The North American Teen High School Experience

So I’m 16 and in grade eleven of secondary school, which is basically the same thing as high school except it starts in grade eight instead of grade nine. A few weeks ago, I was re-watching 90210 and realized that all of the characters were meant to be the same age as me. Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about how drastically different my experience in school has been to the usual North American narrative of high school that’s presented in fiction.

Like, in most fiction about the North American Teen High School Experience, there’s a very clear hierarchy that students follow. The popular people are Cheerleaders and Jocks, and all the Theatre Kids are weird alternative types who hate the popular people, and for some reason REALLY GOOD LOOKING, REALLY TALENTED PEOPLE are so uncool they aren’t even on the chain.

FOOD CHAIN 2
A helpful pyramid.

You also get extremely similar plotlines on these shows—something Hayleyghoover hilariously breaks down in this YouTube video—and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because genre conventions are helpful for audiences to understand what’s going on in any given show, and obviously this media isn’t written specifically to cater to me, but I find myself very… alienated by content that’s meant to be relatable.

So here is a chart that I made (mostly in jest… mostly) about how my actual North American Teen High School Experience would have played out if I were a character in a teen drama.

Disclaimer: This chart is a joke. And I understand that a lot of anyone’s North American Teen High School Experience is going to be influenced by where exactly that experience happens. I live in Vancouver, where people are generally pretty progressive (which is why I’ve escaped a lot of bullying for being a fricking weird creative nerd). And I do think that even if shows address an issue like homophobia or mental illness or whatever and they don’t handle it super well, it’s better than ignoring it completely, and it will hit home for some viewers, which is important because people should know they’re not alone! I understand that content isn’t made for me, and I don’t expect brilliantly written material from 90210.

That said…

A1

A2

A3

A4

Maybe this is just the fact that I’m a teenage writer with a tendency to romanticize my life talking, but I actually kind of like teenagers. And I like writing about teenagers. And I mean, hopefully I never get to a point in my life where I find what I’m doing uninteresting (life in your 50s just seems like a lot of work), but adolescence is such an interesting point in anyone’s life. So much happens and changes and that makes dramatic writing really enjoyable. There’s such a wealth of experiences to delve into and portray, and I guess I just find it kind of amusing to see so many weak and non-complex depictions of teenagers in fiction when I’m surrounded on a daily basis by bright, funny, fascinating teenagers who deal with CRAZY STUFF all the time.

Can someone just force Shonda Rhimes to write a teen drama that respects the age group it portrays, please? That would be great.

ETC.