Posted by S.E. Sinkhorn | Friday, March 22, 2013
Today's Tune: José
The other day I saw a few people on Twitter discuss the recent casting choice of Four in the Divergent film adaptation. The selected actor is 28 years old and will supposedly be playing 18-year-old Four. It's unclear whether they'll be aging him up or leaving his age ambiguous, but as Tris is supposed to be 16, it's an interesting (and a little confusing) choice.
This is far from the first time significantly older actors have played teenage characters. In the television show Glee, several of the characters were in their mid-to-late 20's while playing sophomores in high school. Some of the actors were younger -- actor Chris Colfer is widely regarded as one of the babies of the group, having started filming at around 19 years old -- but most of the actors were comfortably in their 20's. Even Dawson's Creek, one of the forerunning teen dramas, had actors ranging from 17-23 playing 15-year-olds.
There is a sensible reason for this, of course. Actors who are over 18 aren't subject to the multitude of laws surrounding child actors, which include limited filming times and required schooling stipulations. Even so, it seems odd to skew as old as a nearly 30-year-old actor playing a high schooler, particularly one who doesn't look especially young (Bianca Lawson notwithstanding because that woman does not age). But clearly there's a precedent.
It always catches my eye. I understand why under-18s aren't generally cast for major teen roles (see limited filming hours again), but even so, it has to be kind of a trip for teenagers to watch representations of "themselves" on screen who are not only Hollywood polished, but past the most awkward stages of teenagerhood. Crystal-clear skin, flawless makeup, impeccable fashion sense and unlimited wardrobe (even when the character is supposedly dirt poor), perfect smile with no braces (only creepy nerd characters have those), wry humor without a trace of awkwardness... that's got to be disconcerting for your typical teen. How do you live up to that standard?
This is why I used to love watching Dawson's Creek as a teen. Sure, the actors were all gorgeous in their own way, but they weren't so highly polished and on-the-ball. They were flawed, and awkward, and confused. They were pretty, but not unattainably pretty. Every once in a while, there was a zit that didn't quite get covered with makeup.Even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with its super-cool heroine and incredible adventures, still maintained that sense of being young and occasionally having no idea what you were doing.
I know I'm teetering dangerously close to nostalgia for my beloved turn-of-the-century shows, but today's teen shows aren't all bad. Glee tried to capture that feeling. It tries to be inclusive of many different types of teenagers, but unfortunately it doesn't hit the mark for me. It feels like one of those shows that had good intentions, but went horribly awry in the execution. The positive messages get muddled in twee and contradictory storylines that undo months of character development.
There are a variety of people who come through the show, but I have a very tenuous relationship with the way they're treated. They're still very highly polished, and although the show includes many different kinds of people, it also tends to favor the societal "norm." Skinny, pretty, white, able-bodied, and straight. Characters who deviate often find themselves the butt of oppressive jokes, which I like to think of as "hipsterisms." You know what I mean... "I can joke about your fatness/Blackness/queerness/disability because I don't REALLY mean it, duh! We're friends sometimes! I told you that you were pretty once!"
I've actually grown to love Teen Wolf because it incorporates a lot of that teenage awkwardness back into the show. Again, the cast is VERY pretty and VERY polished, but they don't always know what to do. They stumble, they're awkward, they don't always have a barb at the tip of their tongue.
Sometimes I kind of yearn for another Freaks and Geeks, not gonna lie.
I think it's desperately important for young people to see themselves in their media. The super-polished, fantasy versions are okay, and sometimes you need that escape from reality. But it's even more important, in my opinion, to see a reflection of who you really are, warts and all. This of course also extends to the constant lack of diversity in both teen television and YA literature, which is something that's being slowly chipped away at and I hope continues to improve.
When you see someone who's supposed to be your age, but they're really ten years older, well past puberty, and polished to a high shine, how does that make you feel about yourself? Like you can't measure up? Like something must be wrong with you because you don't look and sound like THAT? It's definite food for thought.
What do you think, dudes? What sort of representations do you like to see in youth media? What do you hope to see?