When people talk about the defining teen movie of 1995, they tend to talk Clueless. It makes sense. The modern-day take on Jane Austen’s Emma stands up as a good movie 20 years later, it was a hit at the time, and really captured the cultural moment that was the Contempo Casual/grunge/Ska blend that was happening around the time.
I love Clueless too, but there is another movie from 1995 that I associate much more strongly with my adolescence and that movie is Empire Records. I actually didn’t see this movie until 1997 or so since it was a huge bomb in theaters, but developed a massive cult following on video. There are plenty of people like myself who think both movies are great, but there is a sentimental attachment to one or the other that I think might be one of the litmus tests for where on the spectrum you land between Snake People and Generation X. People have been observing for a while that there is a mini-generation between the two. Some call them Xennials, I just call them me and my peoples. Within our generation though, there are people who tend more towards one generation than the other. Those who lean Snake Person tend to prefer Clueless, while those of us who are more Gen Xers at heart live every day like it is Rex Manning Day and opt for Empire Records.
If you’re not familiar with the two films, let me give you a quick summary of each. In Clueless, Cher (Alicia Silverstone) is a well-meaning but self-absorbed and kind of unintelligent popular girl who takes a hapless loser and turns her into a well-groomed cool chick. In the end, she realizes that life isn’t always about status symbols and tries to live a more purposeful life and be a better person that she likes and stop worrying about whether or not other people like her. As a result, she remains super popular, gains even more friends, and gets to make out with Paul Rudd. If this is what you got for being a little less selfish, I am pretty sure most of us girls would by vying to run United Way right about now.
In other words, it is a lesson about how popularity isn’t everything. The moral of the story is if you are truer to yourself and kinder to mankind, you will be rewarded with a better life.
Then there is Empire Records, which is another movie about how living up to expectations isn’t all it is cracked up to be. But rather than spin a yarn about how great your life can be if care more about others, it readily admits your life probably sucks a little, but guess what? So does eveyone’s life. It is how you make the most of it that matters. Just look at the chicks in this movie. Most will tell you that Debra (Robin Tunney) is the coolest girl in the movie. We know she is cool because her wrists are bandaged from where she tried to slit them the previous night and she shaves her head in the record store bathroom. We know Gina is a cool party girl who puts up a good façade about enjoying how hot she is and the advantages that come with it. And then there is Corey (Liv Tyler) a super studious goody goody who wants to lose her virginity to Rex Manning because for this Type-A girl, even her deflowering has to be perfect.
The real scene that puts on display just how effed up these chicks are is when Gina admits she banged Rex even though she knew Corey wanted to, so Corey gets upset and takes it personal. In response, Gina, to borrow a poker term, reraises all in, goes and fetches Corey’s speed from her locker and proceeds to fling the pills at her lamenting Corey’s, “perfect, perfect future.”
It’s not just the girls either. The guys include a shoplifter named Warren, a kid who gambled the store’s deposit away in Atlantic City, two stoners who hallucinate they are playing with the band Gwar, and a too cool for school guitarist whose band is so lacking in street cred he is actually willing to let Gina front their “Damn the Man, Save the Empire” concert on the roof.
Damn the Man, Save the Empire really sums it up. This is a movie that asks teens, “you think you’re weird and screwed up? Well, can you beat this?” While Cher’s dilemma amounted to a failed driving test, a bad grade, and accidentally dating a gay guy, the stakes are much higher for Empire’s teens and the outcome is not so rosy. Sure, they keep Empire going, but Gina is still a promiscuous girl with Daddy issues. Corey is still gonna be on diet pills. Lucas will still feel nothing. But they got through today. So there is that, which you take, you build on, and you keep going.
Clueless is the Snake Person POV while Empire is for the Gen Xers in all of us. I sure wish Paul Rudd was in my future, but the teen in me bought into Empire’s view of the world more. Don’t expect much and you’ll be okay. You’re a little screwed up, but we all are really.
If that is the movie Snake Person/Gen X litmus test for the tweener generation, then I think The Real World is the TV version. If your quintessential season of this MTV reality show is the original Las Vegas season, you are a Snake Person-leaning sort. If you hear the show’s name and your mind immediately goes to Pedro, Puck, Pam, and Judd, you are a Gen Xer at heart. The Vegas season was a turning point for the show (which has now been on the air for more than two decades btw). Gone were the earnest attempts at learning about different cultures and people or starting a company or volunteering with kids. This was a season about partying and living it up with minimal responsibilities, save for a job “promoting” the nightclubs at the Palms, which is basically a license to party.
It reminds me of this growing trend of parents supporting their children after college for a couple of years. This was something my mother made abundantly clear was not an option, even if she wanted to, as we had no money. College was our safety net, then we had to get into the real world. Such was the case of the early Real World casts. Have you ever paid attention to what kind of jobs these people had? Judd worked for a nationally-recognized newspaper. Pam was a doctor. Pedro was the foremost lobbyist for AIDS and HIV awareness. Corey was the slacker because she found a job at a high-end department store. This is not an affront to the Vegas cast at all, it seems like the show required you not to have outside employment in order to be on the show, but shows you what passed for The Real World in 1995 compared to 2000.
In old school Real World, Puck got thrown out of the house because he was disrespectful. Now, you get thrown off The Real World if you commit assault. This is how lax standards have become. I mean, check this out. Can you just feel the earnestness oozing through the camera?
Speaking of earnestness, I am still not sure where Hootie and the Blowfish lands on my litmus test. I think your reaction to Let Her Cry might determine whether you are in the Xennial category at all. Because let’s be honest, most Gen Xers were a little too old and way too cool to listen to his light rock jam band and most Snake People came of age after Hootie had peaked and was already a punchline. But if you have a non-ironic sweet spot for Darius Rucker and crew, you’re probably a Xennial, a kid who missed out on all the ennui and jadedness of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and the crew, but still too skeptical to fully believe we’re all special, that the world is great, and that we are all destined to end up with Paul Rudd.