Amalia Mathewson graduated from Athens High School. She has been involved in Scholastic Bowl, Show Choir, and English Club. She is currently pursuing a B.F.A. in acting through the School of Theatre and Dance and hopes to have a stage career in Chicago and other regional theaters. “The Age of the Behavior Junkies” allowed Amalia the chance to express a previously unnamed concern she had about society.
“I believe in honor. If I even steal a penny, I’m dishonoring my parents and my grandparents and…” I don’t care. I simply do not care what the up-and-coming young television star sitting next to me is saying. Maybe I would, if any of it was registering right now, but it’s not. What is registering, though, is the enigmatic blue glint of his eyes, the way he keeps flicking a swatch of jet black hair out of them, how his flawless eyebrows keep furrowing breathtakingly as he tries to form his next sentence. He’s been talking for a while now. We are spellbound, we three girls gathered around him. Then, slowly, my mind begins to adjust to his blinding presence, and I realize that I disagree with what this boy, this Greek god, is saying. Every word coming out of his mouth is stereotypical to young, restless male teens, which is the acting archetype he’s been hired to portray. The production studio where he works, he tells us later in the evening, tells him what to wear. It clicks then; might they also tell him what to say and even think? After all, his job is to sell their studio’s product to the masses, both on and off-screen. But the things he’s saying are ludicrous! Who thought this strange persona up? Who’s making him act like a cartoon version of James Dean? And the answer is—we are. We are telling the television executives to stereotype us into gender roles by worshipping their fictional characters.
Take the popular new sit-com Glee, for example. The show’s lead is Will Schuester, a charismatic and multi-talented glee club coach. Will is America’s new ideal man. He’s geek-chic, confident, intelligent, and able to provide for his wife. Although he’s charming and levelheaded, the faculty and students who oppose him had better back down once he makes up his mind, because he will get what he needs. Perpetually in the right, Will is the guy that middle and upper class white men everywhere strive to be. According to my male friends, a man should be able to handle his responsibilities and clean up his own messes with integrity. These are undoubtedly qualities that Will exhibits in every episode. We frequently watch him deal gracefully with troubled teens, a beast of a spouse, and the big crush he has on his dainty co-worker. Interestingly enough, Will is the most human character in the show. This humanity could be because most of the writers fit Will’s description, or it could be a challenge. Fewer and fewer young men have the noble qualities that my boys call manhood, but since eight out of eight said loyalty, responsibility, and integrity are admirable traits, I think it’s fair to assume that somewhere, under the lackadaisical, apathetic exteriors considered trendy by our generation, there is a need to be this kind of man. On Glee, they have a tailor-made model to emulate.
For a different sort of boy, we have Kurt Hummel. Flamboyant and fashionable, effeminate Kurt is one of the cookie-cutters that homosexual males use to help define themselves. Kurt can be seen interacting effectively with everyone, even the dense football players, because he shows them immediately what his sexual preference is. In other words, he knows his place and his type. In high school, an intolerant classmate of mine once explained that to him the only thing worse than a gay was a closeted gay. If he couldn’t tell right off the bat that a guy was homosexual or bisexual, he wouldn’t just be disgusted by him, he would hate him. Perhaps this particular brand of bigotry is a reason why gay American men are one of the easiest demographics to pigeonhole effectively. For the sake of safety, they need to let the world know who they are as quickly as possible. That way, those who will accept their lifestyles do and those who won’t, don’t, making social choices much easier for the man in question. In other words, you’re either a Jack or a Will, but you need to let everyone around you know immediately that Grace is not your girlfriend.
Another character on Glee is Quinn Fabray, captain of the cheerleading squad. Quinn is what an entirely male writing staff considers representative of young girls. She is two-faced, scheming, and, best of all, a tease. Now technically, Quinn is an antagonist, but that won’t stop young women from imitating her every move. In recent pop phenomena, we don’t see girls idolizing the sweet, independent ingénues; instead they look up to the bratty, catty snobs who are out to ruin the competition. From Mean Girls to High School Musical, the princess is the one who gets the press. While this strange idolatry may seem ridiculous to someone on the outside, it makes perfect sense in context. Young girls are awkward messes who crave confidence, acceptance, and respect above all else. Obviously, the best way to get a girl to like you is to like everything she likes. This is an occasion when shows like Glee come in handy. Packed up with a nice ribbon is an example of the perfect girl: pretty, poised, and best of all, POPULAR.
However, teen girls aren’t the only ones falling victim to this easy, confidence boosting trick. How many times have you gone shopping in a department store or mall only to find the women’s shoe section filled with jumping, shrieking, middle-aged women who are just so thrilled that those cute pumps are on sale?!?!?! Probably never, but if you’ve ever watched a romantic comedy, this scenario is not abnormal. Whether or not we, in real life, would actually flip our shit over a cheap pair of heels is not the point. The point is that the more we watch Kate Hudson and Jennifer Aniston do so, the less ridiculous that behavior seems. In fact, it becomes a common, albeit imaginary, quirk that women feel they share. What’s ironic is that often the writers of the girly film or television series are men. Men watch women and create puffed up versions of real female characters that women watch and, like it or not, absorb.
Basically, art reflects life, and life imitates art. If you hold a mirror to a mirror, what do you see? I think many artists try to perfect the reflection of humanity, and as humanity makes itself more like the artist’s image, it moves farther and farther away from actual human behavior. Obviously, the aforementioned young actor is much closer to the blast zone than the rest of us, but I definitely see signs of fallout in even my own life. Shows like Glee, which seem to exist only for our entertainment, actually encourage this mass assimilation. Humans need an identity, but it’s dangerous to play with nature. Silver-screen idols upset the natural course of maturation, making development just a little too easy. And without the answers and behavior we addicts need pumped into a box in our homes, who knows what an already fragile human race will do next? “I have to have the answers,” said my beautiful, tragic young friend that day, “because if things weren’t black and white, I’d kill myself.”