence; furthermore, he believes that films targeted towards these groups feed them normative behaviors on how to act, especially on the merits of sexuality and sexual behavior. However, as pop culture continues to develop through the generations, numerous forms of teen films are challenging the status quo on what the subject content should be. An excellent example of such a film is Easy A, written and directed by Bert Royal and Will Gluck. Easy A challenges Timothy Shary’s beliefs on youth culture by discussing and redefining concepts of youth, gender, promiscuity, and the teen film industry altogether. Throughout this essay, ideas on the listed concepts will be discussed comparatively between the beliefs of Timothy Shary and the modern take on teen film through the ideas addressed in Easy A.
What is more basic to the framework of youth culture and film than youth itself? Films covering this subject have often painted their characters as naïve innocent individuals who are seeking to complete their rights of passage, usually in the form of sex. Oftentimes, these films depict mistakes made by characters, typically females, who are seduced or coerced by males within the story, and other times these films illustrate the failure of young men trying to consummate the pleasure they seek. According to Shary, “Children lack the wisdom needed to comprehend the consequences of their actions” (Shary, 2012), and therefore see adolescent individuals as mere victims in the pursuit of adulthood. However, the film Easy A challenges this notion by putting up the idea that youthful individuals are, in some part, in control of their surroundings and actions, as well as their consequences. This is evident when during the film, Olive uses her reputation as a “fallen woman” and “temptress” to increase the reputations of otherwise disregarded male classmates. In some ways, Olive is denoted as a heroine, as she saves her friend, a man who identifies as gay, from being bullied by the student body. Olive strategically, and compassionately uses her sexuality to not only uplift her own social status but the statuses of those she chooses. This is in complete contradiction to Shary’s beliefs that “…sex can be bad despite how much people claim to enjoy it” (Shary, 2012). Modern youth culture is painting a picture of responsible and powerful adolescent individuals that understand the consequences of their actions, and in the example of Easy A, exploit them.
Women have often been represented as targets and innocent victims in youth films. They are the desired as well as the criticized. In past depictions of women in youth film, women have been typecast when it comes to adolescent pursuits especially those pursuits pertaining to sexuality. Shary would agree that “what is being exploited is precisely and solely the spectacle of teenage sexuality that has been shaped and informed by patriarchal attitudes…for the masculinist perspective” (Shary, 2012). In contrast to this mentality, the film Easy A is clear that women run things in the affair of sexuality and sexual relationships. The film challenges past notions of women as victims and targets of masculine rites of passage; in this representation of youth culture the main character, Olive becomes the “stag” in that she is in control of her sexuality. This is evident as she manipulates the entire student body into thinking what she wants them to think switching from promiscuous “temptress” back to her previous reputation after the climax of the film – all due to her own desires and wants. In contrary to popular teen movies, what is being experienced through watching the film, Easy A, is a redefinition of the themes of social and sexual conformity, and a young woman’s ability to transform her social setting in whichever way she desires; all while being visually revealed in a feminine perspective.
The conceptual takeaway from most of all youth films is typically the gratification of the pursuit of sexual intercourse. However, what is usually not taken into consideration is the inevitable status of promiscuity that is usually forced onto mainly women characters within the film, with only some examples of males holding the status. The topic of promiscuity is one that has been given a negative connotation throughout the film and this is more than likely due to religious influence on film as well as the forced social ethics and morality of individuals that have been mixed into the creation of the films. In his essay, Sharey makes it clear that “women are frequently exploited by men within teen films for the gratification of male viewers. Teen films typically offer false empowerment for their female characters, who initially appear confident in their knowledge and appropriation of sex, but who are ultimately victimized by it” (Sharey, 2012). Conversely, the film Easy A challenges this theme by makes its leading lady interact with promiscuity in a way that had not been seen on film, powerful, influential, and more importantly respected. The entire film’s plot is surrounded by this notion of transformed positive promiscuity and it is very useful in changing the status quo of women who are sexually confident.
Teen films suffer from the inability to construe real concepts of consequence, due to the romanticism seen in many teen films stretching as far back as the ’70s. This concern is felt by Shary as he discusses that, “given the appeal of these films, and the continuing common themes of most teen movies, we may well wonder if the impact of social class has become all but invisible for youth, while sexual experiences continue to trump all other interests…” (Sharey, 2012), nearing the end of his essay. However, looking at the film Easy A as an example of present youth culture, there may be a transformative process happening in which sex is not seen as the potential for glory or ridicule. In contrast to Sharey, Easy A pushes a narrative built on themes of humiliation, conformity, social cowardice, and individual goodness all while feigning as a basic teen film about the endeavors of sex – a smart film not solely focuses on carnal interests. Perhaps it is possible that youth films can stand out as engines of positive influence; and perhaps youth, especially women, can be seen less as naïve, innocent, and victimized – but moreover, as responsible, influential, confident, and voluptuous characters are completely capable of understanding the consequences of their own actions.