Teenagers As Royalty
June 4, 2011 2 Comments
Being a teenager is like being royalty. You have no responsibilities and virtually all your mental energy is focused on your personal entertainment and relative social status. This royalty is also perpetually declining, however; by definition and construction it has a finite shelf life: the royal status ends more or less when high school does, or at least college. And teens are painfully conscious of this expiration date, even if not explicitly in these terms.
This is why so many teen movies are tinged with nostalgia, sadness, and angst. In any event it should be possible to identify strong parallels between stories of ‘declining royalty’ and stories of ‘teen angst’. Are they really the same story? Crossover movies like Cruel Intentions made the link explicit. But the sense of a sadness for a lost royal age, and desperation to salvage something before the peasants storm the castle, is there in most teen movies, from explicitly nostalgic ones like American Graffiti to modern ones like Can’t Hardly Wait.
It also may help explain phenomena such as teen suicide and pointless rebellion. Different people respond to being conscious of their declining royal status in different ways. You can point to the decadence of pre-revolutionary French royalty or you can point to the decadence chronicled in a Larry Clark movie.
If this is even partially right, society seems to have made something of a macro error in creating the life stage we call ‘teenager’, which is a relatively new phenomenon. Consciously it is a well-intentioned effort to shield young people from realities while they have a chance at an extended childhood and to complete their development, but in practice it seems to be a recipe for unhappiness while it lasts and regret/nostalgia once it’s over. To treat people like royalty only to set them up for an ouster from the royal house is not an unalloyed kindness. Worse, we seem to be going in the wrong direction; according to conventional wisdom, an ever-increasing percentage of young people are supposed to continue with more and more years of ‘school’ after age 18 – and the more schooling the better. This is a doomed attempt to extend the unsustainable stage of royalty beyond economic realities.
This observation of mine is not necessarily a call for child labor and a mass movement to drop out of high school and such, but it’s not necessarily not, either. It does appear to me we would do a lot of good to look for ways to dismantle and disrupt the artificially-royal social situation most teenagers find themselves in, and then summarily kicked out of.
Also see: From Disney to Vampires