Today I want to analyze romance in teen dramas and teen and internet culture in general.
I’m also only going to be talking about straight teen romance targeted to straight women, since that’s what personally affected me growing up.
So like all of my video essays this will be split into parts.
Part one will be about how some portrayals of romance in teen dramas are harmful, the second will be a defense of romance in teen dramas, the third will be about how stan culture is dangerous, the fourth will be about eBoys, and the fifth will be about influencer responsibility and accountability.
These points sound very disconnected, and that’s because they are… the video was originally just going to be about teen romance and wish fulfilment, but as I started writing, I kept thinking of new ideas that sort of related to the main topic, but also didn’t.
I’ve done my best to try to find a coherent theme to wrap them all together - which is teen and internet culture.
The points I’m going to make are very important, but alone would make for a very short videos, so yeah. Maybe it’s better to think of this as an anthology of mini video essays, rather than a single video essay.
Well that’s enough of that, let’s get started...
Part 1: Teen Romance and YA Fiction is Problematic???
So teen romance...It’s a pretty general term considering there are so many types of teen genres. You’ve got your paranormal relationships, “sick lit”, historical fiction, dystopian teen romance, your classic high school couple, and much much more.
But within all of these genres, archetypal character tropes can be found. There’s the forbidden lover (Edward Cullen), the childhood best friend (Jacob), the new kid (Gabriela from HSM), and the cool older guy (Dustin from The Art of Getting By) etc., but for the sake of this video I want to focus on the “cool older guy.”
Most of the time, the cool older guy overlaps with the forbidden lover (Ezra, Viktor Krum) because his age is what makes him “off limits” for the female protagonist.
He’s seen as wiser, smarter, and of course, sexier, simply because he’s older. In addition, we perpetuate the age old myth that men mature emotionally slower than women, thus making women want to seek out older more mature men.
For decades women have been constantly told that they need an older and stronger man to take care of them.
This can be seen through the obvious misreadings of Lolita, and in multiple Hollywood musicals from the fifties and sixties -and even nowadays, where the female actors are ten or more years younger than their male love interests. [https://www.vulture.com/2013/04/leading-men-age-but-their-love-interests-dont.html / Jim Carey and Zoe DeChannel in Yes Man / American in Paris]
The cool older guy trope can also be seen throughout modern teen lit. Twilight is an obvious one. Though Edward doesn’t look physically older than Bella, he’s still older, which makes him “wiser”. In The Clique series, Massie crushes on a few older guys, who are portrayed as more mature even though they’re only ONE YEAR OLDER. Even Hermione crushes on Krum who is just a grade or two older than her, but he’s made out to be some dark mysterious man, much more mature than Ron or Harry.
But the most insidious character has to be Ezra from Pretty Little Liars (TV show).
Aria, a high school student around the age of 16, happens to be in a relationship with her teacher, a man at least 5 years older than her. The previous examples weren’t that bad because a year difference isn’t really that much, but a grown ass man wanting to date to a teenage girl? That’s more than a little disturbing.
However, the show doesn’t even shy away from illustrating it. I guess the show frames it as okay because when they meet they don’t know that they will be teacher and student, but when they do meet each other in class, they don’t cut their relationship off, they CONTINUE IT.
Though I can gauff at how ridiculous it is now, as a teen I found their relationship to be cool and romantic. In fact, I found a lot of romances with big age differences desirable. I wanted that type of romance and in the end, I got it. When I was young, having older guys swoon over me made me feel desired.
And for someone with low self esteem, feeling desired made me feel special. I had a deep seated fear that no one would ever love me romantically, which made me cling onto the first guy that gave me attention. I was taught a guy would not only save me, but make me popular and cool. I kind of knew it was wrong then, and so many people told me it was, but I rationalized it because I was afraid that if we broke up, no one would ever love me again.
I’m not here to blame teen dramas for my shitty past relationship or the cause of all girls’ self esteem problems,
but they do add to the culture that already says women need a man to be complete. And of course, not just any man, but a cool older man who knows way more than you do.
So if you’re watching this and are in a similar position as I was, know that you’re not alone, someone will find you lovable in a romantic way, and respect you for who you are.
Part 2: A Defense of Teen Romance and YA Fiction
After railing against portrayals of romance in media for teens, I do want to say that though these relationships aren’t the healthiest, they do provide an outlet for some healthy wish fulfillment for young people.
Twilight and After aren’t the end of the world. Sure, they’re weird and there are real things that are wrong with them, but when you’re a teen you’re not really thinking about that. You’re thinking how cool it would be to have super powers, or be obsessively loved by someone - to be the center of someone’s world.
