I am a child of the 1980s. As anyone will tell you, this will affect you a little bit. As a child of the 1980’s, I grew up believing that your natural talent and ability would one day shine through and make you a star. Socio-economic conditions did not matter nearly as much as the fact that you were special. If you had a special talent, you could rise to the top. It did not even matter that your ability was karate, video games, or BMX biking. As a child of the 1980s, I also understood that people did not actually have it all.
You could have money and looks. There was also a good chance that you would also end up as a deplorable human being despite your advantage. If you had blow dried blonde hair, then your chances of being a useless shell of evil went up. There was also a basic understanding that the reason why those with talent would succeed is because they had already conquered a certain level of adversity. That was the message of the 1980s. That was the message that I grew up on and believe to this day.
Two things happened in the early 1990’s that changed all of this. In 1990, Beverly Hills 90210 hit the airwaves. In 1991, Nirvana released the album Nevermind. 90210 killed the plucky talented outsider as a winner. Nevermind completely killed the 1980’s hair band. 90210 boldly said ‘Hey why don’t we paint those rich beautiful kids in a positive light?’ What they were really saying is ‘Hey, these are our kids and we are tired of your kids looking better than our kids.’ Since producers tend to have a sway over programming more than plucky outsiders, then the plucky outsider was starting to be phased out.
Nevermind gave plucky outsiders there place in the 1990’s. Nevermind also gave rise to independent projects. You started to have geeks like Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith make movies that would challenge the establishment. The 1990’s became a golden age of independent song and cinema. Did I mention that 90210 lasted the entire decade? The subtle shift was not noticed, but the shift did occur.
Think about movies like Karate Kid and Revenge of the Nerds. These movies brought the unattractive and privileged into conflict with each other. These movies showed that there was a natural advantage to the ‘geek set’ that pampered test gerbil trust fund babies could not overcome. Quietly, during the 1990s (with the golden age of independent cinema) the very fabric of the word independent was being destroyed. When Disney buys Miramax, you know that there is a problem.
You may argue ‘Why are you bringing all of this up now? Geeks rule the world and there are record levels of acceptance. Just look at shows like the Big Bang Theory and the success of the comic book film genre. What more do you want?’ This would be precisely my point. The entirety of Geek Chic does not amount to greater acceptance. Geek Chic is simply the answer to the question that the privileged has posed forever “What do we have to do to get these people out of hair and to stop talking to us?’ Look at the Big Band Theory again. The subtle message is that you can stay entirely within your own group and never interact with anyone outside of your class. If you do, there are even hot blonde women that will have sex with you. Just don’t venture out of your comfort zone and you can have a wonderful life. The Big Bang Theory promotes segregation just as much as Amos and Andy did. You want to get rid of geeks? No problem. Use their own solution against them. Welcome to The Matrix.
While we are at it, lets look at Penny from The Big Bang Theory as well. Yes, Penny is hot. However, Penny is not going to make any preferred Rush selections anytime soon. Penny is a poor waitress from Nebraska who has dreams of becoming an actress. She comes from a family that is dirt poor and has a brother with a criminal record. Whenever Penny ventures outside of the group of accepting socially awkward nerds that accept her lovingly, she returns to a harsh truth that she has probably been taught many times over. Penny is repeatedly used sexually by these people for the one trait in which she excels. Penny is then quickly discarded. This is a running gag throughout the Big Bang Theory. Penny’s looks are secretly on the same level as Sheldon’s genius in physics. The looks are one trait that gets notice while the rest of their life is a huge mess.
On the flip side, there is a growing genre which says that ‘You can have it all! You can be beautiful, privileged and ridiculously talented!’ At the very least, you can go be segregated with other people in your class and not have to worry about the rest of the world. This is the message of shows like Zoey 101, Victorious, A.N.T. Farm, and countless others on kids airwaves these days. Disney in particular has gotten away from the formula that made Disney… well… Disney. Disney needs parents with good credit in order to fund their theme parks and other endeavors. Some one over there woke up and realized that there is simply a bad practice of calling these people’s kids evil villainous bullies.
Much of this new wave manages to show people who are all of the same class interacting without having to deal with any icky outsiders by the same formula that was pioneered in Beverly Hills 90210. The party line on this goes ‘We would be happy to show those less fortunate and socially unacceptable but this is a really privileged school.’ The school defense allows you to put a show in prep school environment and cast exactly as a prep school would. They can’t show poor because poor cannot afford the school. Privilege will often lead to things like gym memberships and raised type A personalities that happen to lend themselves to personal attractiveness. The rich have practiced selective breeding going back to the English Royal family.
Now, believing that some people may be reading this, then there may be an actual inclination to think my point is somewhat invalidated by the Harry Potter series. Unfortunately, Harry Potter actually takes every one of points step by steps and re-affirms them. Think about it. Potter is a trust fund baby. Potter literally has more money than most of his friends combined. Potter’s social awkwardness comes from the fact that he rejects his own natural place. Potter deliberately goes to Gryffindor over Slytheryn. How does he do this? This is through an ancient rite of the Sorting Hat. The part that makes Potter an epic transcendent character is that he was the only one who made it work. In the process of the elevation of this one child, nearly everything about the social structure of the wizarding world is destroyed. The real inference is that if Potter had joined along with Slytheryn and Voldemort like the Sorting Hat and everyone else meant for him too, there might have actually been a lot of death and destruction spared.
The change in the last twenty years or so in message is a dangerous one. The message is no longer to transcend where you were born into. The message is to find a way to be happiest in everyone’s pre-prescribed place. All that lays out in their pre-prescribed place. Venturing out of that is a dangerous thing that may bring about the fall of society. Incidentally, it is the same message that comes through in 1984 as well as Brave New World. The message of new class segregation is being heard loud clear by the younger set as well. Just a thought.