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Hollywood’s Distrust of the Unconventional Teenager

Hollywood’s Distrust of the Unconventional Teenager

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Published by Kareem Farooq
A Close Look at Over the Edge (1979) and Donnie Darko (2001)
A Close Look at Over the Edge (1979) and Donnie Darko (2001)

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Published by: Kareem Farooq on Jul 09, 2012
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05/13/2014

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Kareem FarooqTraditions in NarrativeSpring 2002Final PaperHollywood’s Distrust of the Unconventional Teenager:A Close Look at
Over the Edge
(1979) and
 Donnie Darko
(2001)
Teenage angst and teenage rebellion share a common thread in both film andliterature as a re-occurring theme that is both cautionary and perhaps unavoidable. Manytimes this theme follows a tragic path—the youth always seem to end up victims of thesociety they rebel against. In Shakespeare’s
 Romeo and Juliet 
, the two “star-crossedlovers” die in a vain attempt to escape their feuding families. In more recent years, thetheme of teenage angst and rebellion has shifted from mostly family pressures, topressures coming from other institutions as well. Holden Caulfield from J.D. Salinger’s1951 novel,
Catcher in the Rye
, is a prime example of an alienated youth who feelstrapped in a world of “phonies.” As he attempts to escape the stresses that continuallyplague him by smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, he slowly spirals down into anervous breakdown. School, church, and the suburban community have placed addedpressures on teenagers, resulting in the same tragic paths these teens had no other choicebut to follow. As the literature of the twentieth century, film has told the stories of theseflawed suburban teenagers in an attempt to teach the societal pressures responsible for thekids a lesson; yet, time and time again, Hollywood’s decision-makers would rather fund ateen film with over-the-top violence, sex, and gratuity rather than a teen film moreauthentic and enlightening, or, simply put,
Over the Edge
.
When
Over the Edge
was completed in 1978, the executives of Orion Picturesbanned the film from theaters due to its violent content. In the film, one kid is beat up,another kid is shot dead by a police officer, and the same officer dies later on in a carexplosion after being shot at by another juvenile delinquent. Also, the kids end updestroying several cars and setting fires in their school parking lot. While this level of violence is drastic and quite vivid, it is the result of teenage rebellion and is necessary tothe film for the story’s message. Throughout the film, the teenagers living in the growingsuburban community of New Granada are constantly neglected and treated as second-
©
Kareem Farooq, 2002 
 
class citizens. Their parents are so concerned about making their planned communityattractive to investors that they forget the needs of their own sons and daughters. Theserowdy kids turn to drugs, sex, and firearms to have fun but are still constantly beingthreatened by the cops. All these pressures weighing down on the kids create anatmosphere of destruction—the kids go over the edge. However, after the riot, a lesson isfinally learned and all is well that ends— as Valerie Carter’s “Oh Child” gently plays, thefilm’s protagonist is carried off in a barred-up bus to juvenile hall. The film was inspiredby actual events that occurred in the small suburban community of Foster City, Californiaduring the mid-1970’s. Given all the important social commentary the film intended andthe film’s true-to-life depiction of teen angst, which so many youths could relate to, itseems both expected and ridiculous that
Over the Edge
spent so many years on the self and away from distribution.
Of course, violence in teenage films did not begin with
Over the Edge
. In 1955,four years after Holden Caulfield’s appearance,
 Rebel Without a Cause
introducedanother teenage anti-hero by the name of Jim Stark, played by James Dean. The title of the film alone tells of an alienated youth with no ideas to follow—only impulse. WhileJames’ portrayal of the
 Rebel Without a Cause
won over the hearts of millions of youngadolescents, another kind of teenager would be the one to capture the heart of a money-hungry Hollywood. During the 1970’s, the original B-movie teen-horror films begancoming out in theaters. Films such as
Carrie
,
 Halloween
,
 Massacre at Central High
,
Silent Scream
, and an assortment of killer cheerleader films became popular among theAmerican youth. Using a combination of sex, drugs, and, of course, a little bit of theultra-violence, these films targeted teen audiences with nothing to do but be entertained.With so many horror films featuring teenagers being gruesomely murdered in terribleways, one has to wander: Why ban a film that is almost a bit modest compared to thesetrashy horror films?The truth is
Over the Edge
sets a bad example for white teenage youth of America. Suburbia was created to be a safe and secure place for families to raise theirchildren; a place far away from the fast talking hustlers and pimps that deserve to bekilled in the Black Exploitation films of the same decade. Before
Over the Edge
was to bereleased in theaters, it had been linked to the film
The Warriors
in an article in the LATimes.
1
After a shooting broke out in a movie theater where
The Warriors
was playing,the Orion executives pulled the advertising for
Over the Edge
in an attempt to prevent
©
Kareem Farooq, 2002 
 
bad publicity. They then began a test marketing campaign to see if the film would do wellas a teen horror film. The redesigned posters featured the children with their eyes whitedout.
2
This again was an attempt to take the reality out of the film, making it “safe” forwhite teenagers to watch without getting any destructive ideas.Hollywood’s distrust of teen films featuring realistic violence did not end with
Over the Edge
. Throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s, inner-city schools experiencedteen-on-teen violence among minority students. Films such as
 Boyz N the Hood 
and
 Menace II Society
and books such as Alex Koltowitz’s
There are No Children Here
illustrated this regularity of violence in the so-called “ghettos” of America. While thenews media noted this problem from time to time, each and every shooting and murderdid not always make the ten o’clock news. However, as teen-on-teen violence escalatedin white suburbia throughout the 1990’s, when a rash school shooting in schools allacross the country began to occur on somewhat of a regular basis—the most notable andchilling being Columbine in 1999—adults did not know whom to blame. In one scenefrom
Over the Edge
, an oil company investor from out of town, who is interested in real-estate in New Granada, prophesizes the cause of this future rash of violence, “It seems tome that you all were in such a hopped-up hurry to leave the city that you turned your kidsinto exactly what you were trying to get away from.” Of course, because this film wasnever widely distributed, no one was able to learn this valuable lesson. Instead of blamingthemselves for these suburban shootings, parents and teachers blamed explicit music andviolent movies for influencing their innocent white children. In 1997, View AskewProductions produced
 A Better Place
with a budget of $40,000. In the film, a teenage boy,who has just moved into a New Jersey suburban community after the death of his father,becomes friends with the school’s rebellious loner. When he learns of his new friend’splan for killing the school jock, he’s not sure how to stop him. This breed of realisticviolence is too raw for traditional Hollywood, which explains why it had to be made withthe incredibly low budget of $40,000. Still, films such as
Scream
,
 I Know What You Did  Last Summer
,
 Disturbing Behavior,
 
Urban Legends
, and their sequels are systematicallyproduced with the same intentions as well as the same plots. These films follow theprofitable pattern with beautiful adults playing teenagers being brutally killed by orkilling one another for reasons that are completely arbitrary. However, these films receivethe Hollywood green light because they are relatively inexpensive to make, have a greatmarketability (aiming at teenage audiences of course), and are great for creating a
©
Kareem Farooq, 2002 

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