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Depiction of Youth in Thirteen

Abigail Richards


Not many people come out of their youth without experiencing the mental and physical tolling evolution between childhood and adulthood. Not only do blossoming young adults have the obstacle of hormones, acne, and complicated body changes- but also face the choice of whether or not to conform to society’s pressures and depictions about who they should be at this time of their lives. The majority of society has watched countless films growing up about what it's like to be young. It's as if the media has molded into our brains, “When you're young, there will be the best parties, the hottest people, the strongest booze… you'll have the most fun you'll ever have in your life with little to no consequences!” This fantasy the media has rooted in our culture has been portrayed for decades, and can still be seen prominently today. In Catherine Hardwicke's 2003 film, Thirteen, the media’s stereotype of youth is accurately displayed through the image of Evie’s character, the portrayal of experiencing this definition of youth with the cost of its humiliating consequences, and what role parents play in how their children succumb to the stereotype.


In the film, Evie’s image is purposely curated in order to represent the media’s stereotypical depiction of youth. Evie’s character is displayed as very adultlike, as she already has reached the transition from child to teen at the ripe age of thirteen. Evolving from the adolescent phase is vital in becoming a part of the media's depiction of what it's like to be a part of the young stereotype. (Shary, 2014, p.2) We can also see this process abruptly in Tracy’s development throughout the film after she is bullied by Evie for her childlike image. She had developed an infatuation with Evie who symbolizes the stereotype of the media’s popular and deviant teenage girl trope. Tracy's interest in Evie can also represent how younger audiences are glorifying adultified teenagers in the media, like Evie, which mirrors what realistically happens in society. A number of young girls wish to be like the most pretty and popular girl; a standard in which the media has put in place through such depictions, such as Tracy’s captivation with Evie. In Generation Multiplex: The Image of Youth in Contemporary American Cinema, this exact idea is shown as the reasoning behind why most teen films are about girls and their social popularity, as there are few films centered around boys finding this type of popularity. (Shary, 2014, p. 62)

But, what exactly is the stereotype of youth? According to much of the media, the youth stereotype consists of a plethora of sex, alcohol, drugs and edgy, rebellious behavior which is shown through almost all teen films. (Shary, 2014, p. 83) This exact deviancy has rooted itself as a stereotype in the media as an unrealistic expectation of what it's genuinely like to be young. (Shary, 2014, p.3) Evie embodies this exact depiction of youth as she is physically oversexualized with many piercings and constant promiscuous clothing. She has a reputation in which she is known to drink, do drugs, and engage in other illegal activities like stealing, as shown multiple times throughout the film. She is often craved by all the boys and is sexually promiscuous portrayed through Evie having sex with multiple boys.

As Evie’s character was put into place to purposely emphasize the reckless and chaotic nature of the media's youth stereotype, she also was put into place to feed parents' worst fear. “No one is more concerned about the media's impact on youth than parents. They worry that exposure to the wrong media might warp their angels’ fragile little minds.” (Societeanonymeinc, 2022) An underlying purpose for Evie’s character is also to narrate a cautionary tale to prey on the anxieties of worried parents. In Thirteen, Evie takes advantage of Tracy’s mother, Mel, who has the relationship of a friend, more than a responsible mother with the two teens. As a result of this dynamic, Evie also takes advantage of Tracy by throwing her under the bus after corrupting her and using her to her advantage. The girl's stash of drugs is found, and Evie ends up betraying Tracy who is held back in school and is left without any friends. This outcome in Thirteen can be used to represent how the media’s stereotype of youth (e.g. Evie) can latch themself to children whose parents do not have a responsible and involved relationship with them, such as Mel and Tracy.

The ending of this film is much different from the fun-loving, silly teen films; the reality of their reckless consequences trumps the glorified and intoxicated fun portrayed in the climax of the two girls' friendships. Thirteen depicts the realistic and traumatizing outcomes of this stereotype’s behavior, the parent’s vital role in preventing this experience, and ultimately what happens when they turn a blind eye. No matter how entertaining and fantastical youth is shown to be in the media, the stereotype has underlying messages that reveal to us much about how society operates, and how they realistically portray the media’s damaging stereotype of youth.

Catherine Hardwicke's, Thirteen, brings these characteristics to life through Evie’s image, the on-screen depiction of the true costs of those who mold to the youth stereotype, and the role of parents who are not avidly trying to prevent it. As Timothy Shary summarizes the fascination with youth, “…most of our lives are filled with less spectacular phenomena, such as how we come to be accepted by society, discover romance, have sex, gain employment, make moral decisions, and learn about the world and who we are in it.” (Shary, 2014, pg. 4) Maybe realistic depictions such as those shown in this film will help society understand the youthful fantasy, and aid the youth in discovering their role in the world without such a toxic end game.

 


References:

Shary, T. (2014). 1.1/ The Cinematic Youth. In Generation Multiplex: the image of Youth in contemporary American cinema (pp. 3-4). University of Texas Press.

Shary, T. (2014). 2.8/ The Labor of Being Popular. In Generation Multiplex: the image of Youth in contemporary American cinema (pp. 61–64). University of Texas Press.

Shary, T. (2014). 3.1 / Having Fun, On the Loose, In Trouble. In Generation Multiplex: the image of Youth in contemporary American cinema (pp. 80-86). University of Texas Press.

Societeanonymeinc. (2022, September 17). Depiction of youth: Two types of teen flicks. Societe Anonyme Inc. Retrieved September 24, 2022, from https://societeanonymeinc.wordpress.com/2020/09/02/depiction-of-youth-two-types-of-teen-flicks/



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