Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Lake Woebegone (sic!), where all the teens are more miserable than the others

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As much as I sympathize with the many who had a poor experience of life in high school, or school in general, I find annoying the self-obsession that sometimes, especially among girls, follows it in real life and almost invariably does so on TV.

Certainly, there are some who have it much worse than others, but most of those who complain about “poor me”* actually seem to be fairly average in their experiences. The teenager years can be hard, being in school does not help, and being surrounded by other teens is often a bad thing—but it is approximately the same for everyone. Unrequited love? Bad break-up? Fight with the best friend? A mean-girl clique? Feeling misunderstood? Studying hard and still getting a poor grade? Insecurity about physical attractiveness? Being nervous around the other sex? Being homosexual and insecure both about that and about being around the same sex? Having a close relative die? Parents divorcing? Being forced to move to a new school and starting over without the old friends? Not being made home-coming queen?** Chances are that most high-school students run into several of these and/or several others that simply did not occur to me off the top of my head.

*As opposed to “poor us”: There is a difference between complaining about general problems using personal experiences as examples (I often do, myself; note e.g. the locked-in-a-train situation in my previous text) and painting fairly normal problems as something much worse than what others encounter. Ditto between complaining about one’s own specific situation when it is unusually tough and when it is not. Ditto between just letting of some steam with a personal complaint and demanding the sympathies of the world.

**With variations depending on personal priorities, e.g. “Not being made valedictorian?” and “Not making the football team?”. (I stick with a more female perspective in the main example, as the girls, again, seem to be worse complainers on average.)

Nevertheless, we have many who complain about their specific personal situation relative everyone else based on just these several items. Consider “Tall Girl”*: Unsurprisingly, this movie deals with a tall girl. She goes to high school and sees her complaints center around being tall and how everyone, supposedly, considers her a freak. Various adventures ensue, and towards the end of the movie she gets up on a pedestal** and holds a speech about how horrible it is to be a tall girl in high school to the gathered students—most of which likely had problems of a similar or greater magnitude, but who were not given a pedestal by the filmmakers.*** Interestingly, she was not even that tall, being somewhere in the 1.80s, where she could still expect to, e.g., find plenty of taller men. Certainly, she did not seem to consider or take advantage of potential upsides of being tall, say, a chance to be the star of the local basket team and maybe getting a college scholarship—while there is no or very little upside to most other teenage complaints, e.g., unrequited love. (Well, I suppose that unrequited love might help someone looking for a career in poetry, but …)

*A third rate movie that I caught when stuck in a hotel room with nothing else to do. With reservations for the exact name and various other details.

**Whether literally or just metaphorically, I do not remember.

***In the case of fiction, there is often a question of whether the fault results from a realistically portrayed character or from filmmakers pushing some angle. In the latter case, there is the additional question of whether the angle is more-or-less arbitrary or rooted in personal experiences.

Of course, this type of condescending and self-centered speech is not unique to “Tall Girl”. On the contrary, I have seen a number of variations over the years. The same attitude, without a speech, is very common. Consider “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” for a much more intelligent take and many interesting contrasts between those with superficial problems, like Cordelia and her clique, and those like Buffy (who spends her days in school and her evenings risking her life to fight “the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness” or something to that effect). A particularly interesting scene follows shortly after the death of Buffy’s mother: kid sister Dawn is at school, desolate and crying in the bathroom, and it is revealed that this was over some boy or something mean that some inconsequential mean-girl said—the news of her mother has yet to arrive.

The trigger for writing this text, however, is “13 Reasons”, where I am currently midway through episode 4. The premise is that a high-school girl, Hannah, has killed herself and left behind a set of tapes with various recapitulations of how some other students gave her these “13 Reasons” to end her life. So far? Nothing truly impressive. Combined with her accusatory tone and streaks of pontification on tape, and her behavior during flashbacks on screen, she often seems to be over-sensitive, irrational, self-centered, and/or attention seeking. (To the series credit, something similar is also stated by one of the other characters.) Examples of her complaints include boys making a list of who-is-or-is-not attractive (apparently male sexism,* even though she did well), which led to one of her “friends” freaking out and blaming her for a breakup.** Well, that sucks, but it is not the end of the world and nowhere near suicide territory. It is certainly not, for instance, comparable to having a parent die or oneself losing a limb in a car crash—and I doubt that suicide is a typical reaction to these either.*** Few, in all fairness, see a “13” in lieu of “several” above, and within a comparatively short time, but, so far, I do not see suicide as an even remotely reasonable reaction—or the death rate of teenagers would be far higher than it is.

*In real life, over twelve years in school, I encountered exactly one such list—made by the girls.

**I am a little vague on the details, but it might be that Hannah’s “friend’s” boyfriend was the one who was complimentary, which led to unwarranted suspicions of an affair with Hannah. The loss of this “friend” is the worst damage seen so far, but, from the overall material, it seems to not have been a true friendship to begin with (hence my scare quotes). This does not lessen the pain in the moment, but it does reduce the practical damage.

***I acknowledge that those who commit suicide in real life do not necessarily have reasons that others would understand, but when an entire TV series is made on the topic such reasons should be present. I note, in particular, that there has not been any signs of pre-existing complications, say, a clinical depression, a severe substance-abuse problem, abusive parents, or a very prolonged state of unhappiness. Moreover, it is clear from the existence of the tapes that suicide was neither a spur of the moment decision, nor a “number 13 was the last straw—I just cannot take it anymore”.

Of course, all this even going by Hannah’s versions of events, the truthfulness of which has been disputed by at least one other character.

I had great hopes, after a promising first episode, but right now I am uncertain whether I will even watch episode 4 to an end—in part, because the promises of the first episode do not seem to be fulfilled; in part, because there have been repeated unrealistic “evil male” portrayals;* in part, because I fear that the series will end with some type of cop out, e.g. a rape scenario, as there are strong signs that a group of boys is trying to keep something very bad quiet.

*Including, in this episode, a photographer who secretly takes photos of other students. The sheer amount of such portrayals in modern fiction is both tedious and annoying. To boot, they can feed into the very distorted view of men that many in modern society (already) have.

Excursion on mean girls and suppressed information:
When I hear about somewhat similar events in real life, say, that some girl did commit suicide or that some girl saw her reputation blown to pieces by incriminating photos, the formulations used typically amount to “poor girl” vs. “mean fellow students”. However, looking at the type of meanness presented, e.g. that the girl with incriminating photos is condemned as a slut or was excluded from her previous group of friends, it usually seems more like something that specifically the other girls would do. (In the second example, additionally, because girls usually have more girls than boys as friends.) Factor in what I have myself seen and heard in real life, most (at least, pre-woke) fictional portrayals,* and the known issue of the ethnicity of criminals being censored by media, and I strongly suspect another case of suppressed information, that the perpetrators are predominantly female. I also note a similar pattern of “society”, “media”, whatnot being blamed for “pressuring” women into this-and-that, where it is often clear that the pressure either stems from other women or from the individual woman, herself, e.g. because she believes that others have certain expectations. (Eating disorders is a recurring example.)

*Note e.g. parts of an older discussion of Carrie and the book, itself.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 23, 2022 at 10:58 am

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  1. […] a somewhat similar phenomenon to [1], fiction often contains someone suffering a great personal loss, e.g. a child or a spouse, followed […]

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