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David Denby explains the typical high school movies in detail in his article called “High-School Confidential: Notes in Teen Movies”. According to Denby, there are three character archetypes in high school movies; the popular girl, the jock, and the outsider. For some reason these movies usually take place around the time of prom, where miss popular expects to be crowned for her? popularity. Denby described the first character type, the popular girl, as usually a tall slender blonde cheerleader that has two or three friends identical to her.
Together these girls ruled the school, not necessarily because everyone liked them, but because everyone was afraid of them. Of course, this girl expects to be to be voted most popular by her class at prom. Of course, the popular girl has a boyfriend, who fits in the jock archetype. He is head of the football team, a big time prankster, quiet in class, but king of the halls and cafeteria. Sometimes, as one of his pranks or bets, he may ask an outsider to the prom for humiliation purposes.
The outsider the jock asks to prom is the third character Denby explains in this sentence; “The kids who cannot be the beautiful ones, or make out with them, or avoid being insulted by them-these are the heroes of the teen movies, the third in the trio of character types”. She is the girl with intellectual or artistic ability, always dropping her books, wearing outdated clothes, silent or stuttering in front of good-looking boys, and cannot hide her desire to be accepted. Now if the outsider was a male, the jock obviously wouldn’t be asking him out to prom, so the storyline would have to be a bit different.
Now, not every high-school movie has these two characters, but they are common and well-known in such movies. Also, not every jock in a movie is as arrogant as described; they can be played as sweet and innocent, but these characters are not nearly as familiar as the ones Denby describes. Now think about the writers and directors of these movies. Do you think they are interested in the “because it sells” factor, or do you think their high school status is involved? Denby talks about how Hollywood writers and producers more than likely fell in the outsider’s category.
Maybe this is why often the stories twist in high-school movies. The outsiders become the heroes, join the system, and better it. The system appears to be more like the real world, where appearance doesn’t beat achievement. Movies like She’s all that, and Never Been Kissed fit Denby’s American high-school movie character archetypes perfectly. On the other hand, movies that contradict Denby’s archetypes include Clueless, Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, and Election. In Clueless, the rich blonde is actually a good person with good qualities.
Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion might even be criticizing the teen-movie genre altogether. In Election, a middle-class overachieving girl works all the time to be on top, but still feels excluded, which breaks every cliche in the book. Denby analyzed three specific archetype characters for high-school movies, but also found that there are some that break the mold. The commonly known archetypes writers and producers often use are the popular girl, the jock, and the outsider. They themselves probably find interest making high-school movies because they were also stuc.