Michele MeekJul 17, 2023
Consent Culture and Teen Films
Adolescent Sexuality in US Movies
Indiana University Press 2023
Teen films of the 1980s were notorious for treating consent as irrelevant, with scenes of boys spying in girls' locker rooms and tricking girls into sex. While contemporary movies now routinely prioritize consent, ensure date rape is no longer a joke, and celebrate girls' desires, sexual consent remains a problematic and often elusive ideal in teen films.
In Consent Culture and Teen Films: Adolescent Sexuality in US Movies (Indiana UP, 2023), Michele Meek traces the history of adolescent sexuality in US cinema and examines how several films from the 2000s, including Blockers, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, The Kissing Booth, and Alex Strangelove, take consent into account. Yet, at the same time, Meek reveals that teen films expose how affirmative consent ("yes means yes") fails to protect youth from unwanted and unpleasant sexual encounters. By highlighting ambiguous sexual interactions in teen films—such as girls' failure to obtain consent from boys, queer teens subjected to conversion therapy camps, and youth manipulated into sexual relationships with adults—Meek unravels some of consent's intricacies rather than relying on oversimplification.
By exposing affirmative consent in teen films as gendered, heteronormative, and cis-centered, Consent Culture and Teen Films suggests we must continue building a more inclusive consent framework that normalizes youth sexual desire and agency with all its complexities and ambivalences.
Peter C. Kunze is a visiting assistant professor of communication at Tulane University.