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The representation of American teenagers in films during the 1950s and 1990s

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Rebel Without a Cause.
    1. Juvenile delinquency and Ephebiphobia.
    2. Trend created by the highly mediated increase of juvenile delinquency.
    3. The suburban environment of Rebel Without a Cause.
    4. Dean's representation of the American archetype of the troubled and tormented teenager.
    5. His death days before the release of the film.
  3. The movie Kids.
    1. Diffrence between Kids and Clueless.
    2. The main protagonist, Telly.
    3. Development of the issues of gender and sexuality from the 1990s onwards.
    4. The only major teen film of the 1990s to address the issues of HIV and AIDS.
    5. Morally vacant protagonists.
  4. The ruthless urban youth culture.
  5. Similarities between Rebel Without a Cause and kids.
  6. Fatality and the concept of the antihero.
  7. Hopes and dreams in Kids and Rebel Without a Cause.
  8. Teenagers influencing their own portrayal.
  9. Bibliography.

The ?teen film', ?teen flick' or ?teenpic' has changed since the 1950s when it started to define itself through Juvenile delinquency films. As was recently commented, ?the teen flick has lost its shiny innocence and become a cynical brute' (Maher; 2006: 13). Over the course of 50 years, the American teen film evolved from the advent of the teen audience in the 1950s to the nostalgic depictions of youth featured in 1970s film through to the golden age of teen films in the 1980s and finally to the illustrations of Generation X in the 1990s. Films about the young are not necessarily addressed to the young and films addressing the young do not necessarily focus on young characters. But two films, Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Kids (1995) stand out in their articulation of the anxieties of teenage angst, gender, and delinquency and the types of stories that are depicted. Indeed, these two films are landmarks of their genre and period. They are very different in their depictions of teenage angst and yet similar in essence to the issue. Undeniably, both were groundbreaking. One sparked a frenzy of identification amongst middle class teenagers and the other was highly controversial in its pseudo-realist and documentary style and raw depiction of teen behavior in urban areas.

[...] This account will serve to trace the variations that occurred in the representation of American teenagers in the 1950s and 1990s film. Rebel Without a Cause, released in 1955, is often said to have defined teenager culture and launched the teen film. Although the image of the rebellious teenager had previously appeared in the form of Marlon Brando with the release of The Wild One (1953) where he famously replied to the question , ?what are you rebelling against?' with ?What have you got?', Rebel Without a Cause was groundbreaking in its dealing with the growing pains of adolescence. [...]


[...] It was the choice of James Dean as the lead that was responsible for the film's popularity with the misunderstood and teenagers in general. A student of the 1950s, Derek Marlowe, later wrote: At first the (rebel) hero could have been Brando, until he put on a suit and sang songs just like Dad (in the 1955 hit Guys and Dolls). That was a betrayal. It had to be someone else, someone who would remain permanently young, permanently rebellious . [...]


[...] In fact, the malaise was already there but the media's representation of teens in films such as those released in the 1980s and the early 1990s was very different and with exceptions, a lot more sympathetic to teenage culture. As Maher (2006:14), recently commented, The Columbine killings were, among other things, a perverse illustration of the conceptual chasm that existed between teen media image and teen reality. On screen, Aryan adolescents living in big houses were speaking in a self-consciously baroque argot while dealing with the pitfalls of relationships. [...]

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