A very peculiar definition of what constitutes “happy”

I was living abroad when Fast Times at Ridgemont High was released, so I didn’t see it until a few years later, when I was in my mid- or late-20s.  I say this because, had I seen the movie when it first came out, when I myself was fairly close to the character’s ages, I might have had a different reaction, although I doubt it.

As it was, when I saw the movie, while I found parts of it amusing (Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli is a very funny portrayal of a stoner), I basically found it a very depressing portrayal of American teen life.  This is a world in which classes are boring, positive adult role models are non-existent, drug use is rife, and teenagers view meaningless, impersonal, porn-inspired sex as an ordinary activity.  Jennifer Jason Leigh’s 15-year old character willingly participates in her own statutory rape, and then, without any parental input, has an abortion.

The movie is nihilistic.  These are young people without meaning, purpose or values.  I therefore found peculiar director Amy Heckerling’s description of her artistic vision for the movie (emphasis mine):

First-time director Amy Heckerling said she was seeking to make a comedy that was less structured than conventional ones, and more like American Graffiti so that “if you woke up and found yourself living in the movie, you’d be happy. I wanted that kind of feel.

Happy?  Wow!  I didn’t feel happy after seeing Fast Times.  Even though I laughed at some of the humor (much of which is based upon cruelty and embarrassment), I was grateful that my high school years took place in a more innocent time — or, at least, that I was a more innocent high school student.

I’ve mentioned before what a de-aspirational society Hollywood sells our children.  Pre-1960s movies might have been foolish and predicated upon a shiny reality unrelated to the lives of many American young people, but those movies still encouraged America’s teens to aim for the stars, both in terms of material success and personal morality.  Subsequent teen movies offered instead a bleak vision of a dreary, dead-ended amoral teenage universe.


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  • Oldflyer

    I have often wondered if I grew up in a different world.  In my high school, class of ’53, there were a few who drank, a few who smoked.  Most of the kids I knew didn’t really respect those degenerates.  Never heard of drugs; didn’t even know what they were.
    I guess we were just lucky to live in a backwater like Jacksonville, Fl.  After entering the Navy, and meeting guys from around the country, I learned  of gang fights with bicycle chains and so forth as weapons,  heavy drinking, and a totally different life style.  Then I saw James Dean in the movies and wondered if that was supposed to be us.  Was that how high school kids were supposed to be?   I wondered what we would rebel against if we were so inclined.  Sure, we had hormones, and we were impatient to be independent, but we had fairly strict limits and stayed within them for the most part.  Maybe that was the secret.  We generally respected the people who set the limits; and most importantly knew there were consequences for exceeding them gratuitously.
    Happy?  Yes we were.  Happier than even we realized.

  • Charles Martel

    I think that Amy Heckerling confuses, like so many moderns, waking up in a post-orgasmic haze and a parent-free house with happiness. I doubt that she can conceive of a happiness that didn’t involve some sort of naughty, easily achieved pleasure.  
    Watch any show or video that has a group of footloose teens and 20 somethings in a group. Somebody burps and yells out a summons to cheap thrills, and the crowd whoops and screams, “Hell, yes, woooooooo!” The pathetic part is that even though what’s being offered is the same old same old—bright lights, noise, booze, easy sex, and endless pseudo-climaxes—it’s enough to be accepted by most as a good-enough simulacrum of happiness. Sensation replaces actual feeling.

  • eli

    I have two kids in college (good private colleges- one a Catholic college), both report a level of drinking/drugs and FAST TIMES that far exceeds what I remember from college and both find it very difficult.   When the keg (usually provided by the college activity fund) ran out for us in college, the drinking part of the party usually fizzled since none of us had much money for more or a way to get to a store. Colleges also supervised it (drinking age was 18). Now parties start on Thursday with students seeming to have unlimited money to buy more drugs/alcohol to party through the weekend (the drinking age is 21) and colleges turn a blind eye to situations that can lead to alcohol poisoning and all of the related consequences, date rape, or abuse, a drunk student even drowned in the pond last year! Students are allowed to break the law with impunity so, why should they follow other laws? 

    A huge proportion (probably MOST) of parents (or the gov’t) are paying up to $50K/year for lazy, lackluster students, like a certain president I could name according to his OWN book, who prefer a easy major and a party to a challenging course of study that requires completing their homework and more. And in our economy, since they can’t find full-time jobs in their fields, they don’t move into adulthood for YEARS! And if they do, entitlements don’t have much of a stigma since few of them have ever had to work for anything in their haze of alcohol/drugs. My son and daughter both report it’s very hard to find friends who like to do other things than party and their friends from home report likewise at their schools. What happens to the brains of people who drink to this degree while the brain, particularly judgement is still developing? What kind of society are we going to have? 

    And the democrat media makes fun of the Romney family who don’t drink and play JENGA with their kids.   

  • pst314

    “Most of the kids I knew didn’t really respect those degenerates.”
    Which is why they had to go on to write books and and make movies about how superior they were? “Come join us in the gutter.” :-)

  • pst314

    “The movie is nihilistic.”
    Stumble through life in a haze of alcohol, drugs, sex, brainless “spirituality” and even more brainless but high-emotional-content politics.
    Book, did you see Zombie’s latest photos of the Occupy crowd, protesting the tyranny of having to work for a living?

  • Libby

    I hated that movie – it was so depressing. Not any characters you could really like. The only funny part was Mr. Hand showing up at Spicoli’s house to wast some of his time. There’s a reason why John Hughes’ films, made just a few years later, are loved so much more than Fast Times. His films had angst and heart. 

  • Danny Lemieux

    In other words, Libby, it was a LIBERAL movie.

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