For decades, teenagers' taste in entertainment has served to distress their parents. Alice Cooper in the '70s, Madonna in the '80s, and Marilyn Manson today - all were personifications of values colliding with acceptable cultural behavior. Each act arrived on the scene and found an entertainment industry prepared to allow walls of tradition to be leveled if there was a profit to be found.
Those days have ended. Hollywood no longer needs to be pushed. A look at the crop of teen movies so far this year demonstrates this sad truth.
It tells you something that almost all of the major teen-oriented theatrical releases this year have been R-rated. Given that this designation is meant to preclude teens unaccompanied by adults from buying tickets, and given that adults and teens hardly ever go to movies together, we can begin with the premise that movie ratings are no longer enforced, and therefore are meaningless.
And you'd be surprised to know what the R rating encompasses, too.
Perhaps the most noteworthy of these teen films is "Cruel Intentions," a prep-school retelling of the "Dangerous Liaisons" story. Sarah Michelle Gellar (WB's "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer") and Ryan Philippe play Kathryn and Sebastian, super-wealthy Manhattan stepsiblings who amuse themselves by playing vicious games with their peers and each other. The movie is a nonstop parade of premarital sex, girl-girl French kissing, drug use (for good measure, Kathryn keeps her cocaine inside a crucifix pendant), and other forms of decadence.
At least two "Cruel Intentions" stars seemingly couldn't care less what damage they're doing. Though Gellar tried to steer her young Buffy fans away from the picture, she told USA Today, "It's not a moviemaker's responsibility to teach moral lessons. We're storytellers." Reese Witherspoon commented to Newsweek, "It is a very sexual climate in high school. This movie shows parents that this is where your kids are at." Speaking of sexual climates, Witherspoon, whose character is a virgin for most of the film, told the New York Times that "one of the hardest things...was to find a modern way to make a teenager a virgin...It actually was difficult to find a reason that wasn't self-righteous or obnoxious."
That's right: to choose to remain chaste is now obnoxious.
"Cruel Intentions," released in early March, started fast at the box office but dropped sharply in its second weekend. January's "Varsity Blues," which has demonstrated more commercial staying power, includes plenty of suggestive sexual material and strip-club nudity. Trailing far behind in terms of popularity are "200 Cigarettes," which deals with sex, sex, and more sex, and "Jawbreaker," a black comedy about high-school girls in which, Entertainment Weekly opined, writer/director Darren Stein "can't decide whether he's satirizing his demonic heroines' homicidal indifference or celebrating it."
Coming this week [note to editors: its release date is April 9] is "Go," which has been likened to "Pulp Fiction." "The kids in this movie have only two goals - survival and getting high," writes Movieline magazine. "Pornography was a key part of 'Go,'" its director, Doug Liman, remarked to the New York Times, which added that the "movie includes a lap-dancing scene [set at a] strip club in Las Vegas...a three-person sex scene in a hotel room, and an invitation...to a gay couple to join a husband and wife in a swingers' encounter."
Then there's May's "American Pie," which, according to Entertainment Weekly, centers on "a pack of friends [who] make a pact to lose their virginity by prom night." In one scene, part of which is included in the film's promotional trailer, a boy masturbates into a warm pie because he's been told the pie filling feels like the inside of a vagina. Believe it or not, the original version of "American Pie" was even more tasteless; Newsweek reported that it "had to lose several scenes just to get an R" rating.
So why is Hollywood now shamelessly selling R-rated perversion to youngsters? Newsweek notes that in the movie industry, "the assumption is that underage kids can and will get in, no problem...['Cruel Intentions' writer-director Roger] Kumble...argues that there's no way to make a PG-13 film that will have credibility with teenagers."
Funny. That's exactly what Hollywood said just a few years ago when it virtually stopped producing G-rated movies in favor of the PG-rated genre.
Today, Hollywood is producing product for 14-year-olds that not long ago was considered obscene if watched by adults.