The Blings of Summer: Adult Visions of Teen Gender Conformity

June 18, 2013

In a cultural moment that finds more and more young people experimenting with gender and sexuality (via social media and otherwise), and a mainstream culture more and more open to allow for some variations along the gender/sex binary, we find summer movie fare bent upon teen gender lock down.

On behalf of the girls, we have the aging girl-wonder herself, Sofia Coppola, imagining in The Bling Ring (and in the vein of Thirteen’s shocking expose of teens’ lives on the brink but without any of its possibilities for internal and interpersonal change or growth) that contemporary female teenagers are so juiced on social media, celebrity culture, and the psychotropic (and illegal) meds meant to calm them that they have been gutted like melons of any inkling of morality, personality, or affect.

Meanwhile, Jordan Vogt-Roberts has his boys go Walden, and it works! Even before they build their own man-shack in the faux-woods, theirs is a suburbia oddly unplugged. Sure, the best friends play a little Street Fighter 2 on some antiquated basement system, and there’s briefly a cell phone or two, but in this retrovision of Hometown High School (before they go rogue and are cooking by campfire, dancing tribal, and swimming, running, and bonding in Magic Hour hues) they get around town on bikes and attend a beer-bash that wistfully points to American Graffiti. In this fantasy flick, the boys get to become men (puffing up from a new interiority gained in the wild) by duking it out over impending heterosexuality, finding themselves in their fathers, and actually killing a snake (a masculinity-beacon of significant import in King‘s freaky id double, Mud); in both, the questions are the same (what does it mean to be a man in a culture where women rule?), as are the Fight Club-esque answers (worlds of men must be built as parallel streams to the “real world” now destroyed by women), although Mud sees the same Huckish adventure from the vantage of the dark, trippy evils of wasted wastrels, rather than via Kings‘ hazy, lazy sweatheart-cam.

This summer’s technophobic, misogynistic anthems to gender rigidity are noxious first in their insistence that the dreams of boys harken back to a pre-contact moment devoid of girls or gadgets, while the Google-glass visions of girls are utterly unredeemable. More deadly yet, I actually took my real-life teens to these flicks (at least they are art films, I stupidly convinced myself … ) These hyperbolic, nostalgic, apocalyptic visions of American youth may serve some hipster Millenials, I suppose, in their perennial quest to grow up and finally find themselves as real men and God-awful girls in our addled America. Meanwhile, my kids seem alright, mixing it up as they do, online and off, neither deadly afraid of technology, the opposite (or same) sex, their many gendered possibilities or the complexity, rather than the rigidity, of their desires and dreams.

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