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« Hate and Minorities | Main | A Week With Nikos Salingaros -- Part One »

April 30, 2003

Coming of Age

Michael:

The other night the wife and I saw “Raising Victor Vargas” a film written and directed by Peter Sollett. It’s a very, very, very small-scale film, shot entirely on location, which centers around the love life of the 17-year-old, would-be player Victor (Victor Rasuk), and especially his efforts to connect with neighborhood beauty Juicy Judy (Judy Marte). The ensemble coming of age story—even Victor’s 73-year-old grandmother seems to grow up a bit in the course of the film—largely works because the almost entirely teenaged cast succeeds in making the case that they’re all really “good kids” at heart. Their winning ways even triumph over the abominable hand-held camera work, and that’s saying something. (I would strongly advise Mr. Sollett to work with a real cinematographer in the future.)

RaisingVictorVargas.jpg Victor and Juicy Judy looking to hook up

But what’s weird about the story is its utter matter-of-factness about teenaged sex. I can understand how a group of teenagers may think of nothing but sex all day long, but in this movie there’s virtually no distance between the thought and its realization. I like you, you like me, and we’re doin’ it in one of our bedrooms or in a community garden five minutes later. After a number of these hook-ups, I’m starting to think—wait a minute, nobody seems to be using contraceptives here. Nobody’s worried about veneral disease. Nobody appears to have a job, nobody appears to be in school, nobody seems to have a terribly viable family giving structure to their lives. Nobody, in short, is anywhere near ready to be making babies, and sooner or later that’s exactly what’s going to happen to Victor Vargas or one of his friends.

Maybe it’s the fact that I have two teenaged daughters, but this nonchalant attitude starts to creep me out while I’m watching the film. It makes me even more uneasy to look at the suburban, middle-aged audience after the lights come up, chatting happily about this winning little movie. And, of course, it makes me even crazier to read the glowing reviews for the film. In my head, I’m shouting: doesn’t anybody other than me notice the Russian Roulette aspect of this film and its characters’ lifestyle? Apparently not. Or maybe they think that would somehow be too judgmental for a movie about minority kids to expect some responsibility regarding their sexual activities. I don’t know.

But I certainly hope the real Victors and the Juicy Judies of this world don’t take this film as a guide to how to conduct their personal lives. Their children will thank them.

Somewhat grumpy cheers,

Friedrich

posted by Friedrich at April 30, 2003




Comments

Good for you. Although I've noticed that, in general, movies do a lousy job of discussing any notion of contraception regarding Hollywood sex. In fact, the only movie I can remember it even being discussed at all in is years old---"Frankie and Johnny" with Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino, when Michelle won't do it without a condom. (The careless presentation of teenage sex is not new---think back to "Fast Times at Ridgemont High.")

And given the real world, I think it's destructive all the way around. How much cooler would contraception be if Brad Pitt, or Denzel, or Mel Gibson ever actually brought the subject up? I'm reminded of an episode of Roseanne, when Roseanne and her sister were talking about sex with Roseanne's daughter, and the daughter asked if various forms of contraception didn't "ruin the mood." Roseanne's answer was priceless: "Not half as much as a screaming baby with a loaded diaper!" At another point, Roseanne's sister says, "Remember Mom used to warn us that if we did it with all the boys we'd be called tramps?" And Roseanne said, "Yeah, she should have told us we'd be called 'mommy.'" Roseanne had her moments.

Posted by: annette on April 30, 2003 12:44 AM




The careless presentation of teenage sex in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"? Didn't the girl who had careless sex end up have a traumatic experience, an abortion, and then decide not to have sex when she finally started dating the nebbish guy? Wasn’t the girl who talked a good game revealed to have been making up stories about her college-age bf? As a not so-closeted aficionado of post-John Hughes teen-romance movies, I can report that those from the John Cusack to Freddie Prinze Jr. era always have a line or two about safe sex and the dangers of drunk driving. No idea if this contributed to the decline in pregnancy among minority girls.

In any case, I am baffled by the current vogue for encouraging teen sex - couched as frank talk about reality and the possiblity that "our children" will miss out on enriching experiences if we shield them. It's probably some muddle-head attempt at an affront to those who preach abstinence. It’s perfectly okay for light entertainment to show adults being total fools about affairs and divorce, I think, but those in the Girls Gone Wild age group need more reality than fantasy. Those Roseanne quotes are priceless examples.

Fortunately, as a teenager, I had three things going for me: a general distrust of other people, experience babysitting, and a vivid memory of watching cattle sex. Seeing 4,000 pounds of stinking, snot-slinging beef go at it really cools one's curiosity. Wasn’t hard to make the connection - the joyless urgency of a bull making his move and clumsy bovine lurching are not unlike the desperate gropings of high school boys.

