‘The Society’ is Hilariously Condescending
A new show just launched on Netflix and it had an interesting premise, giving modern teenagers the ‘Lord of the Flies’ treatment. When a group of teens return early from a trip they find their town deserted and inescapable. There’s a lot that can be done with this concept, examining modern world view and emerging belief systems amid a sci-fi/supernatural/whatever mystery.
Or it could be a hilariously inept depiction of what a 60 year old thinks is an accurate depiction of teenagers based on news stories. Actually, that’s not fair…the show’s creator is only 59.
Now we’re not going to spend much time pointing out some of the silly elements, such as the teenage cast very obviously being in their mid-20s and the school play calibre of the shouty performances. Instead we’re going to watch the first episode and giggle at what a media conglomerate thinks is meaningfully and relatable teenage dialogue and behaviour.
The way I’d been describing it so far you’d think it would feature a cringe-worthy reference to Fortnite dances, but that’s assuming this was written this decade. No, instead it looks like it was written 10 or 15 years ago and left on a shelf until now. Nothing highlights this more than, when all the teens return to the town square after finding the town deserted. One smart-mouthed jock enters the scene with the witty quip “who organised the flash-mob?!” Are…are flash-mobs still a thing?
To be fair, not all the dialogue is weirdly dated. Some of it is just confusing. Shortly after the clever cultural reference to flash-mobs one person suddenly wells out “THE FUCKING CHURCH IS OPEN!” It’s not clear why this is such an important announcement, as all their houses and whatnot are also open…it’s just adding importance to the location so we know what an important meeting place this is going to be moving forward. Because, you know, symbolism and stuff. The dialogue continues to be confounding when a couple is making out and the girl decides she wants to stop. Frustrated the dude blurts out “what, is this a ballerina thing?”
What on Earth does that mean? I cannot fathom what a ‘ballerina thing’ is supposed to be and how it applies to this situation. I had to skip back to ensure that I heard it correctly. Then I looked in up on Urban Dictionary to no avail. It’s just…weird. And stupid.
Anyway, let’s get back to the amazing symbolism of the teens throwing a rager in the church. You see, you might not be aware of this being disrespectful or that it makes a comment on modern teens being selfish, so they’re playing Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’ during the party. This makes sense, as most teen parties in 2019 play tunes from 1989. I’m sure if they hadn’t ended the scene we’d have heard ‘Love Shack’ and ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ cued up next on the playlist.
I am enjoying the heavy handed symbolism in this show because it always makes me laugh. It’s almost like they don’t have much respect for their teenage target audience and have to spell it out for them. At the beginning of the show they find an ominous Bible verse about being judged painted on the wall. This might not be clear enough for you, so the characters have an entire dialogue about it being ‘the literal writing on the wall’. And as a reminder later in the episode they note that ‘the writing on the wall is gone’.
Things get taken up a notch later when they ponder the origin of this message and suggest that it could be a message from God. To this one responds is all seriousness, “that’s exactly what God would do…he’s a tagger.” The flat performance makes it hard to tell if this is supposed to be a joke or a serious statement about the nature of God, but either way it’s ridiculous.
Amid the silly montages of teens texting each other, the guy with a topknot and the muddled editing that seems to both condemning and celebrating party culture the whole thing feels incredibly condescending. The base assumption seems to be that all teenagers are shitheads, as this is the only characteristic that drives the narrative or conflict forward. The next best thing they could come up with is a dumb fake-out where they keep flipping a coin but it keeps coming up the same side…and then it doesn’t.
So we’re not going to continue the show because it made a terrible first impression. It’s a clumsy and awkward show made for the youth of today by the youth of the 1970s. Now let’s finish with the exchange that made me laugh the loudest, as it tries to set up the power struggle to come.
“You’re not student council president anymore! I’m just going to send a text, let everyone know how fucked we are”
*sounds of text being sent*
(In despair) “Malcolm…”