I’m writing a young adult novel at present and have been devouring YA literature to gain some perspective about this age group. I think part of my mentality is permanently caught in my high school experience, which is why I thought I could undertake such a project. However, when my 10th reunion rolled around, I realized how disconnected I really am from the life teens today lead.
So, when I saw that WE TV was debuting High School Confidential, a documentary-style reality program that follows the lives of a handful of girls throughout their four years in high school (2002-2006), I thought the show would be a good source for research. To a certain extent, it was.
What initially drew me to this program was its novelty. Camera crews followed these girls for four years, spoke with parents and friends, to give a rounded view of what these teens face day-to-day. Take Cate’s story (seventh episode). She’s living in the ultimate blended family, with a twin she couldn’t be more different from and two stepsisters who are more friends than anything else. Just as she is starting to adjust to her father’s remarriage only a few months after the death of her mother, Cate is in the center of a rapidly deteriorating home life that eventually leads to divorce. To cope, she turns to cutting herself and anorexia. The series follows the whole story from beginning to end, how she got through it, what she learned and how it changed her.
But like most reality shows, the editing process shapes experience into stories. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I thought that setting up each girl’s story to fall into one category or another detracted from the overall mission of the series.
For example, Lauren G. was the first girl to be profiled. She was young, beautiful, and popular. Then she found out she had a brain tumor and it seemed that that defined her whole story. The same with Sara N., who is Persian and expected to marry a man of her own ethnicity, but instead marries (at 18, no less) her high school boyfriend who is Italian. The backstory shows how her perspective on this topic changes from freshman to senior years, but not much else.