C.S. Lewis once wrote an essay on Orwell in which he commented on how much more human the characters of Animal Farm are than those of 1984. In his view, the "heroic horses, snapping dogs and guzzling pigs" give a true picture of what humanity is like while "if men were only like the characters in 1984, it would not be worth writing stories about them."In a latter essay, about the Lord of the Rings, Lewis wrote that we have not truly seen and undertood humanity until we realise that humanity is like the hero of of a fairy tale and that by putting the human predicament into a myth "we do not retreat from reality, we rediscover it"
I've long thought something similar about that post-modern tv genre, the teen drama. This genre, originating with the hugely successful "Beverly HIlls: 90210" starts out with a group of friends in early high-school and follows them through high-school and (in some case) into adult life. On the whole, the genre has not exaclty produced great televison, it can be etertaining at times, but generally in a superficial over the top way.
There has been one great exception to the rule, "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer" and, as the name suggests, that show does not exactly make an effort at realism. But it is real, it captures the emotional reality of what it is like to a teenager or twenty-something is like. I was well ouyt of high-school when Buffy first came to Australia, and still some of the shows brought back the memorry of what school was like with a painful clarity. Buffy, with her immortal enemies (and lovers) her preternatural strength, her shape-changing friends and her vocation to awful to contemplate showed us what beeing a young person in this confusing post-modern world is really like in a way that her more superficially realistic rivals never could (although I must admit that the early seasons of "Dawsons Creek" came close at times). I have, in fact, come close at times to stating the theory that its just not possible to realisticly depict the reality of contempory high-school with realistic means, the experience is just too sureal to be conveyed without vampires, monsters, magic or something of the kind.
But, perhaps I'm going to have to re-think my views. Network Ten is about to bring to Australia a new show called "Veronica Mars". The netork is advertising it as the new "O.C." which would hardly have lead me to watch it, but, from what I'm reading from fans and critics of the show in the US, this is not an accurate characterisation. The shows eponymous heroine, is appearently a teenage detective, a sort of modern Nancy Drew, only much darker, Veronica's first mystery involves the murder of her own best friend.
A couple of things have got me very excited about this show, first a large number of Buffy fans seem to be wild about it. Secondly, Joss Whedon himslef, the genius behind Buffy, has been activly encouraging his fans to watch it. Have a read of Joss' views here. As an aside, it's very cool to see Joss getting so excited and fan boyish about another show, the way lesser mortals like myself get over Joss. A third reason I'm getting excited is the type of fans the show seems to be attracting, I had a look around various fan sites and they seem to have the same mix of deep, almost intence, seriousness and quirky sense of humor that characterises Buffy fans. Check out this fan site and see what I mean.
Of course, I haven't seen the show yet, it could turn out to be a big let-down, but right now I'm thinking I have good grounds for optimism. Can a realistic show tell us what high-school is really like? Only time will tell.