I’m a man who deeply values his dignity. I cling to it, actually. I won’t dance, I don’t sing in public, and I refuse to drink through straws. It’s a cloak I wear; one that I imagine protects me from the crippling judgment of my community. In reality, dignity is just another word for conformity; it’s a way for society to determine what is, and what isn’t acceptable behavior. For a man my age (let’s just say early thirties and leave it at that), dignified pursuits include resume building, home-ownership, procreation, and participating in fantasy sports leagues. Unfortunately I do none of these things. In fact, one of my most cherished pursuits would be considered decidedly undignified by society at large. I am a man (in his early thirties as previously stated) who’s addicted to teen dramas.
Most recovering addicts can recall their first high with perfect clarity. I’m no different. I stuck the sharp needle of Beverly Hills 90210 into my veins once a week for over a decade Every hackneyed plotline, every paper-thin character, every sugary-sweet plot resolution entered my bloodstream and made a comfortable home in my brain.
90210 was the gateway drug that led to Party of Five. Party of Five led to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and after Buffy I lost control. Now I watch these shows incessantly. The list is long and august and presented in no particular order: Angel, Felicity, One Tree Hill, Dawson’s Creek, Roswell, Smallville, the new 90210, Gossip Girl, My So-Called Life, Veronica Mars, The OC, and Friday Night Lights. I’ve seen every episode of every season of each of these shows. In some cases I’ve watched entire series several times. I’m not sure a dependency counselor would take me seriously if I ever sought treatment, but this peculiar habit certainly has my attention. So what’s a dignified man (in his early thirties) to do when he loves something so undignified? He embraces that which he loves and cherishes it all the more — and he also searches for meaning where none actually exists.
As I watch these programs, patterns emerge. The same plotlines are used, the same conflicts are explored, and the same characters are employed. I’m not talking about Man vs. Nature or Man vs. Man here, either. It’s almost as if a basic template was applied to each series and only character names and situations changed. The plot devices were almost incidental. To test my theory, I identified a few character archetypes that exist in each of these shows and then applied them an entirely new show of my own creation. They are:
• The All-American Boy: The center of most storylines, The All-American boy is handsome, fit, and actually in his mid-twenties. He ‘s the boy every American guy wants to be and every American girl wants to date. This character is the moral center of his peer group, and that trait often dissolves into self-righteousness. When this character makes the rare mistake, he has someone else’s best interests at heart, he’s defending a woman’s honor, or he commits a small act of rebellion because the pressure of being perfect is just too much to handle. Examples include Matt Saracen from Friday Night Lights, Clark Kent from Smallville, and Brandon Walsh from Beverly Hills 90210.