In the comments on the previous piece, WOPR asked which movie I was watching that seemed to have been made on Mars. It was Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which is a great example of the phenomenon. I wasn’t an undergrad in 1982, but even in 1992 I could see myself in the Fast Times kids. By 2002, though, it already seemed like a distant world, and I doubt kids in 2012 would understand more than a fraction of it. It’s not the period-specific jokes, the kind that make, say, Gilbert and Sullivan difficult to even follow, let alone laugh at. There are a few of these, of course — the kids sniffing fresh mimeograph pages to get high — but mostly it’s the zeitgeist.
Start with Judge Reinhold’s character (they have names, of course, but nobody remembers any character’s name but Spicoli). He’s supposed to be a typical everyman high school senior, but to modern audiences he comes off like a grandfather, if not a great-grandfather. He’s got a job, for pete’s sake, which he seems to take, you know, seriously — to the point of passing up social opportunities because he has to work. He has a car, one that he obviously pays for himself… I was going to say it’s the typical student beater, except that doesn’t make sense either — today’s kids, if the ones who go off to college are at all representative, either drive very nice rides that their folks obviously went miles into debt to buy for them, or simply don’t drive at all. Most importantly, he keeps buggering on with all that, despite some serious “is this all there is to life?”-type misgivings, because that’s simply what one does. Or did, anyway.
About the only teenager-ish thing he does that modern kids would recognize is jerk off (a life-altering scene for any boy who saw it in his sexually formative years; I myself will always love Phoebe Cates a little).
Speaking of that, here’s Spicoli’s room (NSWF, needless to say):
The wine-bottle candle and the bongos are indigenous to Southern California, but everything else is Typical American Teenager. He’s a bit more brazen about it — we didn’t leave bongs, cigarettes, and beer bottles right out there in the open — but when I was a young lad your typical American kid could be expected to know what all of those objects are, at the very least, and probably have sampled one or all of them. It was not unknown, in fact, for parents to simply give their offspring their first taste of alcohol, on the theory that since you’re going to be surrounded by it at parties anyway, it’s better to learn about it now, under controlled conditions (I would say that my Dad drank my first beer with me when I was about fourteen, since nothing beats a cold one after a long afternoon’s yard work, but since that’s probably felony child abuse now I’ll say that I heard that happened once, to some other kid). Along the same lines — stuff I heard happened to some other kid — who can forget Mom’s evil grin when she caught you lighting one up from the pack of Marlboros Grandpa forgot the last time he was over, and made you smoke all of them?
The point, if anyone from the younger generations has endured my crusty old man ramblings this far, is that one was expected to deal with the consequences of one’s actions. Our parents did not assume — as parents seem to now — that having been kept religiously away from intoxicants their entire childhoods, children will somehow acquire the wisdom to enjoy them responsibly the very minute the clock chimes on their 21st birthday. On the contrary, our parents seemed to expect a certain amount of youthful rebelliousness as necessary and healthy. Moreover, they expected their kids to somewhat police themselves, to understand the distinction between “a little harmless youthful rebellion” and “a serious problem” — e.g. sneaking a beer at a tailgate vs. swiping a bottle of vodka, or taking a bong hit vs. raiding the medicine cabinet.
Which brings us to the most Mars-like feature of Spicoli’s room — the posters on the walls. Holy rape culture, Batman!! Again, since Fast Times is a comedy he’s a bit more brazen about it, but absolutely no one would’ve complained about bikini model posters on a boy’s wall in 1982. Or 1992, for that matter, since swapping the pictures you cut out of the Swimsuit Edition for something more “serious” was one of the ways you reconciled yourself to growing up and getting ready to graduate. The first thing every boy did when he went off to college was slap a cheesecake shot on the wall by his bed; you and your roommate bonded over your bikini model choice. Unless you were a dedicated practitioner of the frat bro lifestyle, though — a serious choice in itself — by the time you hit junior year Cindy Crawford was replaced by Bob Marley, or Elvis Costello, or US out of Trashcanistan, or Save the Whales, or whatever. [Girls did the same thing, of course, and despite the impossible, socially-imposed beauty standards of Stephanie Seymour and Johnny Depp we managed to get along with each other, even hook up from time to time… though not as often as some of us would’ve liked].
These days, I’m sure, the very suggestion of heterosexuality in your dorm room will get you shipped off to reeducation.
The point isn’t that things were better in my day — though they were, if by “things” you mean “boys and girls didn’t hate and fear each other” — but that Spicoli’s world, which was for all intents and purposes my world, not only doesn’t exist anymore, but seems impossible. They live in bizarro world, those teens who, despite not once attending SAT prep classes or getting a single participation trophy, seem healthy and happy and… outgoing, I guess the word is, and when was the last time you heard someone described that way? They seem to relate to each other as people, and when they don’t — e.g. Mike Damone — they’re rightly shunned as loathsome.
Tl;dr version — just think about what it would take to “reboot” Fast Times, and you’ll see what I mean.Loading Likes...