Thursday, August 16, 2007

In high school, nobody dies


My teenagers hate how Hamlet ends. I'm grading their study guides and one of the questions is "How do you feel about the way the play ended? How would you end the play?"

And universally they all want Hamlet to ride off into the sunset married to Ophelia and ruling over Denmark.

Even the boys.

I had the students draw a Myspace page for a Hamlet character of their choosing. Most of the girls made Hamlet and Ophelia all pink and happy with flowers and stars friendly comments from Dane Cook. Evidently Hamlet is really into reggaeton. They don't want Hamlet to be emo. They want him to get the hell over it.

When I was in ninth grade my teacher made us read Lord of the Flies. I hated Lord of the Flies and harbored a great resentment toward William Golding for writing such a miserable story. I hated it because it ended in such a hopeless state. The boys destroy each other, just like we as a society destroy each other during war, and that was a depressing commentary I wasn't prepared for at the hopeful age of 14.

Years later after I graduated from college I read the book again and loved it. I felt really bad about all those nasty things I said about Golding's mom.

When you're a teenager, even though everything sucks and you hate the world, you still want life to be all sunshine and puppies. So teen movies better have a happy ending.

It doesn't mean they can't handle depressing topics. My students love Romeo and Juliet and agree that the story wouldn't be as good if it had a happy ending, but that's kind of an exception. Sad endings make them angry. You should see them when I remind them they're going to die one day; they freak out, like nobody's ever told them that before. I guess it's why they drive like idiots; nobody ever explained to them that they might die if they crash.

I don't really do the teen movie thing but if I do I'll make sure the hero triumphs. If he doesn't, my high school audience might start throwing Cheetos at the screen.

4 comments:

  1. Nah, they won't throw Cheetos - they just won't go. I was always a person who rooted for the little guy and for the happy ending, but some of the less-than-happy endings I've read were absolutely stunning and eye-opening. Perhaps it's because of the sharp contrast between it and all those happy endings.

    The one time I made a serious effort at a feature-length script, the hero dies in a blaze of bullets, but his girlfriend avenges him...

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  2. Nice post! Call you later about tomorrow...
    Scribe

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  3. It's not teenagers that prefer a happy ending, it's normal people.

    If you ask most people about Shakespeare they know "he's a genius" but they probably don't know or care why and they would NEVER read a Shakespeare play for recreation. The only way to keep putting Shakespeare out there is to make them into "in a" movies. Like "King Lear in a Chicago speakeasy" or "Hamlet in a pet sanctuary" or whatever the hell.

    Intellectuals and writers like unhappy endings. Everyone else likes happy endings. Obviously there are exceptions (my normal friend loved Pan's Labyrinth) but the rule stands.

    Or, to put it another way, intellectuals and writers are depressives, and they like things that affirm their depression.

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  4. "Or, to put it another way, intellectuals and writers are depressives, and they like things that affirm their depression."

    Damn, you're right! I am!

    But only because the words don't come so easy for some projects as they do for others.

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