If There's a Teen Movie Hell, I'll Be In It
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because these films had their moments but they taught us the wrong lessons.
By J. Bennett
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
I’m very regimented. I arrange my work by what’s gonna pay me first. But working on my book, Teen Movie Hell, takes up the most time because I gotta watch the movies.
I’m 50 years old. I was 13 when Porky’s came out. Fast Times at Ridgemont High opened in New York, where I grew up, the first Friday of my freshman year in high school, in 1982. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out the first Friday after I graduated, in 1986. These were the movies of my teenage years, and they were geared very specifically to me. I was fascinated because they are basically porno movies, watered down for 13-year-old boys. That’s how they function. I’m fascinated by the bizarre sexual liberation that turned into weird exploitation throughout the ’70s and into the ’80s.
A lot of these movies I’ve seen multiple times, so I could just throw them on in the background. I’d do marathons on the weekend. My wife and I would sit there with them playing. My wife is a fan, to some degree. She likes stupid stuff too.
Here’s how I defined what ended up in the book: They had to be movies about teenagers that were made for teenagers and marketed to teenagers with the promise of sex and crude humor. Well, not sex per se, but nudity. Boobs, mainly — that’s what it comes down to. Those were the basic elements. But there were some that were pretty good even without nudity, like Summer School, which is a PG-13 teen sex comedy, and a great movie — very fun with some heartfelt elements. So they don’t have to be smutty.
Just as we were doing the final edits on it in the fall of 2017, the Harvey Weinstein scandal hit, followed by the #MeToo movement.
The genre stops, suddenly, and pretty clearly, not long after Ferris Bueller. It continues a little into ’87, but it’s pretty much over. So I wanted to look at this very specific peculiar moment in movie and culture history. I say it stopped, but the book covers from American Graffiti in 1973 to Dazed and Confused in 1993, with a little blurring on either end. The explosion was ’82, when you get Porky’s, The Last American Virgin and Fast Times all within a six-month period. Then it’s all rip-offs and cashing in on the craze.
The next dramatic phase was the John Hughes movies, which brought something else to it and also kind of ended the genre. He expanded the audience to teenage girls, and the PG-13 rating also eliminated the need for R. But make no mistake: These were movies for horny teenage boys. And from 1982 to 1986, that’s what I was.
Home video really ended it because once teenage boys had easy access to hardcore pornography, there was no way to get them excited again about a locker room scene that lasted three seconds. And that’s why big Hollywood movies now don’t have nudity or sex. That stuff doesn’t get people to buy tickets at the theater. They’ll watch it at home on Game of Thrones, and they’ll certainly watch porn online by themselves, but it’s not gonna make somebody leave the house to go see it in the theater. That’s what ended the genre more than anything.
There was an earlier version of this book that almost came out in 1999. That version would get me thrown in jail today if it was out. Because I was a different guy — a younger guy, an idiot. And it was the ’90s, which were all about shock and nihilism and decadence, especially in terms of humor — at least as I understood it. And we’re on a diametrically opposed plane now, so that was definitely on my mind as I was putting this together in 2017 and ’18.
I mean just as we were doing the final edits on it in the fall of 2017, the Harvey Weinstein scandal hit, followed by the #MeToo movement. I got so stressed out about it that I stress-puked. I called my publisher and said, “Please don’t put this book out. I’ll give you back the advance.” And he said, “I’m not gonna cancel the book, but we’ll put it in a deep freeze and we’ll come back to it when you’re ready.”
Not long after that, on Thanksgiving morning, the voice of the almighty rang in my head and said, “Schmuck, you know all these brilliant female film writers. Call them and ask them to contribute to the book.” So that’s what I did. They turned it into a much, much better book than it would have been otherwise.
I have to say, watching these movies fucked me up terribly as a kid. It’s all about wish fulfillment in these movies, and it made me have the wrong expectations about life and priorities. I became obsessed with trying to lose my virginity and trying to live this wild life.
I wasn’t going around drilling holes in girls’ shower rooms or anything like that — they damaged me more in an inner dialogue way: If you’re not living like these movies, you’re not living. And I wasn’t living like that. I was a disaster. They completely fucked me up. But I’m here today, so it’s all right now.
We don’t need these movies. We never needed them. But I’m glad we had them.
- J. Bennett, OZY Author Contact J. Bennett