Adolescents on TV

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow

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by Franco Olearo

ROME, Monday, December 5th, 2011 ( A long time ago, we had Happy Days:a series that began in the USA in 1974, but took place in the 50’s. It was seen as a legacy of a happy recent past: an era where parent-child confrontation never became a dispute. Love was always sought, and it lasted a lifetime. Friendship was an inviolable and unambiguous value. The pleasantness of the characters and the happy ending of each episode were expressions of a society that was proud of itself, thought positively, and aimed for a future where the family takes a fundamental role. In the last episodes of this saga that lasted decades, the young main characters who had already become adults sealed their transition of state with two well-defined events: one public- military service, and one private- marriage.

At the end of the 90’s, the youth movement controversies and the sexual revolution had shaped a freer teenager, already independent from the normative references that could have come from the family and society. In this time, Dawson’s Creek(1998) and The O.C. (2003) became the cornerstones that paved the path for the golden age of teen drama (along with One Tree HillEverwoodBeverly Hills 90210Joan of ArcadiaHigh School Musical and many others).

Dawson’s Creekwas especially important for characterizing this period. The teens were represented in their growing pains while they bewilderingly sought a meaning to that already achieved yet demanding freedom.

Meanwhile in Italy, Spanish formats were imitated, and general tests were conducted to show an extended family or a non-family (respectively in I Cesaroni and Un medico in famiglia where the grandfather Libero had to manage three young people on his own). The ideas of living together and premature sexual experiences were widespread.

Now for the recent years. After the period of the proud building of a solid society that sees the family as her cornerstone, and after a long season of transition characterized by hesitant certainties in Dawson’s Creek, we reach the actual moment, that of consolidation of plural life styles.

The most representative of this new phase is the series Glee, that can be considered as the mature expression of a post-Christian society founded on individualism. After its great success won in America and worldwide, Glee was broadcasted in Italy, first on Fox, and then on Italy 1 (the third season is to be released in 2012). It seems quite pleasant at first, due to its structural similarity with musicals. But it is also the most ideological series that presents the new individualistic society in a most explicit way.

The main characters of Glee are of group of high school kids, all losers among their peers, although for different motives. They find a common bond and a reason to fight to be themselves in the “Glee Club”, a school choir supported by a young Spanish teacher.

Episode after episode, Gleebuilds up a new scale of values. The primary law that regulates each one’s behavior is “become yourself”. In this light, there is not only the demand for the utmost respect for one’s own choices, but the series also cultivates the illusion that any choice is legitimate, indifferent, and free of consequences. There is no search for values to be shared because there are no values. The fiction is commendably attentive to the less fortunate (one of the main characters is a teen in a wheelchair, while another one has Down’s Syndrome). These figures are shown respect more than love.

Homosexuality (a widely developed theme in the series, whose author is openly homosexual) constitutes a free and indifferent individual choice. The moment of choice is precisely the moment of adolescence, where each one must understand what his “calling” is. Needless to say, that sexuality is conceived as way of expressing oneself, disconnected from any procreative function and from every dimension of fidelity or even stability. In the episode entirely dedicated to this theme (15th of the second season) the substitute teacher Holly, who organizes a course of sex education for the kids, ruled that “speaking about chastity to children is like proposing a vegetarian diet to lions”.

The series places religious faith in the list of negative elements. Episode 3 of the second season, dedicated to this theme, concludes with the reply of Kurt (the homosexual character) that it is better to hypothesize that God does not exists because if He were to exists, we would have to conclude that He is an extremely cruel being.

In conclusion, the prospective offered by Glee,despite the musical surface, is quite sad: in the effort to become themselves on the basis of self-generated criteria, these teens lack the humility to listen to and face the external world; they lack the honesty to recognize their own errors; they lack the drive to try to better themselves.

The new Italian television season in RAI broadcaster will be characterized by the advent of the third year of Tutti pazzi per amore, another Italian series that has attracted the public in the recent years. It has been compared to Glee because the characters sing duets to famous songs and adopt a very personal style to address sensitive issues with a light and lively tone. Initially started as a “relative” to the genre of Un medico in famiglia (but with the declared intention to demolish the concept of the family), the series is increasingly more characterized as an endless variation of American romantic comedies (from which the stories and situations are copied) based on either adult or teenage characters all united in this inevitable surrender to the power of Cupid.

If the tendencies of the first two series are proved, love is seen- as the title confirms- as something that is substantially a blind impulse where the will has no role. It is not by chance that before some sentimental dilemmas (which are often reduced to questions of sex and approached with a certain mockery vulgarity), adults- stripped of any educational or authoritative role- declare their equality before the inevitable confusion of feelings. There exists an overwhelming passionate love, often self-referential and narcissistic, that cannot and must not distinguish between age and sex (the normalization of homosexuality is also explicitly part of the agenda). This type of love takes advantage of the great romantic tradition of love conquers all, but betrays it for the benefit of the replicable consumerism of contemporary sentimentalism.

Tutti pazzi per amore is interesting because it highlights the other side of the coin in this individualistic society by the new series: the characters, absolutely free from every bond or external imposition, virtually end up becoming slaves to this form of love that is not love, but is only a pure instinctual force, professed as uncontrollable.

Reviews on the following series are available at (Italian only)

Dawson’s Creek by Paolo Braga

High Scool Musical by Francesca D’Angelo

Everwood by Paolo Braga

One Tree Hills by Paolo Braga

Joan of Arcadia by Paolo Braga

Non smettere di sognare by Franco Olearo

Glee 2 by Franco Olearo

Liceali 3 by Franco Olearo

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