The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a book by Stephen Chbosky which a lot of my generation read during their formative years. The book is sad, amazing and almost inspiring.
Since people don’t read books anymore (we have HBOGo now), it’s been made into a movie that debuts this week.
I read Perks in middle school. I’m not sure why or who gave it to me or recommended it but it had a sort of cool green/yellow cover and spoke to me in ways S.E. Hinton just wasn’t at the time.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower tells the story of Charlie, a freshman in high school, who becomes close with older, cooler and gayer upperclassmen. Charlie becomes a sort of pre-hipster, assimilating to his new environment while also slowly emotionally unraveling for a multitude of good and bad reasons.
When I was thinking about whether or not to see the film, I remembered a point I had made to a friend a few years back:
Not since Catcher in the Rye has a book been such an enabler for teenage angst and depression. But Chbosky, I think goes even further. The Perks of Being a Wallflower doesn’t just depict the wreckage of a teenage psyche but celebrates it. Charlie’s emotional complexities become an identity for the character, rather than a description.
This is all fine and good in a literary sense, the character, though embarrassing is someone you root for even when he’s not rooting for himself. What I find disturbing is the way in which the book and its characters have been used as a launching off point for high school outcastism. Essentially glorifying teen angst, Chbosky to his credit, makes the sad, loser kid who can’t make friends his own age into this awkward yet attractive hero.
On my MySpace profile, I had The Perks of Being a Wallflower listed as one of my favorite books because I noticed that the post-emo girls who I thought were cute usually also had the book listed as their favorites. The book seemed to create this literary emo circle, which to it’s credit was very marketable at the time.
What I would realize years later, long after I put down the Conor Oberst records and stopped pretending that Donnie Darko is a good movie, is that glorifying this melancholic outlook is about the most counter-productive thing a teenager can do.
Which isn’t to say I didn’t totally buy into Charlie. In fact, I saw a lot of myself in him. Part of the story is dependent on Charlie’s birthday being close to Christmas just like mine, and I especially enjoyed his comments regarding the separate presents dispute (separate, thx).
Charlie’s inability to help himself and the way he quickly morphed into a sad older pre-hipster seemed so over-wrought and exaggerated to the point where I found myself angry.
There were people, classmates not unlike myself who were vindicated by the book who read it as an enabler for some dreary-yet-cool construction of self. It’s easy to see no now that romanticized depression is an oxymoron, but try telling that to Romeo and Juliet or the girls I knew on MySpace.
So part of what pisses me off about the movie is this same idea, but now Emma Watson is part of the picture so its that much more persuasive to people similar to 14-year-old me. I don’t have my finger on the pulse of 9th grade trends so I can’t say if there’s a similar point of reference (maybe sad Robert Pattinson memes), but I would suggest emotionally impressionable, fickle 14-year-olds save the $13.95 ticket and subsequent years preparing free-form poetry by staying away from this movie.
Also, we are not infinite. YOLO.