- Youth Culture in Global Cinema
In Childhood and Society (1950), Erik Erikson's classic study of psychosocial stages of development, Erikson identified adolescence as a stage of "moratorium"—a moment of delay, prior to adulthood, when a youth may explore and evaluate social roles and self-conceptions. This moribund stage, characterized by the psychological crisis of "identity vs. role confusion," is no less decisive in the literary and cinematic imagination, where the symbolic death of the child and the (re)birth of the adult finds articulation in the coming of age narrative. In their state of not-yet-becoming, youth straddle the boundary between a private familial identity and a public independent self. Indeed, teenagers are semiotically potent in their liminality. Thus "youth culture"—be it revolutionary, endangered, delinquent, or misunderstood—is easily mobilized to fulfill the representational needs of adult culture.
This is where Youth Culture in Global Cinema arrives: more interested in youth representation than consumption, it explores what it means to look at young people and what cultural baggage their bodies have been asked to carry. As a study of representation, Timothy Shary and Alexandra Seibel's collection is a welcome expansion of a few groundbreaking studies in youth and cinema, including David Constantine's The Cinema of Adolescence (1985), Thomas Doherty's Teenagers and Teenpics: The Juvenilization of American Movies in the 1950s (1988), and co-editor Shary's own Generation Multiplex: The Image of Youth in Contemporary American Cinema (2002). Still, as Shary says in his introduction, based on the dearth of critical attention to youth representation in cinema, "[o]ne could easily draw the conclusion that, despite the cultural concerns for how young people may use media, the image of youth on screen is of little interest to adults" (3). As a corrective to this critical neglect, the book is essentially the first collection on youth in cinema to have a global perspective. As such, the essays contained within are both focused in their cultural specificity and revealing in the thematic consistency that draws the essays together.
The collection is divided into five sections, and the editors chose to group the essays thematically rather than by region. This approach works, though I would have enjoyed an introduction for each section from the editors that drew out the connections between the essays. As such, the editors missed an opportunity to provide more concreteness to the collection as a whole.
"Rebellion and Resistance," the first section, offers selections centered around the figure of the youthful rebel in cinema and thankfully offers a range of perspectives. The most interesting piece, Daniel Biltereyst's "American Juvenile Delinquency Movies and the European Censors," examines the European critical reception of The Wild One (1953), Blackboard Jungle (1955), and Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and the manner in which the films were viewed as emblematic of U.S. cultural and economic encroachment. This early essay cleverly articulates what becomes a consistent theme in this collection: the adolescent body serving as a battleground over national identity and futurity. In this, the young person's choice between tradition and modernity becomes more than simply a matter of personal [End Page 69] identity and role confusion but a question of identitarian politics and national legacy.
Section 2, "Politics and Style," uses heavily formalist-informed analysis to examine how traditional cinematic forms are overturned or translated by youth culture. Of the pieces, Kimberly Bercov Monteyne's "The Sound of the South Bronx: Youth Culture, Genre, and Performance in Keith Ahern's Wild Style" is the most innovative: Monteyne offers a fresh critical perspective on Jane Feuer's and Rick Altman's classic studies of the American film musical and legitimates the 1980s hip-hop musical as a utopist reordering of urban space.
"Youth and Inner-National Conflict," Youth Culture and Global Cinema's third section, contains the collection's strongest pieces. Concerned with the lives of young people within a matrix of national and religious forces, the essays demonstrate the impact of global geopolitics on the lives of youth. As Shary notes...