Praise for Undercurrents.....
Bret Stephenson follows up his landmark book: From Boys to Men: Spiritual Rites of Passage in an Indulgent Age with another gem. In his new book he brings a unique look at adolescence through the lens of cinema and the eyes of the teenager’s portrayed in these classic films. Combining a rare mixture of extensive direct service with adolescents and scholarship leads to Stephenson’s sensitive insights on the influence of culture and social forces on adolescent development across almost 100 years.
With golden strands from classic cinema Bret weaves a fascinating story of adolescent development that offers parents and professionals alike a unique view of the vulnerability of adolescents susceptible to the changing winds of cultural and social forces. Although not a sociological treaties on adolescence it could provide a unique addition to a college syllabus on adolescent development that would make any college student sit up, pay attention and participate enthusiastically.
While reading The Undercurrents of Adolescents I found myself thinking back to 1976 when the mini-series ROOTS first came out. I was working at a government facility for adjudicated juvenile delinquents. Each night 35 boys and staff watched the series together. Following each episode spirited and emotional conversations broke-out as did fights over the opinions strongly held on racism and slavery. The shows stimulated real intense conversations that reached a depth of emotion not seen in any other situation, especially those hoped for in therapeutic groups.
In this light I think that The Undercurrents of Adolescents can be an invaluable ally to parents and non-professionals. One of the most challenging parts of parenting adolescents or engaging in some form of “service” designed to promote a meaningful “therapeutic” relationship is getting teenagers to talk. Real talk, where feelings are shared from one’s heart. Shrugging shoulders or monosyllabic responses are sometimes the norm. I couldn’t help but think what might be possible if parents watched one of these classic films with their kids and used the book as a guide for conversations.
Finally, while Bret makes a case for how movies reflected the times in which they were written I couldn’t help but think that the movies themselves influenced the children and teens in the times they were shown. This is reflected at the end of Dead End Kids when Bret writes: “Ironically, after Dead End, Goldwyn fired the young actors playing the Dead End Kids due to extreme antics and destruction they brought to the set. It seems they took their roles a bit too seriously.”
This is again played out at the end of Angels With Dirty Faces when Father Jerry asks Rocky (James Cagney – playing a notorious criminal set to die in the electric chair) to “die yellow,” for all the other kids not to look up to him and his criminal ways. Father Jerry is the neighborhood priest who continually tries, in vain to steer the “high risk” boys in his parish’s neighborhood onto a path of virtue ministers to Rocky, offering last rites before he’s taken on the long walk to “the chair.”
Father Jerry says to a reluctant Rocky: “You see, you’ve been a hero to these kids and hundreds of others, all throughout your life. Now you’re going to be a glorified hero in death and I want to prevent that Rocky. They’ve gotta despise your memory. They’ve gotta be ashamed of ya.”
These films are not only a reflection of the times, but also influence the future, especially for teens who are seeking guides and model for their behavior. And, these models must be perceived as desirable in ways that convey stature to those who emulate their attitudes, swagger and behavior, delinquent and defiant.
David G. Blumenkrantz, Ph.D., Ed.M.
Co-Founder The Rite Of Passage Experience© ROPE®
At The Center for Youth, Family & Community