Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Movies About Teens and Teenspeak Stuff
A lot of people think I'm weird because I never liked going to the movies. "It's like unAmerican to think that way," a friend of mine told me in high school. I did understand what she meant, but to me, sitting in a movie theater in New York City with the sticky floors, and all weirdos (not me, the really, really weird ones who wore overcoats in July to hide whatever weirdness they were into) was just not fun.
I still don't really like movies, and managed to avoid all film courses even while pursuing a Masters in English. But the other night, my kids begged me to watch Juno with them, and I suffered through it. Not that it was that bad -- I just always suffer when I'm sitting there watching a story I'd rather be reading. But my boys abandoned Juno after just half an hour. "It's for girls," they said, "I just don't care what happens to her because she talks like an adult. What is she, like 25?" (An ancient ruin to them)
But it was true; she did speak like an adult. In fact, all the female characters seemed to speak with the same snarky voice, as if it was the "teen girl" voice. In fact, even the stepmother had that voice. And teen girls, from what I've seen, behave more like Ophelia in Shakespeare (remember she tried to drown herself in like just a few inches of water). A zit can cause trauma; imagine what an unplanned pregnancy might do. She was so tranquil throughout, and I just don't buy that. She made calm, rational decisions, did her homework, and attended all her prenatal visits. She demonstrated more maturity than the adoptive father. When she calls the abortion clinic and says, "I would like to procure a hasty abortion," I inwardly groaned. And when Juno says, "Silencio, old man," when she is taking the pregnancy test, I thought, "Nope, never would they say that if they were worried about the possibility of pregnancy."
Why do so many books and films miss how teens speak? Is it regional? A lot of those lines probably looked just fine on script pages, but not from the mouths of teens.
When I asked the kids and a few of their friends over the weekend if they thought writers got the dialog right for teens, they told me that was the biggest problem they had with YA books -- they just never sound the way teens talk. I think it's hard to pin down their particular kind of speech without being around them. But if you don't, they can tell immediately, and they will walk. They are experts on each other, and if you want to lure them into any kind of story, you better be, too.