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Movies & me - how we become what we watch


Image by Ivy Klein

Intro

Everyday, we are surrounded by other people’s perceptions of who we are. Because Hollywood and other entertainment corporations keep pumping out movies and TV shows consistently, and at scarily fast rates, this generation finds itself swimming in content: outside ideas about how to dress, how to talk, how to walk, who to be friends with, who to fall in love with, and how to fall in love. After a while, it can seep into our own heads-- the stereotypes, the expectations, the romanticization. This phenomenon, the teenage absorption of teenage media fantasy, is endlessly fascinating. Let’s think about it in more detail.


Some good examples

To start, it isn’t always bad. Hyper-grand romantic gestures in rom-coms, Disney channel be-yourself movies, the idea of “finding your people” movies for younger audiences always try to have a wholesome moral of the story, and sometimes it resonates. I’ve found comfort in lots of tropes that I probably wouldn’t fully understand if I hadn’t been seeing them so often since I was a little baby. Extremely character-driven movies like The Breakfast Club, Stand by Me, and Clueless have changed the way we think about the precious memories of our youth, the whole high school experience, and more.


The constant romanticization we see in movies, TV, and in social media can help us to feel validated in our own experiences: if we learn what we’re expected to see and do, and then do those things, we get a little burst of happiness. Mimicking what we see in the movies makes us feel a part of some sort of exclusive club. Picnics, midnight drives, balancing on fences in a cool looking way, and other cliché teen activities that seem otherwise boring fill us with the validating sense that we’re doing something right.


Some bad examples

But, as is so often the case, there’s a downside. These expectations, while capable of lifting us up, can also take us down. When we decide, and are told, that there’s a certain kind of dating-the-quarterback, wear-blue-to-prom high school experience that must be fulfilled, it’s quickly disappointing when we don’t “earn” that life that the media has pushed onto us. It’s easier to feel like we’re failing at something, or we’re missing out on the great beauty of what life has to offer.


When did it start?

To be honest, this phenomenon has been occurring since movies started getting made. The Wizard of Oz, one of the earliest technicolor films, stars the wonderful Judy Garland as she meets and grows to love a series of completely one-sided characters who have simple and predictable personalities (that I love anyway). Admittedly, movies like Twilight, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Mean Girls all feature similar tropes, characters, situations, and experiences. And, with the rise of “aesthetics” and the constant highlight reels of other people's lives on social media, it’s easy to get swept up.


Other ways to be

Some suggestions for feeling like yourself: read more books! Not to sound like an old man, but books are oftentimes a nice disconnect from the constant pressure of “how things should be.” In my experience, it’s easy to feel like an outside observer to all the chaos when you’re looking at a piece of paper instead of a screen.


Also, listen to music! Music is a huge representation of character, and having a couple go-to songs that feel like an extension of you is always fun and emotionally healthy.

Spending time alone and doing nothing is also a really good idea if you’re looking for a way to snap out of the stress cycle. It rarely occurs to us to not be constantly entertaining ourselves with something, but it can be quite rewarding.


Conclusion

This article isn’t a manifesto about not watching any movies. I love stupid, cliche tropes, overly mature teenagers in films about youth, and the concept of aesthetics. But at the end of the day, we’re all individuals, absent of any outside meaning you can throw onto us. Watch all the movies you want to, but remember that it’s only a stripped down version of what life is, should be, and will be.


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