We Don't Need No Education: Adolescence and the School in Contemporary Australian Teen TV
British Film Institute
Television remains the number one leisure pursuit of Australian teenagers, yet teenagers occupy a number of complicated, sometimes contradictory, spaces on contemporary Australian television. Non-fictional teen representations range from the routinely apocalyptic (such as the ‘street kids’ and ‘drug addicts’ of news media), to the conventionally 'beautiful' (on reality programmes such as "Search for a Supermodel" and "Popstars"). Alongside these images are a variety of fictional teen images dominated by soap operas such as "Home and Away" and "Neighbours", which have successfully targeted teen and young adult demographics for a number of years. Since the mid-1990s, there has also been a (relatively unsuccessful) shift in Australia towards 'quality teen television drama' — programmes fundamentally for and about youth. In this chapter we focus on "Heartbreak High", arguably the most significant Australian 'quality teen television drama' of the 1990s. We explore how the programme’s diegesis negotiates and maps identities for contemporary Australian teenagers. More specifically, we examine constructions of teenage identities in contemporary Australian ‘quality teen television drama’ (hereafter referred to as ‘teen TV’) via representations of ‘the school’ and ‘post-school’ options within the programme. We investigate how "Heartbreak High" has responded to (whether by conforming to, or exceeding) the available cultural spaces for narrating adolescent experiences, but also to the broader social relationship between adolescents and schools. How does this programme represent the accord and tension between teens and schools? Do these representations offer diverse or uniform outcomes for their teen characters in relation to educational and post-school options, and what are the implications for Australian teen identities more broadly? We overview "Heartbreak High" and its reception, but also make comparative references to other Australian programmes that feature teens prominently.
Douglas, Kate and McWilliam, Kelly 2004. We Don't Need No Education: Adolescence and the School in Contemporary Australian Teen TV. In Glyn Davis and Kay Dickinson (eds.) "Teen TV: Genre, Consumption and Identity". British Film Institute: London.