When I was a teen, like I said, I was afraid I was going to die alone, so having Twilight or The Clique novels or Taylor Swift’s music, helped me imagine myself in an alternate reality where I had agency. What teen doesn’t want to have unlimited resources to decorate their room however they want to? Or be the envy of all their peers?
And it’s important to remember that not everything a girl doesn needs to be empowering because that’s also putting a very confining box around what women can be and do.
And when you get older you learn that maybe Twilight wasn’t as perfect as you remember it, but that doesn’t mean you need to lie and say you never enjoyed it, or that everything’s wrong with it. Rather, you can look back on it fondly and be like, “hm, that was an interesting phase of mine”.
And if you’re still a Twilight fan, good for you.
Most people, even as teens, know that the media they consume is very unrealistic and a little harmful. Realizing that their favorite teen fandom was just a phase they had to grow out of is something we all have to go through.
Even as a teen I was told time and time again by other women that I shouldn’t be reading Twilight or The Clique books because they weren’t “real literature”, even though they helped me get into reading in the first place and I thoroughly enjoyed them.
These weird romances and even Disney princesses and Barbie dolls aren’t ruining young girls self esteem.
They’re not the reason eating disorders exist, or why women find themselves in abusive relationships. That’s like blaming mass shootings on video games, it just doesn’t make much sense.
Yes, Disney princesses and Barbie dolls have their flaws and perpetuate internalized racism and fatphobia, but at the same time, it’s not the sole cause of those things.
Telling your kids they can’t play with Barbie, isn’t going to save them from having an eating disorder or hating their skin color.
And in the same vein, blaming these “stupid girly movies” for what’s “wrong” with women and the world nowadays, just takes away any blame from the racist and patriarchal systems we all grow up in.
Maybe some of these works and fantasies only exist because of the patriarchy and internalized sexism, and if so, we shouldn’t blame women for liking something they were marketed to enjoy.
And sometimes teens, and even adults, gravitate towards “problematic” fantasies just because.
And some of those “problematic” things that are awoken in us as kids, aren’t problematic at all. Realizing you’re gay (Elsa) or a furry (Robin Hood) through Disney films can actually help grow some people’s identities, though proper representation is still needed.
Instead of waiting to ruin someone’s favorite franchise for them, let them learn on their own that they can still enjoy problematic media, as long as they realize it’s not flawless.
Part 3: Stan Culture Bad
To stan basically means defending your idol to the death - whether that be a work of fiction, a singer, or an actor.
Stan culture has already been classified as very dangerous and its toxicity is largely blamed on teen girls, as they make up most of the demographic, but older people can also be stans - as well as people of other genders, races etc.
There are stans of liberal singers, but there are also stans of Nazism, aka Neo Nazis, waiting to take down leftist public figures (Carlos Maza and Lindsay Ellis) in the name of “fair criticism”, in order to use them as a proxy in their culture war.
But for this part, I’m only going to be talking about stans of teen icons.
They’re usually harmless - mobilizing online to get their favorite singer trending or promote their newest single. But at their worst, they dog pile on people who produce well founded criticism of their favorite artist’s work.
I don’t think we should blindly follow idols like Ariana Grande, but as a teen myself I defended Miley over this racist image. Yeah, yikes... But as I got older and grew out of my stan phase I realized I didn’t like her as much as I did when I was 14...shocking I know.
Good criticism of teen idols exists, but harassing your favorite actors or harassing others who speak out against them, isn’t okay. No one should be put on a pedestal, and most teens come to realize that on their own as they get older.
And those who don’t are usually outliers who haven’t grown to accept their idol as human.
I don’t have a solution for stan culture, but I think the idols themselves have a responsibility to not mobilize their fan armies against others.
This can be hard, as even actors who don’t mobilize their fan base still have fans who are toxic (Stranger Things https://www.vulture.com/2017/11/why-a-stranger-things-star-spoke-out-against-fans.html).
But usually good idols will tell their fans to stop harassing others, not egg them on (Ariana Grande).
At the end of the day, most 14 year old fans will realize that them stanning their favorite idol as a kid wasn’t the best thing. And when they come to that realization, I don’t think we should call them out for being problematic years later if they’ve grown and changed.
And even if they’re adults and still think the Twilight franchise is fun to watch, as long as they’re not hurting anyone, just let them be.
And to emphasize: stan culture isn’t bad because teen girls, but rather that it’s bad to stan anyone - at any age - as we’re all just human beings.
Part 4: eBoys...
When I consumed media as a kid it was mainly with my friends reading Tiger Beat, and leaving comments on the Jonas Brothers’ YouTube profile page.
