What Films Tell Us about Generations By Kaden Quinn

Since the 1950s, teenagers and young adults have had major control over what is popular in America. This began with the baby boomers (born 1946-1964) and their sense of new found freedom. With no wars or economic depressions to worry about they had a lot of time to define what they thought was entertaining and what was important to them. It’s my belief that what’s considered popular reflects the spirit of the current generation. To sum up the baby boomers, their generation’s thought process was shown in the film, “A Rebel Without a Cause,” where a teenage boy tries to differentiate himself from the kids in his new town. Looking at the success of this movie and the future of the baby boomers, it seems that trying to be something new and different was their main goal. If they couldn’t save the world like their parents did in the previous world wars, they would change it. If they didn’t like the music the radio station played, they would change the genre all together. If they didn’t like the way people were being treated, then they would change the way people thought of others. With that in mind, the baby boomers helped the country progress into the age of civil rights, sexual revolution, new found music and new forms of protest.

In the year 1965, the baby boomer generation would come to an end and their younger siblings would take their place as “Generation X.” If you know someone born between the years 1965 to 1980, it’s most likely they would be placed alongside most of our parents. This group really differs from any other generation prior to it mainly because it was the first one that didn’t collectively benefit society. Looking at what was popular during Gen X’s time, it’s as if the same thought was on everybody’s mind, “Just live your life and have fun doing it.”  “A Rebel Without a Cause” was quickly replaced with “Ferris Bueller’s Day-Off”, “The Breakfast Club”, “Pretty In Pink” and a various assortment of other films which addressed the ups and downs of being a teenager. What all these movies seemed to have in common is the message that while growing up in stressful environments can stink, it’s best to focus on things that bring joy and distract you from what’s saddening. The interesting thing about these movies is how relatable they were then and still are today. Personally, I can watch a number of 80s flicks and get a real sense of what life was like and what was popular in the era of my parents.

And finally we’re onto our generation, “Generation Y.” If you were born between the years of 1981 and 2000 you’re part of Gen Y. What’s different about Generation Y compared to the ones that came before is that society’s expectations of us and what we would become has changed. Originally, not many people believed our generation would amount to much. With the 21st century on the way, some groups thought that we would be too obsessed with technology and that we’d become too self-absorbed. In 1999, there were a couple attempts to predict what life would be like for children and adults that would live in the age of Gen Y.  “Fight Club” and “American Beauty” both expressed scenarios where average people would become fed up with their “meaningless lives” and try to find new ways to express themselves. The point these films tried to make was that most people who would grow up in our time might become tired of daily routines and see life as very mundane. Depictions of what people would be like in our time were not very kind, displaying morose and uninterested behavior. As I said before, this is what WAS expected. After the year 2001, movies stopped being about relatable but flawed characters and were instead replaced with hero archetypes.

I find that most current popular films have done away with the relatability factor and replaced it with characters that the audience can either imagine themselves being or aspire to be. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are many stories that are made better by using POV characters the audience can use to latch onto so the events in the story seem more legitimate. “Hungers Games,” “Harry Potter,” “Divergent,” superhero movies, the “Matrix” series and a number of other franchises all contain POV characters as main characters. In each of these films, we go on the hero’s journey fixing or saving the status quo from the villain. To me it seems like society and Hollywood has drastically changed their view on was entertaining and relevant. The beginning of the 21st century started with predictions of people’s discontent of the world they live in. But near the end of its first decade, stories of heroes changing the world became much more focused upon.

So what happened? How could society’s opinion change so quickly? Well, I believe the answer might lie in one of America’s greatest tragedies. On September 11, 2001, the World Trade center was destroyed by two airplanes that were hijacked by several Islamic terrorists. This caused massive damage to New York City and cost many people their lives. But, through time and effort in putting the city back together again, America has marched on. While this did bring about a sense of unity between Americans, we were still scared of the many potential threats that could harm us. At that time, we didn’t need self-reflection or an interesting commentary on the typical life. What we needed was assurance. We needed to be inspired and what better way to do that than with heroes. From supermen to wizards to revolutionaries and so on, our faith in the future had been restored with the power of film. Although, the strange thing is that it seems like these types of movies aren’t going away, but rather, are growing.

Earlier I said that “It’s my belief that what’s considered popular reflects the spirit of the current generation.” And while I still stand by that statement, I can safely say that what’s popular also influences the generation as well. Society now expects more from Gen Y, believing that if we put more effort into our lives and more effort into inspiring others that we’ll become heroes in our own right. And if we can do that, nothing is beyond us.


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