This week’s screenings and readings asked us to incorporated a lot of the themes that we have been covering throughout our class. These broad themes include the definition of millennial, millennial themes, and new millennial representation of previous genres. Our screenings looked at Pretty Little Liars, Veronica Mars and Skins. Taking an in depth look at Skins proves to be a challenge to traditional interpretations on the definition of the millennial generation.
Skins is an MTV-USA adaptation of a British teen drama. Skins UK had been highly successful and was lauded for its gritty and realistic dramatic depiction of underprivileged and marginal teens. The series dealt with real issues facing the “fringe” of teen society and felt authentic. Skins UK adapted a new cast each season, and employed amateur and unknown actors to fit the role of these troubled teens living and trying to survive in the slums of Bristol. Wining a BAFTA, Skins UK was and is a huge success for the British market and had a definite impact on the millennial representation from the British persepective.
Skins USA on the other hand has brought up a series of challenges and outcries to its very raunchy content which has been called “child pornography”. Skins USA cast the same demographic characters for their pilot and the first episode is literally a shot for shot remake of Skins UK. Why the US version has received much more flak than the Brit version is an interesting question. Skins USA does an excellent job of depicting marginality and at risk teens participating in dangerous situations. Do all millennials and teens participate in open sexual relations and abuse drugs? No. In fact these notions seem to defy Strauss and Howe’s optimistic take on Millennials. But perhaps like NYC Prep, Teen Mom and Jersey Shore, millennials can relate on some level to the stories dramatized in Skins. I thought all the hype the show received (viral ad campaigns, prescreenings, teasers etc) didnt really equate to a very edgy show. Sure it pushed boundaries and angered its advertisers, but I wasn’t offended or shocked by what I saw. I think the show attempts to push buttons, but it’s content isn’t racy or edgy enough to attract a generation that realizes these topics arent fully experienced when handled with kid gloves. Skins UK succeeded by “going there”, while Skins MTV has too many advertiser and child protection groups to appease and is unable to fully depict its drama.
Ah, Glee. I started watching Glee when it first came out as I was in my “lets try to watch new tv” phase. I really really liked the pilot. The characters all seemed to have some sort of depth that was reachable just beyond the surface. The musical numbers supplemented the storyline that seemed to be challenging typical teenage norms by having the star quarterback not only participate in Glee club, but also openly admit to enjoying being a part of the club. In my honest opinion, the show had incredible potential from the pilot.
But, as our readings highlighted, the characters seem to have fallen flat over the course of two seasons. Stereotypical classifications for each character are played out, and attempts for Ryan Murphy to break these characters out of their typical roles feels unauthentic. Take Kurt. Acting as a stereotypical, fashionable diva, yet often confused and socially uncomfortable character, Kurt asserts his “gay” throughout the entire series arc yet only receives his first kiss at the end of season two. Like the reading discussing gay couple Cam and Mitchell in modern family, Glee’s characters flirt with “otherness” yet refuse to break from these stereotypical norms.
Cam and Mitchell’s kiss campaign on facebook garnered interesting responses including “The kiss was both frustratingly and admirably understated. On the one hand, seriously, that’s what you call a kiss?! On the other, Modern Family's creators didn't bow to the pressure to make Cam and Mitchell's kiss a huge deal, sacrificing character and story line in the process.” (http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2010/09/cam_and_mitchell_finally_kiss.html)
Kurt and Blaine’s “big moment” occured also at the end of season 2 and garnered a similar response from fans including, “It played like an afterthought, as if the writers and producers of the series looked at the ongoing episode lineup and realized, “Oh, right — we’re nearing the end of the season and we’re supposed to have these characters smooch at some point; might as well do it here.” (http://www.salon.com/entertainment/tv/feature/2011/03/16/glee_kurt_kiss)
I think the large question here is why are these pivotal moments in both series’ archs loathed by fans. Did they come too late into the series to be authentic? Are they not going far enough with their assertions?
This week’s readings focused on the resurgence of Noir within the Millennial context of Teen Television. The adaptation of the traditional Noir-ish themes of a gritty, dark reality and gumshoe detectives are currently being merged with teen characters in popular TV shows. Noir itself is not “new” for our modern generation— The Dark Knight and almost any Quentin Tarantino film reminds us that the Neo-Noir is alive and well. But when traditional Noir is combined with Teen actors and Teen dilemmas a very nuanced approach to the genre is created. Veronica Mars merges a traditional female lead ( a la femme fatal in Noir) with a male role of a Private Investigator. Her role in uncovering the corruption of the Kane corporation is juxtaposed by her teenage, girlish antics.
Perhaps the most intriguing “change” from traditional Noir occurs in the Millennial reversal of the femme fatal with the Homme fatal. In both Veronica Mars as well as Gossip Girl, the male leads act more as Homme fatals than as strong, independent characters with agency as we might expect with traditional male Noir roles. Logan Echolls in Veronica Mars represents a male lead who is a victim of his father’s wealth and power and remains trapped within that world. Logan participates in that world by continuing to display his personal wealth and power through the series, a move that continues his cycle of abuse and distrust with his father.
Chuck Bass in Gossip Girl also represents a similar Homme Fatal characteristic of Millennial Noir. As the benefactor to a billion dollar empire, Chuck lives the high life of New York’s affluent Upper East Side. His continually partying, womanizing and drinking is contrasted by his own lack of self worth, and continually disappointment with his ephemeral love life. Chuck’s inability to be grounded in anything that is permanent represents a danger to any of his female leads, including the equally affluent and troubled Blair Waldorf. Chuck’s disappointments result in a continual display of wealth and arrogance, continuing the cycle of disappointment and catapulting Chuck to the status of Homme fatal.
I find this transition from the femme fatal to the homme fatal to be an incredible window into the role of male masculinity within the Millennial representation in teen television. The focus on the female as the character with total agency and control and pushing males into a role of objectification and self-reflection resonates with the millennial concept of duality and speaks volumes as to Noir as a staple of millennial connectivity.
I think one of the most heartening portions of our reading this week centered on the connective quality of Twilight between moms and their daughters. Twilight itself tackles a variety of emotional hurdles young people face including sexuality, gender roles and body image. Our reading from Cathy Leogrande pointed out that these issues were traditionally incredibly difficult areas for discussion between parents and teens. However, by using twilight as a means of discussion, these issues are more readily accessible for families. Instead of awkwardly skirting around the issue of teenage sex, moms (as evidenced in Leogrande) are able to instead discuss the relationship between Bella and Edward. Thus, teens are almost headfaked into these difficult conversations by discussing their own values and judgments of the Twilight Series.
I can’t help but think of Gilmore Girls and the mother/daughter relationship that is stressed within that show. Rory and her mom represent the pinnacle of teen/parent connectivity. Their tight bond and ability to talk about everything represents this idealized mother daughter relationship. This model is what is attempting to be stressed in Leogrande’s argument for the power to transcend generational differences through Twilight.
The real value of this finding is the generational gaps that can be bridged from Gen-X+ and Millennials. A huge part of our discussion revolves around the “disconnect” with our generation. By utilizing a common experience (reading/watching Twilight), our generation can appropriately and effectively bridge the gap felt by our parents. I’m not sure that this is all completely positive as it is not a “genuine” interaction by traditional standards. Using a “tool” to facilitate discussion and by basing that discussion off of fictional characters does raise some obvious problems. Yet, discussions are happening and families are bonding. Maybe it’s a sign of the “new kind of family”, or maybe moms are looking for an excuse to express their own fandom with the series.