The Historical Coming of Age Genre


American Graffiti is only the most famous representative of a related group of stories that continue to be told periodically in slightly different versions. These tales can best be classified as historical coming of age stories which combine the two American myths of coming of age and the nostalgic past that were discussed in the Introduction. Typically they will follow the lives of a group of young people as they undergo some sort of formative experience, just as any ordinary coming of age tale would. However, the fact that these stories are set in the past from when they are produced adds a deeper dimension to them and raises questions about how these two myths interact and what these interactions may tell us about the underlying culture.

This genre has become especially popular in the post war period and has produced innumerable works in a variety of media which all center around the same theme of coming of age in the past. Some works, such as Johnny Tremain are set long ago, however, most of these stories are set no more than 20 years prior to date when they were first produced. The age group which such movies focus on ranges from the pre-teenagers of films like The Sandlot and My Girl to high school graduates and college students in movies such as Can't Hardley Wait and With Honors with particular attention often paid to high school students. Series television as a form has allowed for groups of young people to be followed over time more effectively than in movies, enabling viewers to relive their childhood experiences vicariously on a regular basis and in greater detail. Indeed, the incredible popularity of historical coming of age shows such as Happy Days and especially The Wonder Years, as well as their very telling titles, underscores how this genre has manifested itself repeatedly and successfully in multiple forms of modern media.

The Historical Coming of Age genre may be considered a genre (and, as a such a body of various retellings of fundamentally the same story) because of the important elements which each text shares with all the others. In addition to the basic structural and thematic similarities which all historical coming of age movies must share in order to be so classified (i.e they must be be set in the past from when they were produced and centered around young people on the verge of some maturation process), there are other elements which these stories tend to share. Nearly all of them follow around a small group of mostly male Americans between the ages of 10 and 20 as they go through the experiences which define them. Certain of these experiences, which are upheld as being very important culturally by their repeated portrayals in these movies, can be classified together as "coming of age events." These events (often called rites of passage into adulthood) include losing one's virginity, graduating from high school, and using alcohol or other drugs for the first time. Often times these adolescents and/or teenagers are also faced with some sort of decision, the outcome of which will have a significant shaping impact on the rest of their lives. Moreover, these decisions are often posited in such a way as to make one alternative more diffuclut but also a manifestation of growing up, while the other is the "easy way out" that enables the decider to remain within their youthful comfort zone. Both American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused follow a similar plot line, tracing one important day in the lives of teenagers and the various coming of age events, processes, and revelations which they undergo over the course of that day. In both movies it is strongly implied that the decisions which the characters make on these key days will impact the rest of their lives. On a grander scale, these decisions (and the 20-20 hindsight which the historical aspect of these films adds), may provide much valuable information about the broader societal problems and decisions which American society has faced and how later generations have viewed these decisions and the outcomes which they resulted in.

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Introduction:
Cultural Stories
The Historical
Coming of Age Genre
Dazed and
Confused
Nostalgia and
Anticipation
Conclusion:
Time and Memory
American Film as
Cultural History
American
Graffiti
Rites of
Passage
History and
Society
Works
Consulted