Crucial Minutia
it's the little things...
Joie Jager-Hyman
Kidz Today: Kidz Yesterday
13 Comments | posted May 02nd, 2007 at 12:34 pm by Joie Jager-Hyman

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The second season of Beverly Hills 90210 came out a few days ago. If I weren’t up in the country working on my book (see Kate’s Post), I would have already bought it by now. And no, I’m not a run-out-and-buy-every-new-DVD-released type of gal. My rare inspiration to jet to the store is motivated by the insane revelation that I actually think 90210 is a masterpiece worth owning.

Of course, so much of my intense 90210 affection stems from the fact that the show debuted exactly when I was in the seventh grade. I was their prime target. However, if you look at 90210 as a sort of cultural commentary, the show does have something to teach us about Kidz Yesterday v. Kidz Today. How are those of us who grew up in the 90s different?

* Jeans have come such a long way. Kidz Yesterday were stuck with those high wasted, unflattering, pear-shaped light-washed numbers. In a way, though, we were innocent, sheltered from the torrid world of today’s kidz’ $200 designer skinny jeans.

* This is probably obvious but the ol’ “you don’t understand us” teen adage predates Kidz Today. Kidz Yesterday faced serious issues like teen pregnancy (one of my very favorite episodes, by the way), HIV/AIDS, peer pressure, academic pressure, alcoholism, racism and classism. 90210 started as a very issue-oriented show and did a fairly good job of pushing some buttons. Also, Brenda and Brandon are not virginal characters. Both of them have sex. Brandon drinks and drives, cheats on a test, and hooks up with strange girls. Of course, he does each of these naughty things for one episode before he learns his lesson…

*…which brings me to the sexism that Kidz Yesterday (specifically Brenda) had to overcome. The Walsh parents (especially the dad) always favored Brandon, calling him “responsible,” “trustworthy” and the like. They never put faith in Brenda who they describe as “impulsive” and “impressionable.”

If you ask me, they got it backwards! Brenda’s biggest crime was dating former-drinker-my-dad’s-in-jail-surfer-sideburns-guy Dylan McKay (you need a lot of hyphens to describe such a complex character), who was also Brandon’s best friend. Though she wasn’t a complete angel, Brenda was always honest in her defiance. Brandon was the impressionable one. Every time he encountered a moral dilemma, he acted torn and then chose the wrong course. Brenda had a much better sense of self–and she knew how to stand up to her father when he made sexist gender assumptions.

* Kidz Today are much more open-minded about sexuality. Remember Jack’s coming out on Dawson’s Creek? I can’t think of any major 90210 characters who ever questioned their sexuality.

* Kidz yesterday were fatter but not at all fat. When change happens slowly you can sometimes acclimate without noticing. I think that’s how we have come to think of today’s tiny TV teens as somehow looking “normal.” When you compare Kelly or Brenda, who are both beautiful and thin, with Lindsay Lohan or the Olsen Twins it’s apparent that Kidz Today are too skinny. Courtney is definitely on to something with her book.

* I can’t say Kidz Yesterday were very progressive in terms of racial diversity, judging from the all-white 90210 cast. Sadly, I don’t think Kidz Today have come a very long way since. Were there any people of color on The O.C.? I think not. Hopefully Kidz of the Future can insert some multi into our multicultural culture by including non-white teens in these cultish soaps.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007 at 12:34 pm and is filed under Pop Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 13 responses

  1. On the multi-culti point, which is better: a show that includes one Asian, one white, one black, one Pacific Islander, etc, in an effort to be perfectly diverse (the Power Rangers and every current kids show comes to mind), or 90210, which honestly represented a neighborhood that was rich and overwhelmingly white? I mean, which is better, to have the Token Black Guy, or not to have the Token Black Guy? I think it’s a difficult choice either way.

    Television at least in some part seeks to duplicate reality. And when the reality is that most people have more friends of their own race than from others, TV shows are put in the uncomfortable position of faithfully representing a flawed reality or of artificially representing an idealized reality. I’m really not sure which I prefer.

    May 2nd, 2007 | 2:20 pm
  2. Joie Jager-Hyman

    Hey Ethan.

    Exactly what about 90210 is supposed to be really real? This is show would definitely fall under the category of artificially representing an idealized reality. Teenage boys don’t get a slap on the wrist because they “learned a lesson” after ramming their car into a tree totally wasted (like Brandon) and parents of teenage girls who run off to live with their boyfriends rarely reward them with trips to Paris (like Brenda).

    I think Gray’s Anatomy is a show that sort of does the multicultural thing well (aside from the Isaiah Washington gay bashing, which was notably despicable). The characters of color don’t feel “token” at all because they are treated with respect.

    I think it’s important to call out that which feels superficial. However, I also think television can and should find ways to include people of color in a more substantive way.

    May 2nd, 2007 | 2:56 pm
  3. as a fellow 90210 megafan, i fully support your claim that the show is a masterpiece!

    anohter difference i notice is that kidz today are younger! i think that most of the Bev stars were in their late 20s or early 30s when they were playing teenagers, would that fly these days? not sure how andrea zuckerman would fit in on the o.c….

