Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

Generation multiplex: The image of youth in American cinema, 1981-1996

Timothy Matthew Shary, University of Massachusetts Amherst


An examination of the representation of young characters (aged 12 to 20) in fictional feature films made in the United States between 1981 and 1996. The author argues that youth films constitute a legitimate genre of cinema study, and that five subgenres of the youth genre have been prominent during the 1980s and 1990s: school, delinquency, horror, science, and love/sex films. These subgenres, through their various codes and motifs, engender particular images of youth over time and under certain circumstances, yielding a complex structure of teenage identities and styles. The character types within each subgenre are analyzed, as are the release patterns of the films and their connections to contemporary cinematic and cultural trends, such as: the proliferation of multiplex theaters in shopping malls, the introduction of the PG-13 movie rating, the increasing production of straight-to-video films, and the political-economic emergence of Generation X. A further argument is that genre study cannot properly be conducted without a widely inclusive frame of textual examples, and or addressed. Each film is studied within its relevant subgeneric category, and its narrative depiction of young characters is detailed. By placing these films in their social and historical contexts, and foregrounding the film industry's attempts to appeal to young audiences with these films, the dissertation concludes that most youth films present a complicated image of young people: conflicted yet stoical, hedonistic yet sensitive, naive yet insightful.

Subject Area

Motion Pictures|Mass media|American studies

Recommended Citation

Shary, Timothy Matthew, "Generation multiplex: The image of youth in American cinema, 1981-1996" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9841922.