American Teen | Notes & Review

Posted on September 26, 2010

1 [PG-13]

— VIA —

A bit voyeuristic, this documentary may be more accurately entitled “White Mid-Western American Teen.” I mean no disregard to the producers or the subjects of the film by that qualification, but simply as an observation regarding the geographical and cultural locale of teens involved in this film. There are some resonances that I find with the “To Save A Life” film that was produced by some Christians a while back, and the themes of dysfunction, drama, insecurity, identity, cliques, misfit behavior, performance pressures, etc., are typical.

Some observations:

At several points throughout the film I felt that I was watching a commentary on bad parenting. I work with a theoretical philosophy of understanding children/kids as reflections of our adult culture and lives (which is cyclical and self-perpetuating). In other words, what we observe in our children tells us more about ourselves, our values, and how we’ve raised them, than it does about them. I can’t help but continue to think “how does humanity become like this in the first place?” “What are the behaviors and values that have so pervaded our culture that cause our children to act like this?” Well, we see much of that through the parents. There’s your typical “double-bind,” (“that’s great honey…too bad you couldn’t have done better”), “vicarious expectations,” (“I just want you to have the opportunities that I never had”) and “distant unobservance,” (“well then, tell us what you really want in your life”). If parents could learn to treat their children with empowerment and believe, as autonomous and intelligent human beings that deserve the same respect we demand from them, perhaps we wouldn’t end up with the kind of disappointments and pains that were on display in this film. I may be over-expectant, or simply naive to reality, but that’s my working thesis thus far.

I was also struck by the theme of identity, especially towards the end. Who we are, even the core essence of our ontology seems to change, contingent upon environment and our will to pursue other identities. There were several thoughts of “becoming a different person,” and “starting over” found throughout the film that I think are so apropos to each of us in understanding the deeply profound question, “Who am I?” It’s complicated, of course, as with all ontological discoveries or developments, but it seems to make sense that we are — to invoke the long debate of nature vs. nurture — a product of both. I opine that the driving engine for both would be “will/desire.” Hannah desires to move to San Francisco, but then discovers her East Coast inner-being. Jake dreams about being someone different, but ends up being the “same” in many ways. Megan matures,…A LOT. Thus, it seems logical to conclude that identity is a fluid, subjective, relational thing that is affected greatly by our surroundings, our nature, and our inner will to pursue it.

Lastly, though I suggested the title of the film be augmented, these are themes that afflict us all: identity, purpose, fitting-in/community, expectations, dreams, etc. So, for that, I’m thankful for this sliver of insight into these same realities in the context of that white, mid-western world.