Posted by: j.c. on April 30, 2003 1:40 AM



For a start, is this film aimed at the teen market? Or is it aimed more for the middle-aged culture vulture market? And even if it is aimed at the teen market, is there a responsibility for a film or any work of fiction to set a good example? For example, is Patricia Highsmith's "The Talented Mr Ripley" to be criticised because it portrays a murderous psychopath being rewarded with wealth and impunity? Or what about Tarantino's amusing hitmen? Should we worry that they are bad role models? This is a naive take on what narrative fiction is about and how audiences perceive it in relationship to the reality of their own lives.

Posted by: Hugo on April 30, 2003 6:19 AM



Hugo,

You ask (I paraphrase) whether we shouldn't also be worried about movies that glorify murderers? One could call this the Lucifer problem, on the principle that Lucifer's the most interesting character in all of _Paradise Lost_. And I'd say, yes, we should be worried. If we continually portray honesty and integrity as stupid and easily overcome, and cruelty and sadism as cool, then eventually we'll reap the whirlwind.

Friedrich,

It sounds like maybe this movie suffers from the "idiot" problem. This happens when I'm watching a movie (or reading a book) and after a short while I begin to say to myself, "All these people are idiots!" I have a hard time remaining interested after this point; the only attraction is that of a three-car pile-up on the freeway. Full disclosure: this is how I feel about _Romeo and Juliet_, too. The tragedy isn't that they are young, and in love, and doomed; the tragedy is that they are idiots. The only character in the entire play that I really have time for is Mercutio.

Posted by: Will Duquette on April 30, 2003 10:23 AM



I sure have to agree with Will about 'Romeo and Juliet'---that was exactly my reaction when I read it, and I was only 17 then! Nothing star-crossed there---they did it to themselves.

Posted by: annette on April 30, 2003 11:41 AM



As the mother of two teenagers, I worry about the amount of sex and violance in movies that are aimed at that age group. I quite often get the Bad Mommy award for nixing movies that all their classmates are talking about.

And I agree that two teenagers who suicide has always struck me as silly as a plot for a romance, even poetically.

Deb

Posted by: Deb on April 30, 2003 1:15 PM



Evidently you folks haven't tuned into MTV in the past couple years. They have a show called "undressed" (http://www.mtv.com/onair/undressed/
) that is probably the most pornographic thing in TV, even counting "The Sopranos." They can't show nipples and pubes, but they certainly aren't limited by that. I'll never forget one episode I happed upon where a girl was masturbating with a vibrator supplied by her roommate (to loosen her up - pun intended), and the actress does the whole act from flipping it on to "the face" -- and then her roommate walks in just as she finishes and they have a little nasty talk about how much fun it was. So, I got out the remote and blocked MTV on the spot (I hum-diddly-did!). I can't imagine being 14 and having that show to contend with. I'm sure I'd have scars.

And that's just ONE of the shows MTV has on sex. They have a regular "documentary" series on alternative sex, like "blood sex" and BDSM and any twisted thing you can search up on the net. 'Tis scary.

and j.c., watching most animals make other animals is off-putting. I don't think even humans look that great in that particular activity. Make sure you never watch a special on mole-rats, you'll never leave the house again.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on May 1, 2003 10:11 AM



Yamdallah,
You have only confirmed my adamant refusal to have cable TV in my house.
Deb

Posted by: Deb on May 1, 2003 12:55 PM



I tell ya, MTV is vile and pernicious, but I can't look away. I find myself tuning in again and again, just to see how low the bar has been dropped. It confirms my utter lack of faith in the future of humanity.

Example: I cought a few episodes of the latest "Real World" (more than that was more than even I could take). A bunch of nice, middling intelligent kids, who behaved as if no one had even even hinted to them there were such things as consequences, or of the concept that things like sleeping with anything that moves (sans protection, of course) might be, y'know, a bad idea...

Posted by: jimbo on May 1, 2003 2:55 PM




Yahmdallah - in the vernacular: OH MY GOD, you mean they were, like, you know? On TV!!!

I refrain from suggesting what the M stands for now that MTV doesn't show music videos.

Posted by: j.c. on May 1, 2003 8:20 PM



Commenting on a tangential remark:

The tragedy in Romeo & Juliet has always seemed to me to be that Romeo is a twit, completely unworthy of the depth of Juliet's love for him, and that Juliet gets tragically caught up in her own naive, yet beautiful, poeticized version of love.

Posted by: JW on May 1, 2003 11:53 PM



After seeing the recent gangs-and-gore William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet movie, I decided that WS was writing a straightforward morality tale: Muck about in sexual passion without the personal maturity and social support to make a solid alliance and, contrary to the soft-hearted romantics, it's fatal.

Texas Fishy

Posted by: fishy on May 6, 2003 9:12 PM



Hi. I agree with most of what you guys say.
Glenn

Posted by: Glenn on September 1, 2003 11:16 AM






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