Q&A with American Teen Director Nanette Burstein
LHJ: We do hear these conflicting views when it comes to teenagers today. One is -- and I suppose this is more true on the East and West coast -- that they're overburdened, constantly under pressure, hell-bent to get into the best schools . . . .
NB: It was very different in the Midwest.
LHJ: And on the other hand, you hear pundits complaining about teenagers getting dumber, feeling less engaged. They're not very political, they're glued to their video games. . . . What do you think accounts for this dichotomy?
NB: Well, when I was in high school, nobody cared about politics either! Actually, the reason I wound up with the pink Mohawk is that I spent a year abroad in Spain my junior year. So I went over to Europe, and the teenagers were just so different over there -- they did care, enormously. I think we expect future generations to mirror what we saw in the Sixties, but the reality is, what does Iraq have to do with most teenagers today? There's no draft, like in the Vietnam era, so the war doesn't affect their lives, for the most part.
LHJ: And yet if Colin hadn't gotten a scholarship he would have been forced to join the military.
NB: He wouldn't have been forced, though -- it would have ultimately been his choice. I mean, back in the Sixties, you had the draft, you had to go. And the reason I think teenagers in other parts of the world are more civically engaged is because they're not as isolated. Here in America we live in this giant, vast country, and even with the economy going downhill, we've got pretty good lives. When you're in high school, you're in this little bubble. You don't even know the world yet, and that's why who's popular and who's not, and who's dating whom, and the rumor mill is so important -- because this is the only world you know. And that's ultimately what the film deals with -- that ultimately these kids' lives are going to change, especially once they get away from where they live and have new experiences.