The So-Called Return of the Good Teen Movie

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Another day, another problematic article about YA and John Green.

To add some variety to this rather tired sequence of events, Vanity Fair yesterday decided to focus on John Green's (as yet unreleased) impact on the movie world and the greenlighting of a second movie based on one of his books, Paper Towns. Does this, they wonder, herald the return of the realistic teen movie, the likes of which haven't been seen since The Breakfast Club?

No, Vanity Fair. No, it does not.

Are they serious with the idea that teen movies died in the 80s, when John Hughes stopped writing and directing? I guess Clueless was never a cult hit. Nobody watched 10 Things I Hate About You or Bring It On. Mean Girls vanished, never to be quoted again. Juno didn't win an Oscar for its screenplay and wasn't nominated for best picture too. And Easy A certainly didn't launch the career of Emma Stone.

Yup. Teen movies died in the 80s, only to be resurrected by John Green.

It's an interesting coincidence that, excepting Easy A, all of these movies were written by women, and that two of them (Clueless and Mean Girls) had a single woman as writer AND director. It's also interesting that, with 10 Things I Hate About You potentially aside, these are all movies that focus almost entirely on female characters. Groups of female friends and enemies, single girls struggling with their lives... everywhere, girls, girls, girls. And even classing 10 Things I Hate About You as a movie with a male lead and a female lead depends somewhat on perspective.

And The Fault in Our Stars? Well, it's originally written by a popular male author. It has a male writer and director. And although the novel is told from a female perspective, this can definitely be billed as having equally important male and female protagonists. Paper Towns, meanwhile, is essentially about a male protagonist and his manic pixie dreamgirl.

And so, unconsciously (I hope), these as-yet-unreleased movies are given more weight and cultural influence than the many, many female-written and female-character-focussed teen movies that came before.

But there's another problem with this article that goes beyond mere omission. The part that really made my skin crawl was the blatant disparagement of "non-realistic" teenage movies. You know, those ones with battles and magic and heroics and such.

It's no secret that female authors are responsible for almost all of the blockbuster YA series. TwilightThe Hunger Games, Divergent, The Mortal Instruments... love them or loathe them, they've sold many copies and been read by many people. It's also no secret that they're loved by many teenage girl readers and viewers (along with readers and viewers from many other demographics). And, surprise surprise, Vanity Fair thinks that they're not worth thinking about.

The Fault in Our Stars, it suggests, transcends all that supernatural nonsense, instead featuring "two teenagers with wicked senses of humor, genuine romance between them, and, oh yes, cancer." After all, we all know that humor, genuine romance and real life struggles are incompatible with supernatural story elements. I mean, have you seen Buffy? Only 100% realistic tales can have realistic elements -- and, by a lovely coincidence -- the one YA series that can bring genuine humor, romance and emotion into play is one of the few massive hits written by a man.

It won't be as big a hit as Twilight  or The Hunger Games, Vanity Fair tells us, because it lacks the required battle scenes (I guess nobody there saw Titanic, and that it was the battles that made people love Harry Potter and Frozen), but it may herald "a return to the kinds of teen movies we love." The kind, it seems, that are written by men, feature a male lead, and don't have any of that empowering supernatural fighting nonsense that these teen viewers seem to enjoy.

I, for one, can't wait to see it.


Sidenote: I think it's important to note, as author Maureen Johnson did on her Twitter last night, that John Green is separate from the media fuss around him, and although he does benefit from it, he is not responsible for it. John Green as a person seems lovely. John Green as a writer clearly speaks to a lot of peopleIt's "John Green" as a nebulous media entity that's under discussion, and that's only as evidence of a much larger problem.