Coming of Age: Media and Representation
The most popular and iconic shows and movies tell stories of coming of age, like The Breakfast Club, Freaks and Geeks, 16 Candles, Home Alone, and Boyz n the Hood. They almost always have the potential to thrive because us young people watch them, because it speaks to us and adults reliving their youth again. There’s nothing like watch a group of ragtag nobody teens that have the guts to against the grain and define society. It’s a fantasy for adults and a reality for teens. Society sees us as defiant, rebellious, misfits that only know how to destroy. However, society has yet to acknowledge that it’s actually the opposite. Teens don’t hold back. We have fire inside of us. We push boundaries. Instead of accepting and maintaining culture, we change it to help growth and human race progress. Some adults see this and feel threatened because they realize that their fire is extinguished, and it hurts. We remind adults of how they once used to be. How they too once lived life to its fullest extent, with no time for apologies. We are the reflection in a mirror of the past.
The show The Get Down on Netflix which encompasses this whole ideology of coming of age. As Howard Cosell infamously once said, “There it is, ladies and gentlemen, ‘The Bronx is burning’”. The year is 1977, and in the depths of the Bronx, the city was burning; it was seen as a national disgrace. Something explosive was brewing within the corners of the borough. Art was used as weapon to combat against the excertaing rates of crime, poverty and other problems. Art became the light at the end of the tunnel.
At night, just as the youth came out, the city was revived and it woke up. Kids routinely snuck out of their apartments after their parents went to bed, slowly opening the bedroom window and running down the fire escape. All so that they could spray paint with flashlights in one hand and a spray can in the other, while running and hiding from the police. They used their city as their canvas to paint, with spray cans emblazoning every corner with bright, bold, and vivid colors bleeding throughout the city, soaked in paint.
Or, they would sneak off to underground clubs, where there would be MCs rhyming over the isolated drum breaks provided by the DJ and b-boys and girls break dancing. A sort of conversation thrived between the DJ breaking and the b-boys and girls break dancing. They used to handle arguments with breaking dancing and MC battles instead of guns and fighting.
The Get Down centers around Zeke and Mylene. Zeke is a talented poet and has the potential to get out, but he is scared that his gift will take him away from everything familiar that provides him comfort. His love interest, Mylene, aspires to be a disco queen, but her father is a pastor against his daughter even listening to such “filth.” Zeke and his friends try to pursue music but there are obstacles along the way. Mylene and her friends are on their way to becoming the next disco stars.
The reason that this show is important is because it speaks to kids and teens of color in this country. It shows the strength that young people of color in America have, in a climate when there are few media elements doing so. To live unapologetically in your brown skin. To protest against the idea that we are less than, when in reality we are more than our country has noticed or realized. It’s inspiring to see people who look like you doing something you would otherwise think is impossible, when young people of color rarely see themselves reflected on screen in a non-stereotypical manner. It’s different when you actually relate to the character’s struggles and understand what they going through and not feel alone.
Young people like me use coming of age movies and shows as inspiration and motivation. When it feels like you should give up on life and that no one understands, there’s another movie or show that can complete change your mind. Seeing a reflection of ourselves through media helps us to see or notice something about ourselves that we didn’t notice before. It could be a small detail that make you realize something in a different way that before. We need to see ourselves represented in all art forms. Teens of color, LGBTQ+ teens, immigrant teens, disabled teens, teens of different socioeconomic strata; all types of different teens that represent the broad spectrum of us. That’s exactly why coming of age is such a popular genre. No one lives their lives the way teens do: living unapologetically.
By Maya Dave