It was very removed. I think at most there was a “day in my life” vlog of the Jonas Brothers, but other than that, they felt very distant. There was no smalltown internet celebrity that you could get a hug from for $75 dollars or privately dm.
But nowadays, as the internet has grown bigger and bigger, there’s a new type of celebrity crush and that is the eBoy…
We’ve talked a lot about how society blames teen girls for the end of culture as we know it, but what about the boys capitalizing off of girls low self esteem, who are predisposed to latch onto any guy who gives them attention?
Not to use whataboutisms, but not enough attention is given to the men and boys who use stan culture to solicit photos of underage fans (https://roguerocket.com/2019/05/14/youtuber-projared-accused-of-soliciting-explicit-photos-from-underage-fans/) or disrespect them at the meet and greets (https://www.capitalfm.com/news/lucas-dobre-brothers-marcus-meet-greet-fan/) or give them prolonged awkward hugs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQA2IO3oQOc).
There’s a difference between a young teen girl exploring her sexuality and fantasies alone, and then living them out with unaccountable strangers.
Meeting your hero isn’t always the best thing to do - especially when there’s a huge power imbalance involved.
But the young girls aren’t thinking about that and neither are the guys charging for these hugs.
We’re so quick to blame the young impressionable preteen girls for stanning horrible people (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ia3TPYZfedc&t=1330s / @kylerlovesjesus), without examining the people in power and making them take responsibility for their actions.
Especially with eBoys, who are specifically famous and stanned for not having any specific talent other than “looking hot”, knowing that they’re hot, and knowing they can exploit the shit out of that.
But this leads to a whole other discussion about what means to be famous and if you need to be a good role model and have a clean image.
I would say that both the fans and the entertainer need to be respectful of one another, but when you gain a following, you automatically gain an upper hand over those who follow you.
So don’t spread hate speech (transphobic eBoy), incite violence, (Grande and Trump), or ask fans to buy you sneakers (Nash Grier Vans).
Part 5: Good and Bad Internet People
This part isn’t really going to be about teen culture as much as it’s going to be about internet culture.
There are two very different types of celebrities nowadays. You have your A listers, and then you have your internet stars… who usually have a lot less money and power, but who do have a much closer relationship to their fans and critics.
and the unregulated internet is a horrible place for responsible internet people making quality content - who get dog piled on by the alt - right (Lindsay Ellis, Carlos Maza, Natalie Wynn),
and the system is also exploited by eBoys and other internet scum who can get away with shit like this (awkward hugs/Onision).
Nothing hurts someone’s reputation if they have money and power to hide behind (Trump, Scarjo), but YouTubers are usually middle class, talking about and sharing personal stuff.
Independent creators primarily depend on their likability for their income, and without many resources to do damage control, a cancel mob can affect their entire livelihood.
Thus, the power imbalance between the person and their fans, or bad faith critics, is a lot more real. With YT people, their relationship with their fans is do or die.
As Lindsay Ellis said in her XOXO Talk, there needs to be resources where internet people can go and get help to stave off people who just want to use her and others as proxies in their culture war.
Therapists and psychological institutions need to be trained with how to deal with patients that face online harassment.
I know this last part wasn’t really about teen culture, but a lot of these younger fans feel as though these guys making videos in their bedroom are their friends, and when you’re a kid you don’t understand parasocial relationships and how you might be used or exposed to some really toxic shit (Nash Grier “perfect girl” video).
And because smaller internet celebrities have less accountability, but also more responsibility, them needing to be regulated is really important.
Just as important as good internet people getting the mental health services and infrastructure they need to stave off doxxing and alt right parties.
Alright, so that was a pretty big talk about a few things… The pros and cons of the teen romance genre, stan culture, and how internet celebrities - especially those with wrong opinions and an impressionable following - have a responsibility to not charge $75 bucks to see them do literally nothing (magcon and lightsout - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch9Mw79yWos).
It's a whole new world out there and all I can say is that things need to change. Thanks, and I’ll see you in the next one, bye.
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lights out is magcon 2.0 and it’s an absolute nightmare
Lindsay Ellis’ Defense of Natalie Wynn (ContraPoints)
Lindsay Ellis, Video Essayist - XOXO Festival (2019)
My Eating Disorder Had Nothing to Do with Barbie or the Media
The Demented World of Onision (Ft. The Right Opinion)
The Dobre Brothers Apologise After 'Miserable' Meet & Greet Video Goes Viral
The E-Boy Invasion 2
was the magcon era a fever dream?
YouTuber ProJared Accused of Soliciting Explicit Photos From Underage Fans
24 year old English major and ESL Teacher. Currently living in Fortaleza, Brazil. Feminist and kill joy with a cause.