Because I am preparing to do my next high school project (just another criteria for my "America on Film" class) on high school representation, lately I have been considering the way people judge some high school movies compared to others. Critics are always quick to examine a high school movie's authenticity in its portrayal, and I noticed it again when reading Sam B. Girgus' America on Film the other day. In his chapter on John Sayles' "Lone Star," he says, "The scene provides a rare moment in film in portraying the ambience and attitudes of a high school classroom with realism and authenticity" (p. 52). I thought about his quote a bit - a rare moment of authenticity? On what grounds can he state that this scene is authentic and not something like "Mean Girls" or "The Breakfast Club"? Then I realized - high school movies, unlike many other genres of film, are more easily and quickly judged because everyone has gone through it!
Consider "Blackboard Jungle" (You must watch this trailer before reading further - it is unlike anything you have ever seen before):
Did you find yourself laughing at it? That is because you judged it based on your own experience in high school. "Teenage terror in the schools?" Pshaw. Just like you (and I) judged it, that is how critics discover that they can judge other high school movies as well: "The Breakfast Club," "Heathers," "Angus," "Mean Girls"... The list goes on and on. Apparently few of these films actually depict high school classroom settings accurately, though (except "Blackboard Jungle," of course!).
So why do high school movies get hated on the most, though? Again, it is because we have all been there. We all have an idea, based on our own experience, of what high school should be like, so when we see it on film, a high school movie becomes a great film when we recognize its similarities to our own experiences. It is in this way that other genre films - war films for example - can never be so quickly judged. Only veterans can offer support to the authenticity of a war film because they were the only ones who were there and can prove it. We other viewers can only sit back and accept the film as a historical document, capturing a time and place we know little about. On the other hand, a high school movie is a time and place we know everything about. I challenge you: The next time you watch a high school movie, see if you do not comment on its authenticity in your head, but then think about why.