'American Teen' Is Not a Pretty Picture
- Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Mitch ("the Heartthrob") is a bright and winsome character, but he dumps Hannah as his girlfriend with a text message. In the epilogue at the end of the movie, Mitch admits that he would never do that trick again, but the audience may wonder if he has really learned anything. He appears to glide through life with little worry and even less seriousness. Nevertheless, his aim is medical school.
Critics have questioned the authenticity of the film. Burstein defends her movie as an accurate and non-manipulated view of adolescent life but, as some reviewers have pointed out, she seems to have her camera on both parties in strategic phone conversations at just the right time. How can that happen by accident?
American Teen is not a remake of American Pie as a documentary. Burstein does not take her camera into the bedrooms of these teenagers nor does she depict them having sex. What the film does, however, is inform parents of the ruthlessly crude view of sex that pervades so much adolescent life. A girl sends a nude photo of herself by text message and then receives a series of vicious comments in return. Jake's older brother takes him to get drunk at a strip club. The kids speak in obscenities and vulgarities, and this is taken for granted by parents. When Megan refers to her father with a profane expression, he responds by asserting, 'You do not speak to your father that way." Well, Megan quite obviously does speak to her father that way.
The teenagers in American Teen are indeed stereotypes, but they are stereotypes with a ring of authenticity. This is depressing, but true. Some of the movie's critics suggest that Burstein has presented a white-washed tableau of American adolescence. Many viewers will fear that they are right -- even with all the problems of these five teens taken into consideration. This is small-town American after all.
There are no pregnant teenage girls, no stoned-out teenagers, no boys facing repeated juvenile charges. Are these teens not to be found in Warsaw?
But there are other teenagers missing from this picture of "realistic" adolescence. There are no teenagers who are believing and practicing Christians, none whose parents seem to be good examples to their children, none who appear to be looking and living for anything more significant than immediate gratification, popularity, or earthly glory.
American Teen is likely to be a critical success and to attract considerable buzz at the box office. The message of the movie seems to be that this is just what adolescence is all about and how teenagers really live and think -- parents must just accept this and get out of the way. Nevertheless, if Christian parents see this movie, they are more likely to be newly determined not to settle for this reality for their own teenage children. Thankfully, American Teen doesn't have to be the story of your American teen.
In addition to being one of Salem’s nationally syndicated radio talk show hosts, R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and recognized as one of America’s leading theologians and cultural commentators. Contact Dr. Mohler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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