Starcrossed and Some Thoughts on Teen TV and our Craving for Destiny

I recently binge-viewed CW’s single-season science fiction effort Starcrossed.  These are the sorts of confessions grown people without blogs don’t feel obliged to make, but here we are.

What is–or was–Starcrossed?  If you guessed, Romeo and Juliet with aliens, then yes.  If you were thinking more along the lines of yet another vehicle wherein the CW recycles too-good-looking actors from a handful of other teen drama series, then you’ve also won the bonus round.

(If you saw the show and remember it most as “that time girl-next-door Aimee Teegarden, formerly of Friday Night Lights fame, whittled herself down to cheekbones and an impossible figure to look eerily like Vampire Diaries star Nina Dobrev,” then you and I are kindred souls drawn to the same distractions–though ones I won’t further discuss here.)

The series met its promise of love-torn-teens-from-different-worlds quite admirably if also rather literally, along the way also making good on science fiction’s promise to project our society into a novel situation so that viewers can more easily spot our usual cultural attitudes and contemplate how well they really serve us for adapting to possible futures. The program’s unusual maneuver on this sci-fi element was that it quite explicitly pondered our humanity rather than our relationship to technology.  Since most of the new technology in the series’ universe was supplied by an alien species or imagined as a relatively mild extension of today’s human tech (in the future, iPhones are clear with glowing edges, for example), the questions the series posed of our society tended toward how we react to outsiders and what that reveals about our human nature.  [Insert obvious Trump followers joke here.]  While I’m skipping writing that jab, we probably shouldn’t skip considering how prescient this mostly romantic, teen drama turned out to be at with its “beware of nativists bearing gifts” social critique.

What else I couldn’t help but notice what was the show tapped in me.  At some point, I started to ask myself why–other than my night-owl tendencies–did I keep hitting that “Watch Next Episode” button.  I came up with a cheesy answer that was a little hard to own up to but, again, here we are and, after all isn’t the blog really just a more widespread form of the old MTV Real World confessional?  What I realized was that my weirdly easy addiction to this show, not unlike my multi-season commitment to Wolfblood before it, might be best explained by how good teen television is at tapping into our craving for a destiny.

Teen series tackle problems of coming of age–what to do after high school, why am I not more like my family, and how it feels to first fall in love.  As such they are natural narrative vehicles for spinning reassuring tales that we are all people on a journey, people who don’t simply age but grow.  People who grow into who we should be, into our true selves, into people who will matter in rich and specific ways.

I generally shy from universalizing.  And maybe I just need an excuse for my dalliances with televisual teen angst.  But one more confession is due: I think we long for that promise of destiny to be true.  I think it’s in how we were made.  Part of our souls’ longing for purpose and home, for being known and loved and valued for precisely who we are.

I remain more than dubious that either actual teen romance or TV viewership can supply such deep meaning to our questing, restless hearts.   But I’m convinced they are so appealing because how these programs echo the hopeful rumor of a destiny back to us.

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