Sunday 18 March 2012

Teenage dreams

I spent a lot of last week thinking about the special hold teenagehood has upon our memories and imaginations.

This was triggered first by a New York Times article titled Why is that nice girl from Friday Night Lights fighting a bunch of ninjas?. The article asked why we find it so hard to let actors move on from the parts they play in programmes we are loyal to, and as the title indicates, 'Friday Night Lights' figures strongly in the piece (as do 'The Wire' and 'Freaks and Geeks'):

The main unifying trait of these shows is this feeling that they are underdogs whom you alone seem to understand. “Friday Night Lights” and “Arrested Development” are prime examples. “Lost” somehow works, because if you do truly believe you understand it, you might very well be the only person in the world who does. Even then, this attachment applies only to select beloved characters, namely Sawyer, Locke and Ben. Matthew Fox is free to take new parts, because he was always Charlie from “Party of Five” to me, anyway. 

The crown jewel, though, is “Freaks and Geeks,” which existed for just 18 perfect episodes and was, conveniently, not only an underdog show but also a show about underdogs. 

It interests me how many of these programmes (I would count 'My So-Called Life' in there too) are about or feature strong teenage characters.  This thought was further reinforced when I went to hear Kelly Link speak at the Readers and Writers festival. Link's most recent publication is a selection of her short stories specifically targeted at the YA audience (although her work is cross-over in age-appeal as well as genre). Asked to define YA fiction, Link cited Garth Nix (in a reference I didn't catch, but which may have been this) and then offered another explanation. It's not necessarily fiction aimed at teenagers. But it is fiction that draws on the teenage state: a few short, intense years when you experience many things - a growing awareness of how you do or do not fit into the world, love, betrayal, unfairness, life-altering decision - for the first time.

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