The terrible trauma of teenage tenacity is a moment that those who go beyond it hope to never live again. Overheated hormones, untreatable acne, and tepid academic inculcations – on paper the horrors of adolescence seem to have stepped out of an Edgar Allen Poe story. However, teen dramas created to depict the constant crises of youth have been on the rise ever since the prime of 90210 and Saved by the Bell. But if life as a teenager is in reality more similar to dangling above the pit of hell than these shows depict then why do adults keep making teen dramas, and why do teenagers keep consuming them?
For starters, teenagers are a prime target for products and ideas that revolve around perfect identities or generally unrealistic things because of the internal want for teenagers to find who they are. With that search can come an immense struggle to pose as someone else that they deem the epitome of beauty, intelligence, style or some other trait that is seemingly impossible to master just by the slight of one’s own proclivity. So, it’s very easy to understand how the jet set teens of the CW’s Gossip Girl are alluring to teenagers who want to be just as cool as they think everyone else is when the characters are played by older actors and seem to be dripping in all things decadent. Even if they do seem to struggle with applying for college, or deciding whether or not to jump into their first sexual act, there is something different about seeing Blake Lively and Leighton Meester transform into the Hermes attired Serena and Blair who strut around the Upper East Side, when their lives are compared to the common humdrum of most teen lives.
Teen TV shows with destination-like settings are particularly interesting as they seem to play on the often unsatisfied sentiment within teenagers that can presumably be linked to their surroundings. Both the original Beverly Hills 90210 and the 2008 reboot 90210’s use of Beverly Hills as the backdrop to teenage issues, opened the doors for unrealistic plots. On the reboot, Adrianna Tate-Duncan is first the center of both the shows overt drug abuse and pregnancy warnings to its viewers, but then once she becomes “clean” and gives away her baby, Adrianna becomes a mega pop-star. In an article specifically looking into the lives of homeless teen families, the Washington Post says that of the 6,000 families that are homeless, three-fourths of the members of the homeless families are anchored by parents younger than 25. These statistics do not offer any numbers for the number of teen moms who shoot off to become famous once they keep or give away their children. Adrianna’s story is so far removed from the circumstances of teen pregnancy that the show might as well be about an adult single woman that is pregnant – definitely not a teen. And it certainly does not help that Adrianna looks mature and gorgeous although she is supposed to be an immature and concerned 16-year old during her addiction and pregnancy.
Shows like Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars that do not deal with a fantastical setting like New York or Beverly Hills, but instead often feature small towns with a mysterious aura of danger, still fall prey to misleading teens due to their glamorization of violence and lethal situations. In Pretty Little Liars, the liars’ lies go beyond the supposed dirt that the on and off dead Allison knows about them, and extends into their ability to escape death nearly every episode. It’s never a good idea to underestimate the abilities of teens, but some of the catastrophes that fall upon those girls are not things that most would say even adults could escape.
Because the unrealistic properties of new and old teen dramas alike are quite obvious it seems that teens are drawn to the lustre of these programs as it is much easier to escape a California poolside where your issues can disappear with the swipe of a credit card, or a quaint surrounding when your SAT score becomes minuscule in comparison to the killer on the loose.
Teens can be sexier, richer, older, and even smarter than they are when they pull themselves into a world where their less sexy, middle class, young, and relatively smart self would not even be a thought. The fakeness of these “realistic” teen shows is what makes them so successful with their intended audience. Identity confusion is no longer at the forefront of your mind when you can become Naomi Clark or Chuck Bass for at least an hour. And it is almost as if you can model yourself off of these characters once that hour is up like they are options to try on at your local Forever 21.
This is not to say that there is anything wrong with indulging in a bit of Betty and Veronica banter or heading down to the O.C. with Marissa and Summer, but just a reminder that these shows don’t always offer the best depiction of teens so it’s best not to get wrapped up in their Lana Del Rey-like enchantment.