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Old 10-29-2004, 01:16 AM
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YA and existentialism

I'm not saying any of the characters are existentialists but there are shades of this philosophy that show up a lot. The first is in Will's first essay for Finn.

Here's an excerpt: Everyone encounters obstacles. The trick is to discover the opportunities within them. I've learned that every day we create who we are by what we do and what we think and how we act.

This sounds a lot like Sarte's belief that we are always free to change our situations no matter how bad because we humans can imagine something different. It also sounds like Kierkegaard's belief that the authentic self is the personally chosen self. We make who we are period.

Interestingly enough, Will also says life is predetermined in "Free Will" during the discussion about destiny. Existentialism says that we have choices (and the responsibility that comes with it) no matter what. We always have the power to control destiny.
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Old 10-29-2004, 01:47 AM
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Certainly free will comes into play a lot in YA, the choices you make are what makes you, etc. But I do wonder how much it is the WB's lite-pseudo-teenage babble and how much it is genuine philosophy.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying it's not stuff worth examining, by any means. And I only have quite a shallow understanding of existentialism (gotta love first year philosophy! It's like an entree platter), but it seems to me that the 'existential' ponderings in YA are all stuff on the surface. The existentialists' journey must first begin with themselves (despair, ennui, etc), which is a major component of their thinking, yet the show never really explores that in its despondent detail, to do with the soul rather than material circumstances. Of course you can argue that on some level it did; but that would be the viewer's own interpretation, not what the show brings out.

Will learns to understand the choices he make are the ones that will shape his future; that is all well and good. But I have serious doubts as to how much that actually points to existentialism than, say, the WB being the WB. Sentimental, yet uplifting, and we all feel that we've learned something in the end. It's like Will's voiceovers in each episode: you can interpret it as shallowly or as deeply as you'd like; some people think it's wanky bulls**t, some may derive strength and courage from it. It's all in your attitude.

Just my two pence.
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Old 10-29-2004, 03:38 AM
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Good response. I'm having fun with an essay right now about my choices and existentialism. It's originally an English essay but I'm doing the first draft for college applications. Then I'll change it for English.

I thought Will's essay was him keeping it real but now I think he was contradicting himself when he said life is predetermined. I wouldn't trade my English class for Rawley's. Finn is a good teacher but I think my class discussion circles are better. But maybe if the show went on, it would have went more in depth about the soul, choices, etc. There's a lot of potential.
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Old 10-29-2004, 08:12 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by celera
I thought Will's essay was him keeping it real but now I think he was contradicting himself when he said life is predetermined.
When did he say that? I would check, but I don't have all the episodes on hand. Certainly if he'd said that he's completely contradicting himself.

I always wonder about the essay you have to write for US college applications. Are you allowed to just write whatever? That is both interesting and intimidating. And it must be very difficult to keep the pretentiousness down so you don't come across a total wanker, talking about life philosophy and stuff like that. I know I couldn't have done it when I was 18.

I seriously doubt the show would have probed deeper into existential mentality if it had gone on. At its heart, it's a WB drama for teens. I just can't see it actually dealing with existential angst on the level it was meant to be at, which is complete despair from the bottom of your heart. It's a sense of complete freefall. And I just don't think WB teen shows can be cut out for that. The only possibility, for me, is if someone dies and the others have to rethink their choices in light of that; even then I think it might not be sufficient because existential angst is very much an internal thing, it's not about communication at all. But TV shows traditionally are not cut out for internal ponderings such as these. There's a limit to what you can show, especially considering YA's target audience.

So I guess what I'm still trying to say is that it's an interesting idea, but it probably doesn't work in light of what existentialism is trying to say (on a non-superficial level), and what YA is supposed to be.
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Last edited by Silversun; 10-29-2004 at 08:19 PM
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Old 10-30-2004, 10:31 AM
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WoW! YA and existentialism -- I never actually connected the two words before. I just watched the show because of the cute guys and Katherine M., I guess I have to attribute that to me being 15 at that time.

