I don’t know how you all have been spending your collective July 2k13, but I for one have been teaching at a writing camp for high schoolers. While this is both an edifying and hilarious thing to do (love poems by 16 year olds= truest expression of emotion known to this unworthy planet), it has left me a bit stranded out in the wilds of Ohio, surrounded by virtual floods of hormonal decision making, middle-part haircuts, and things purchased at Forever 21 (only some of which were mine). This is all to say that I was surrounded by The Youth in a very big way, and felt weirdly old. Did I follow my students’ jokes about cultural phenomena like “Booty Pops?” No. Did I enjoy looking at pictures of my fellow instructors’ babies on their iPhones? Yes, yes I did.
TIMES HAVE CHANGED.
In lieu of considering the inevitability of my own irrelevance and mortality, I thought of some things you should watch when you feel too old. Most of them are about being teenagers, and were made when I was a teenager, by people who felt too old at the time. (read: might as well be made of dust now.)
1. Reality Bites. I’ll be honest with this one: this movie is one of the reasons I started this column, presuming that it wouldn’t be hard to think of a reason to tell someone to watch it. It took actual will power for me to wait for the third installment to recommend it.
Picture, if you will, a young Winona Ryder, Janeane Garofolo, Steve Zahn, and Ethan Hawke, all just having graduated from college without any plans, goals, or opportunities. Items discussed include: literature, sexual orientation, cancer, AIDS, food purchased at 7-11, working at The Gap, Hall and Oates, Schoolhouse Rock, unemployment, FUNemployment, debt, sex, divorce, role models, pizza, and Ethan Hawke’s beautiful, beautiful face. All of this is obviously so tinged with 90’s MTV aesthetic that it might as well have spiked hair with bleached tips. EXCEPT IT DOESN’T BECAUSE THIS MOVIE IS PERFECT.
Did I mention it was directed by Ben Stiller? IT’S DIRECTED BY BEN STILLER. He also is in it, as The Man. But as a sort of gentle, good-hearted, goofy The Man, a romantic foil to Ethan Hawke’s affected, guitar playing, gruff-exterior-but-wounded-bird-on-the-inside pretty face. AND I’M NOT EVEN GOING TO TELL YOU WHO WINONA ENDS UP WITH.
Too many caps.
This movie, IMHO, perfectly encapsulates the crazy, embarrassing angst of graduating from college, being super educated and ambitious, and totally off-track. Feeling, for the first time in your life, that you are too old not to know who you are. WATCH IT PLEASE. Last caps, I promise.
2. Micro-prescription: Pancake Mountain. A children’s public access television show starring a goat puppet who introduces musical acts like Arcade Fire, Deerhoof, The Buzzcocks, M.I.A., and Katy Perry you say?! The chance to feel at once childlike and smarter than stupid, culturally unaware children?! I’ll take it!
3. Clueless. There can be no other parody of life in a 90’s Beverly Hills prep school.
Based on Jane Austen’s Emma, this cinematic extravaganza features Alicia Silverstone at her blondest, skateboard stunts at their most irrelevant-to-the-plot, and Paul Rudd in his chrysalis stages just before he blossomed into the perfect man. Plus it’s like 30% montages of clothing.
Keep in mind when watching this movie that in high school I basically was Brittany Murphy’s character Tai, except minus the drugs and plus more capri pants, so this movie had special resonance for me at the time.
If you want not one but several victorian-style love plots, thousands of hilariously matchy outfits, a soundtrack that, again, makes you want to spike and bleach-tip your hair, and to remember how scary driving on the freeway once was (still is?), check out Clueless. For your health.
4. Microprescription: O’Grady. Because making teenagers look like hopeless idiots with hearts of gold is best if it’s done in animation, with the voice of H. Jon Benjamin. And yes, you hear Rob Corddry’s voice in this clip.
5. Daria. Because what else was going to teach me how to hate my parents, community, and academic system at age 15 if not a cartoon on MTV?
Upon entering college, I had assumed that Daria was a ubiquitous part of the upbringing of everyone in my generation. BUT, it turns out that not only fewer than half of my female friends watched it—NONE of my male friends had ever seen it. LISTEN UP ASSHOLES, IT’S TIME TO LEARN ABOUT DARIA.
I lied about the caps.
Daria for beginners: it’s about a smart girl with a monotone voice who is the only person around (with the possible exception of her best friend, Jane) who sees what an incredible goon everyone else is. Also of note are her Popular with a capital P sister Quinn, her high powered car-phone-brandishing parents, Brittany the cheerleader who says she likes bell peppers because she can “almost hear them ringing!,” her cute-even-in-cartoon-form sometimes boyfriend Tom, and Jane’s older brother Trent who sings for a band called Mystik Spiral and represents the Hannah Withers Ur crush of yesteryear.
Again, this is clearly another show created by an adult looking back on teenage years, feeling at once glad to be gone from them, but also way, way too old. Daria is an old soul and a great stand-in for the adult gaze cast on the stupid beauty of being in high school and caring about things like the Fashion Club. And if you hate everything, or aspire to, it’s a nice, sneaky way of teaching you how not to take yourself or anything around you too seriously.