In the eyes of many, there is a large contrast between the elite and suburban sub-genre of movies. However, there are also many similarities between the two the categories. Robert C. Bulman, author of the book “Hollywood Goes to High School”, discussed these aspects. Through conflict with individualism, conformity, and meritocracy, Bulman illustrates how not only are these two sub genres are incredibly different, but how even through their differences are very similar.
Individualism is the strongest similarity between the two genres. Although within individualism, there are different types. In both elite and suburban school genres, students/adolescents strive to be who they are through the repression they face from the others around them. In suburban movies, the main theme is “expressive individualism”. “…expressive individualism refers to that strain of American individualism that values not material achievements, but the discovery of one’s unique identity and the freedom of individual self-expression” (pp 20, Bulman). An example of this would be the character Cameron from the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. As Cameron repressed his wishes and wanted to please his parents, the audience interprets Cameron to be unhappy. However, by the end of the movie, Cameron finally stood up to the pressure of his parents and finally became happy. Teenagers in suburban lifestyles put the importance of self-discovery as a priority.
In elite school films however, the importance of “expressive individualism” is just as important as “utilitarian individualism” (“…celebrates hard work, materialism, and individual self-sufficiency”) (pp 19, Habits of the Heart). An example would be the movie School Ties. After an elite high school accepting his appilication, David Greene, who is of Jewish faith, cannot be who he truly is because of the anti-Semitism that surrounded him at the school. Yet, the elite society accepts him because of his outstanding athletic skills. As a character compromised academic honesty in the school, Greene’s true character shined through, including the fact that he is Jewish. As a result, the ones around accept Greene because of his strong character. Individualism is important for both genres, but the types of individualism have a higher priority in each genre.
Another theme that both genres share is the subject of conformity. In high schools, everywhere, whether rich, poor, or in the middle, students deal with the issue of conformity. Like individualism, conformity touches both genres in different ways. For example, comparing two different characters from the two sub genres: Neil from Dead Poet’s Society and Blane from Pretty in Pink. Both characters deal with the societal pressures around them in different ways. As Neil is pressured to conform to the person his father says he should be, Blane dealt with pressure to not “rock the boat” by dating someone of lower financial class. Neil had stronger pressure put upon him because of the values that the elite lifestyle puts upon him, unlike Blane who was pressured by the students around him, who have no real power over him. Both characters rebelled against the pressure put upon them.
Although the fate of the two characters are entirely different, Bulman talked about how the students who break the conformity within their society are considered heroes. He even went on to state several ways that they prove that students who defy conformity are heroes. These two characters are heroes because “they criticize and escape the culture of popularity at their high school” and “they stand up to parents and teachers and prevail as independent youth” (pp 100, Bulman). Both of these different social class characters are heroes in different situations of conformity.
A final point for the two different sub genres is meritocracy. Many examples can prove why meritocracy shares both differences and commonalities in the elite and suburban sub genres. In general, there is a negative interpretation of the elite school films. The students are usually portrayed as undeserving and careless students who are of no merit. In contrast to this, Bulman writes of how suburban school students are more valued in character qualities such as well roundedness, integrity, and merit. “These middle-class values defeat the culture of privilege that corrupts the upper class” (pp 130, Bulman). Although both of these genres have different reputations for their characters, they do express the same appreciation for these qualities. In “School Ties” David Greene becomes the successful character compared to his elite born friend Charlie Dillon, who has failed. Yes, David is from a middle class background and does obtain the qualities stated above, but there is something else shown. At the end of the movie, Charlie is envious of David’s success. This jealously shows that even the elite are aware of the positive affect of these qualities. This proves that both suburban class and elite members believe that meritocracy is a “sacred” quality to have.
On the surface, some may think that the elite sub-genre and the suburban sub-genre are from two different worlds. Each has their own style, their own values, and their own goals. However, under the surface these two diverse genres have a lot in common. Each one wants to be who they are, are determined to rebel against conformity, and admire the qualities of a well deserving person. Through their differences and their similarities, the elite film genre and the middle class film genre depict how they are both successful within the film industry.
Bulman, Robert C. “Chapter 2: Middle Class Individualism and the Adolescent Frontier.” Hollywood Goes to High School: Cinema, Schools, and American Culture. New York: Worth Pub., 2005. 20. Print.
Bulman, Robert C. “Chapter 4: Expressing One’s Self in a Culture of Conformity.” Hollywood Goes to High School: Cinema, Schools, and American Culture. New York: Worth Pub., 2005. 100. Print.
Bulman, Robert C. “Chapter 5: Challenging the Culture of Privelage.” Hollywood Goes to High School: Cinema, Schools, and American Culture. New York: Worth Pub., 2005. 130. Print.
Bellah, Robert N. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Berkeley: U of California, 1985. 20. Print.