Quote:
Originally posted by celera
I thought Will's essay was him keeping it real but now I think he was contradicting himself when he said life is predetermined.
I think it was in "Free Will" when he said that life is predetermined but he doesn't actually believe it himself -- he was just answering the question of Finn on what is the book about -- can't remember the exact details.

Quote:
Originally posted by Silversun
I seriously doubt the show would have probed deeper into existential mentality if it had gone on. At its heart, it's a WB drama for teens. I just can't see it actually dealing with existential angst on the level it was meant to be at, which is complete despair from the bottom of your heart. It's a sense of complete freefall. And I just don't think WB teen shows can be cut out for that. The only possibility, for me, is if someone dies and the others have to rethink their choices in light of that; even then I think it might not be sufficient because existential angst is very much an internal thing, it's not about communication at all. But TV shows traditionally are not cut out for internal ponderings such as these. There's a limit to what you can show, especially considering YA's target audience.
I completely agree...
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Old 10-30-2004, 02:02 PM
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It's very true that that's a limit to how much philosophical pondering you can do in any show or movie. The fine line is harder to walk with teen shows. Some movies getted bogged down by too much pondering and too little action. On YA's imdb.com comments, one person said YA's philosophical discussions may have been too much for teens. Even though I thought the philosophy was interesting back then, I appreciate it more 4 laters later when I have those types of discussions in high school.

As for US college applications, it depends on what topic the college gives you to write. All want a personal statement so they can find out more about you than test scores and transcripts can say.

Last edited by celera; 10-30-2004 at 05:09 PM
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Old 01-26-2010, 07:52 PM
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Existential despair: the case of Jake Pratt

Insightful thread!

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Originally Posted by Silversun (View Post)
At its heart, [Young Americans is] a drama for teens. I just can't see it actually dealing with existential angst on the level it was meant to be at, which is complete despair from the bottom of your heart. It's a sense of complete freefall. And I just don't think WB teen shows can be cut out for that. ... Existential angst is very much an internal thing, it's not about communication at all. But TV shows traditionally are not cut out for internal ponderings such as these. There's a limit to what you can show, especially considering YA's target audience.
Among YA's protagonists, most of whom seem strong characters, only Jake Pratt seems anywhere near existential despair or angst. Indeed, where Shakespeare could offer a soliloqy about whether to be or not, a teen-market commercial television show must rely in large part on inherently ambiguous wordless images, like: "Cut to Jake, lying on her bed, crying in the dark." Nevertheless, Antin seems well able to convey that Jake suffers from the "sickness unto death" described by Kierkegaard in 1849, namely "despair at not willing to be oneself or ... at willing to be oneself."

To be sure, Antin does this in part by means of Finn's and Krudsky's commentary on Matthew Arnold's "Self-Dependence" at the close of episode 4: "'He who finds himself loses his misery' ... Be yourself." But the recurring theme of Krudsky's voiceovers is that moral truth can be learned only by undertaking the hard task of trying to live it; what's moving and memorable is how the "Be yourself" moral is expressed dramatically in the Jake-Hamilton interaction. Isn't Jake Pratt an archetypical "damsel in distress," although menaced not with physical death by some monster but with emotional death by inner demons of existential despair? Isn't her desperate emotional neediness a large part of what makes her sexuality so compelling both to viewers and to Hamilton, seducing him to respond to it despite successive daunting obstacles?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silversun (View Post)
But I do wonder how much it is the WB's lite-pseudo-teenage babble and how much it is genuine philosophy. ... It's like Will's voiceovers in each episode: you can interpret it as shallowly or as deeply as you'd like ... It's all in your attitude.
Finn's summation of Hobbes's moral philosophy, and Krudsky's interpretations of Browning's "Love Among the Ruins" and Arnold's "Self-Dependence," are objectively questionable: but they draw from these works what the characters in YA need for their lives at the moment. Art is life's servant, not its master. One takes what one needs, leaves the rest ... and returns when one needs more.

Last edited by Finnegan; 01-27-2010 at 01:42 AM
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