Movies about students’ life of a particular epoque are often characterized by certain distinct features. For instance, the movies of John Hughes such as Sixteen Candles, or Pretty in Pink have already become incorporated in the cultural image of the 80th (probably you’ve written English papers about them in college). Similarly, the youth culture of the new millennium has begun to be associated with “Skins” television series (created by Brian Elsley and Jamie Brittain). Our article focuses specifically on the representation of youth culture in movies created within 1980-1990 timeframe. It aims to outline its specific features as portrayed in the mass media of the time.
Pretty in Pink (1986)
Director: John Hughes
The plot of the movie is quite straightforward. At the forefront, there is a love story between Andy (Molly Ringwald), and Blane (Andrew McCarthy). The storyline also outlines Andy’s relationship with her friend Duckie, who is in love with her. The outfits of the main characters, as well as the entourage of the movie, help to grasp the specific visual culture of the 80s. For instance, the uniqueness of Andy’s personality is reflected in her wardrobe: she likes to remodel old cheap clothes into something that is one of a kind and also very “stylish”. Interestingly, so is her friend Duckie, whose image of a broke desperate boy is reflected in his dressing choices. The visual images that appear in the movie help to understand how the youth culture of the 80th emphasized the relationships between one’s appearance and inner world.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Director: John Hughes
Being another stunning creation of John Hughes, the movie Breakfast Club provides a possibility to look closely at the media representation of interpersonal relationships, specific for the youth culture of the time. The movie depicts several high school students, who had to spend Saturday morning in detention. They are supervised by the unreasonably authoritarian principle, whose character embodies the gap between the rebel spirit of the youth, and the conservatism of the older generation (the theme pretty common for the movies of the 80s). Each of the students who had to spend their time in detention, has a very unique personality and distinctive features that are overexaggerated, but help to underline their uniqueness. It can be grasped from the specific depiction of one of the main characters of the movie: John Bender (played by Judd Nelson). He is the most rebellious protagonist in Breakfast Club. Interestingly, the creators of the movie provide a justification for his outrageous and unconventional behavior: he has a violent father figure, and his parents are mainly ignorant towards his inner struggles. The character that is portrayed as somewhat oppositional to him is Claire Standish (played by Molly Ringwald). She is a girl from a rich family, thus, is a bit spoiled, and initially appears as someone who thinks very highly of herself and has no problems. Dichotomies such as “rich and poor” or “confident and insecure” are characteristic of the movie culture of the 80s, which emphasized the importance of being unique.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Director: Richard Linklater
Even though that the events of the movie do not take place in an educational institution, it still helps to grasp the dichotomy between leisure as a complex of activities practiced outside of the education context, and the process of learning. The movie depicts the main characters after their last day in school. The main characters involve Randal “Pink” Floyd who plays football and promises to not take drugs by signing a pledge, Mitch Krammer (who made the attempt to escape hazing bur later is cornered and paddled), and Pink (who is the one not signing a pledge). By the plot lines involving these characters we can outline some themes, that can be somewhat characteristic of the youth culture of the 90s. First of all, there is a need to note that the events of the movie take place in the 1970s. The ’70s obsession’ is also exemplified in the names of one of the main characters: Randall “Pink” Floyd. Second of all, even though that the spirit of rebellion was not new to films depicting youth in the 90s (it is stated above that rebellion against the conservatism is already represented in the films of the 80s), it did somewhat intensify in them, which, in Dazed and Confused movie, has led to the development of a more aggressive and violent image of teenagers. In this case, they rebel against educational institutions and old authoritative figures in a very extreme way, and they are expressing it with nothing else but continuous self-damaging. They are more eager to ruin the world they live in and build something new and more progressive even if it means they have to sacrifice themselves.
Director: Amy Heckerling
The protagonist of the movie is Cher Horowitz, a slightly spoiled but kind girl. She shares a lot of similarities with Dionne Davenport, who is also from a wealthy family. Cher’s stepbrother is Josh who kindly condemns her lifestyle and consumerist habits. This dichotomy always appears in the majority of the 1990s movies about students’ lives. It is also interesting to observe, how the relationship of Josh and Cher develops throughout the movie. Them ending up as a couple and realizing that they have feelings for one another can be understood as a metaphor of Cher’s transformation. For instance, in Breakfast Club, as in a lot of other movies about the youth, wealth and arrogant behavior also come ‘in a mix’. In this case, the character breaks this pattern and makes an attempt to become a better person, which is in itself an interesting and noteworthy plot twist. Moreover, she does so with the help of Josh whose kindness led her to believe that she could be a better person, instead of creating a conflict between the two, which is not uncommon for the plot lines of the movies depicting youth culture.
We examined some of the examples of the movies of 1980-90s, that depicted the specific features of youth culture of a particular decade. Even though that the differences between the 90s and the 80s in terms of creating an image of students’ lives can be caused by the specific moviemaking style of directors, it is interesting to see how they also reflect the overall tendencies of the youth culture. That is, it is common for the producers to refer to the specific cultural features of the other periods (or, as in some of the observed cases, even to make the events of a movie to happen in certain time zones to show how more modern youth cultures are “obsessed” with fashion, music, and all the other components of a cultural continuum).