From Charles Ornstein's "Paving the Way," Fall '95 From Charles Ornstein's "Paving the Way," Fall '95When I went to see Larry Clark's debut film Kids last weekend, I was not expecting a happy picture of "our generation." I knew I was going to see a portrayal of America's youth that was not flattering. Drug and alcohol use is widespread. Violence is a game. And sex is a conquest -- whoever has the most partners wins. The younger generation in this country has never fared particularly well in the movies. In the '50s, it was Rebel Without a Cause, in the '80s Fast Times at Richmont High, and in the '90s Reality Bites. Adult screenwriters, directors and producers have tried to show problems with the teenage popular culture -- and for the most part, they are taken lightly, as they are intended. But Kids does not fit the mold of these other movies. It hits you over the head. It scares you about America's future. It alerts you to what Clark believes is an "epidemic." The problem, though, is that Kids goes too far -- way too far. It is the first movie I've seen that's left me disgusted by the inaccurate portrayals of my generation. It is the first movie I've seen that's left me asking, "Am I normal?" What Clark attempts to show as normal, common behavior is not so at all. It is the story of a fringe group who gives our generation a bad name. I must admit, I am not a typical member of my generation. I grew up in a middle-class family in a suburb of Detroit and hung out with the "good crowd." I have experienced city life in Detroit, Dallas and Philadelphia. Still, I have yet to come across youths like Clark portrays in Kids. I know it would be foolish of me to deny that a small segment of our generation acts in a way similar to that of Kids' main character, Telly, who steals from his parents, harasses Asian grocers and beats other youths senseless. But at the same time, Clark's film, with its promises of pinpointing the pulse of our generation, denies the existence of kids on the opposite end of the spectrum -- those who are trying to make a difference in government, medicine and international relations. It denies the reality that more students than ever are going to college. And it denies the fact that the problems inherited by our generation are worse than they have ever been. Kids is more like a Calvin Klein ad for underwear than the genuine documentary it pretends to be. In fact, I often wondered whether Clark had really spent time with kids, or if he was simply putting his illusions onto the screen. Instead of seeing this apparent discrepancy, reviewers, parents and commentators have treated Kids with kid gloves. The New York Times called it "a wake-up call to the world." The Ottawa Citizen said it is "a hard-hitting realistic portrayal of adolescence." And the San Fransisco Examiner wrote, "This isn't to say that every teenager does drugs, smokes, drinks and has unsafe sex in their parents' bed while they're out of town, just that most of them do." Rather than deciphering Kids for its limited value and strained grasp of reality, the media and others are validating it for what it isn't -- "the great American teenage movie." It is unfair to Clark and his motion picture team to deem Kids completely valueless because it does raise some interesting questions about societal expectations and obligations. It forces us to ask where parents are while their children are roaming the streets and what can be done to help those who are really over the edge. But these questions are lost in a movie that feeds the monster of fear of our generation more than it offers lessons to society. Leaving the theater, I was able to understand a little more why people my parents' and grandparents' age are afraid for the future of this country. But like those who walked out with me, I was wondering if older generations fear the generation that I am a part of or the myth that has been created in films like Kids. It is time for society to see for itself that the "kids" in my generation are goal-oriented, dedicated and enthusiastic about the future. It is time that they realize that they have been tricked. Kids is a myth. It is a farce. It is fiction. It should be taken as such.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.