Wednesday, February 18, 2009


It's a rare day -- I actually watched two movies. One of my student clubs wanted to watch Kids (1995), which I had never seen before. It's a day in the life of a group of young teens and children in NYC, including promiscuity, shoplifting, violence, drugs, alcohol, smoking, HIV, homophobia, deception, manipulation, and rape. I found it profoundly disturbing and depressing; the main characters are unpleasant, to say the least, as they pursued hedonistic pleasures without any thought or concern for the impact of their behavior on others. The youth group embodied what I would call a culture of "toxic masculinity" (even the females, to some extent), and it was sickening to watch at times. There was camaraderie among the boys and among the girls, but the relationships between males and females were not only purely sexual, but also generally manipulative and deceptive; there was seemingly no possibility of authentic or loving partnerships. While thematically it wasn't all that different from the many shocker films about the horrors of youth culture (e.g., "Reefer Madness"), the film's inclusion of very young teens and children lent a more disturbing air. Watching pre-pubertal children smoke pot and posture about how many times they've been laid was unnerving. As I watched it, I felt that the depiction of urban youth culture was overstated, and that most young people would not be immersed in such an extreme setting; however, the students who watched it felt that it was an accurate depiction of lower-income teens in NYC. I truly hope not; it felt a bit like Lord of the Flies (with the similar absence of supervising adults).

Then tonight, I watched Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), a much lighter treatment of promiscuity and drug use among adults. The film was distinctly dated, with the encounter group (a bit like EST, with some Gestalt therapy elements), the emphasis on delving deep into one's psyche, being honest and not "copping out." The main characters explore their sexuality within and outside of the marriage, moving past feelings of jealousy to a (presumably) more mature understanding of sexual freedom. The idea of monogamy is framed as square and uptight, and yet the post-encounter group honesty is also portrayed as extreme and ridiculous. Yet, at the end of the film, all four friends end up in bed together, which seems to finally cross some line -- they just can't do it. The end of the film seemed enigmatic to me; what is the message of the film? I have no idea. Actually, I have no idea what either of these films is trying to convey. And frankly, I'm not sure I would really recommend either of them. Kids is gripping, in its own way, but I found the experience almost repellent at times, and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, while perhaps meaningful at the time, seems less relevant today.

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