    May 2nd, 2007 | 3:00 pm
  4. Joie Jager-Hyman

    thank you so much for the megafan support Jacki!!

    And I hear you about the “kidz” on 90210 not really being kidz at all. If Andrea were on the OC she could probably play Adam Brody’s grandmother. The parents on that show look ridiculously young compared to the parents on 90210, who looked much more age appropriate. Good call.

    May 2nd, 2007 | 3:17 pm
  5. Jere Martin

    Fun and interesting post to read but I got caught up in the idea that the crucial minutaie writers should have someone take a picture in the same configuration as the 90210 kids….sorry, my mind just wouldn’t let it go?!

    May 2nd, 2007 | 4:20 pm
  6. Actually, it’s interesting that you bring up Gray’s Anatomy, Joie. I heard that the show was cast specifically without attention to race, allowing anyone to compete for any part. That’s how Sandra Oh wound up playing the sarcastic Jewish girl. So it’s interesting that you cite it as an example of diversity done well.

    Extrapolating from that, then, the problem comes when you make racial diversity a focus, a delineated thing, rather than just leaving the doors open and letting the chips, or actors, fall where they may.

    May 2nd, 2007 | 4:57 pm
  7. Joie Jager-Hyman

    I think the key phrase here is “leaving the doors open.” My impression from what you said before was that 90210 was all white because kidz in Beverly Hills are white. I’m sure someone who wanted to could easily make the same generalization about the medical community. Gray’s Anatomy works because the creator and casting agents left the door open.

    I don’t think that these shows just need “African American” or “Latino” characters (the quotes here are key). However, I do think that we need to leave the doors open and find avenues to match talented actors of color with complex roles that allow them to break out of the “token character” glass ceiling.

    Television is a big part of American culture, one with the power to reflect and influence. Everyone has a stake in making sure that all groups have access access to opportunity and representation in mainstream American culture–especially the next generation of Kellys, Donnas, Brandons, Brendas and Dylans, who will grow up in the most racially diverse America yet.

    May 2nd, 2007 | 5:52 pm
  8. Josh Zizmor

    I don’t think I’ll be able to get the 90210 opening theme song out of my head all day.

    Its unfortunate that there was no episode that had Brandon walking ten miles to High School, uphill both ways, because then it would be official that kidz yesterday had it tougher.

    Great Post.

    May 3rd, 2007 | 8:48 am
  9. Mondale

    There was one episode in which an African American family moved to town. Brandon took the younger brother under his wing, and I think he dated the older sister, but I’m not sure. It was a single episode story line, and though it had good intentions of addressing the issue of racism, it certainly didn’t lead to the opening of any doors.

    May 3rd, 2007 | 8:59 am
  10. Joie Jager-Hyman

    Mondale,

    i definitely remember that episode! Come to think of it, wasn’t the older sister played by Vivica Fox? Anyway, I personally feel that this would fall under the “token” category since they never developed the character. However, if I remember correctly, they did kind of have the little brother call Brandon out for making racist assumptions. He was suspicious that Brandon just wanted to be friends with him cause he was black and not for who he was as a person. That was kind of cool.

    They also had an episode where Brandon dates their housekeeper’s Chicana “niece,” who turns out to be this really empowered smart chick testifying undercover for the feds because she witnessed a gang shooting. That also confronted some stereotypes cause she smarter and more together than Brandon, who is just interested in one thing, if you know what I mean. However, they never followed up on that plot line either, and the show never really made room for these characters to be integrated into the core group.

    90210 certainly wasn’t any more racist than any other show. But it generally confined issues of race to single episodes, which were inevitably superficial simply because they went unexplored and underdeveloped. All I’m saying is that I hope that future kidz will have more diverse role models with whom to identify.

    May 3rd, 2007 | 11:36 am
  11. bloomie

    Re: race. There was also that episode when Brandon tries out for the basketball team, convinced that all the kids on it are illegally in the school district. He learns his lesson when he discovers that his father was a custodian for many years and thus his son was allowed to go to West Bev. He and Andrea make horrible assumptions. But he learns his lesson at the end of the 60 mins.

    I liked what you said about kids yesterday being fatter. In reality people are fatter now than they were then. But that’s not shown on tv. Interesting.

    May 4th, 2007 | 3:16 pm
  12. Joie Jager-Hyman

    good call, Bloomie!

    I do remember that episode–and it was more complex than most stuff on TV. Thanks for pointing that out.

    May 6th, 2007 | 7:31 pm
  13. a kid today

    I think you make a good point about having an ‘African American’ just for the sake of having an ‘African American’

    however the show does show other races, i think in the episode where brandon gets a job working in a swanky restaurant he mentions that exploitation of different races, so the show doesn’t entirely disregard other races

    beside a good point was made, people of the same race usually hang with people of the same race, not cause their racist probably cause they have more in common

    nice post

    October 17th, 2007 | 7:33 am

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