Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The end of innocence

For those of us growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, a few memories stand out (and since these were pre-globalisation, pre-cable TV days, all children and adolescents, whichever part of India they might have been in, did much the same stuff, wore clothes that looked similarly weird, and watched the same shows on TV - and so you have a couple of generations with shared memories, united by giggling fits over Doordarshan 'fillers') - printed 'frocks', summer holidays with Rasna, Doordarshan; and later, when we were 'older' and hipper college students, Flying Machine jeans and Beverly Hills 90210.

I remember with what eagerness we used to wait for 8 PM on Sundays - because then, for one hour, we could lose ourselves with Brenda, Brandon, Dylan, Kelly, and the gang in yet another episode of what to us was the best show EVER. And Monday mornings meant excited discussions in college - Oh my God, Brandon is so self-righteous! Wasn't Brenda's dress cute? What was Kelly thinking?? Would Andrea get over her crush already? And Dylan ... sigh, Dylan!

So I was intrigued when last year, I learnt that Beverly Hills 90210 had been re-made - the new avatar was to be called simply 90210, to distinguish it from the original. The characters were cast in similar moulds - instead of the Walsh family, you have the Wilson family who've moved from Kansas; there's a brother and sister (not twins, though!) - Annie and Dixon; there's the glamorous, rich, spoilt prom queen - Naomi Clark; the confused, messed-up friend - Adrianna; the geek - Navid ... and so on. But there's one thing the new, glitzy, super glamorous, slick version lacks - and that's innocence. And heart. Remember how refreshingly real and down-to-earth Mr and Mrs Walsh were? How we could actually see our own mothers in Brenda and Brandon's mom? How we could identify with Brenda in everything she did; how their parties and sleepovers seemed so much like ours? And several episodes over the first two seasons actually dealt with issues - alcoholism, breast cancer, growing up and becoming independent, losing friends, death - apart from the usual high school stuff that we identified with only too well - boyfriends, relationships, break-ups, friendships.

The new show, though, focuses only on two things - high fashion and sex. Lots of glamorous clothes and hair styles, and lots of sex. The group of friends is still there, but now all they do is go out with each other, make out like there's no tomorrow, break up, and then move on to someone else - usually within the same group. Sometimes new people become their friends, and the incestuous circle is expanded. Apart from Annie and Dixon, no one else appears to have parents - at least, none that might ask them why they were late coming home - or why they didn't come home at all; and the dialogues and story line are so shallow they make Stephanie Meyer's Twilight seem positively intellectual. There seems to be a complete absence of any values or ethics - the teenagers drink, lie, cheat, manipulate and whine their way through the show - all of which leads me to ask - is this what young people are like these days? Seriously? Are there college kids actually watching this show with as much fervour as we watched Beverly Hills 90210 15 years ago? Who do they identify with - the dumb Annie, the nasty, bitchy Naomi, the messed-up Adrianna (who's actually one of the few watchable people on the show), the confused Dixon? What happened to the sweetness, innocence, light-hearted fun of the original?

Or maybe this is just me growing old. But I can't but say something I've said earlier - I'm glad I'm not a child or a teenager in this day and age. I'm glad I lived in the times of high-waisted jeans and puffed sleeves and over-sized T-shirts and Beverly Hills 90210. I'm glad my childhood and youth was the way it was supposed to be - innocent.