Peering through the trees, or, everything I've ever learned about American summer camp came from Friday the 13th Parts 1-4 and The Baby-Sitter's Club Super Special #2 (2020)
EditorsErwin EKeetley D
In the early 1980s, first Mrs Voorhees and then her damaged, homicidal son hacked and slashed their way along the shores of Crystal Lake. Fifteen years later, in New Zealand, my friends and I - all members of the VHS generation and beneficiaries of the Scholastic book club - spent our fourth form science periods at our all girls' school planning how to make our own half-baked slasher film, using an overgrown Scout camp on the edge of the city, one friend's alpine holiday home, and an outsized handycam.
The early Friday the 13th films are many things: guilty pleasures; portfolios of creative kill shots; the intersection of base instincts and opportunistic marketing. However, little attention has been paid to the way that the United States’ low culture, its pop cultural id, comes to contribute to its international voice and cultural dominance, such that one country’s margins are seen in another context as a wholly mainstream representation of cultural hegemony. This hyperreal small-town Americana, which is built for foreign female viewers on the foundations of a steady stream of slasher films, US sitcoms, Stephen King novels, and female-centric YA fiction such as The Babysitters’ Club books, is both utterly familiar and completely alien. American places, foods, and practices come to feel as knowable as local ones, just as characters tell and re-tell the myth of Crystal Lake with the weight of religious litany, before bringing in the American flag for the night. These films also walk a provocative line between innocence and prurience that reflects, more broadly, international understandings of a peculiarly American strain of puritanism, in which teens played by actors in their twenties, horny hairy-chested manchildren and Playboy girls next door, play at being adults before being slaughtered like lambs. Only in America can wholesome kids in matching uniforms engage in a sincere spiritual singalong, abscond to have illicit sex, profess innocence when caught, and then be duly dispatched for the benefit of the appraising, disembodied, international viewer.
In acknowledging the power of popular culture to shape and contest meaning, this critical, reflective essay considers this dynamic. It outlines how the Friday the 13th franchise, which on their most cynical level aimed to exploit the desires, fears, and wallets of a young audience, has profoundly contributed to broader perceptions of American adolescence, environment, and (sexual) rites of passage. These in turn shape non-American understandings of teen culture, contributing to a circuit of meaning-making in which even the most marginal of cultural artefacts can have an outsized effect.
CitationHarrington E (2020). Peering through the trees, or, everything I've ever learned about American summer camp came from Friday the 13th Parts 1-4 and The Baby-Sitter's Club Super Special #2. Horror Homeroom. (1). 163-171.
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ANZSRC Fields of Research47 - Language, communication and culture::4702 - Cultural studies::470214 - Screen and media culture
47 - Language, communication and culture::4702 - Cultural studies::470208 - Culture, representation and identity
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