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A Discussion Of Beverly Hills, 90210

Zeisloft, M. (1997). “A discussion of Beverly Hills, 90210.” S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies.

Summary

In 1990, the FOX Network piloted “Beverly Hills, 90210,” a show about high school students who moved from Minnesota to Beverly Hills. Produced by Aaron Spelling (producer of “Dynasty”) and written by Darren Star, the show initially focused on how the teens adjusted to the new, wealthy environment. The show, targeted for teenagers, was slotted opposite the popular “Cheers” sitcom on Thursday nights. In that timeslot, the ratings were bleak. To boost ratings, in 1991 the show began to address everyday teen problems and air public service announcements to encourage young viewers to seek help and guidance in their own lives. A 1992 article in Rolling Stone listed some of the show’s issues: “AIDS, date rape, condoms, cancer, teen pregnancy, even the Holocaust.” This approach, coupled with a string of new summer episodes, ignited “90210” to the top of the Nielsen ratings. The major portion of the audience consisted of teenage and preteen girls; youth across the country were enthralled with these handsome actors and beautiful actresses. As the show drew a faithful, sizable audience; it secured a important role in the lives of many teens. Unfortunately, the show also glorified some problems and addressed them in morally questionable ways. Considering that most of the characters were very attractive, leading sexy, racy lifestyles, “90210” became a controversial model for teenage life.

“Beverly Hills, 90210″ greatly influences some teenagers. In an August 24-30, 1991 TV Guide article, Shannon Doherty (one of the show’s original stars) expressed her concern about the thousands of teenagers who wrote her, telling her that she was their role model. The concern stemmed from an episode in which her character, Brenda, had sex for the first time with Luke Perry’s character; her loss of virginity was glamorized by the show. Yet personally, Doherty believes age sixteen is too young to have sex. The questionable morals and attitudes portrayed in this show are also evident in its actors such as Luke Perry. He was quoted in a Rolling Stone article about sex and high school: ” ‘They are still having sex…We are just not talking about it, because in high school once you start, there is no going back. There is just not.’ ” Luke Perry’s view of sex is not saintly, yet he is admired by millions of teenagers at an age when their views about sex are just forming.

For many teens, this is not a problem: they watch the show and know it is fantasy. Still, it may affect them. The sexy nature of the show lasts in teenagers’ minds. A recent survey of 8th and 9th grade church-attending girls shows that although they did not watch the show regularly or even claim to like it, what 70% of them remembered most vividly were scenes about sex. In the same survey, most girls said that they did not learn anything from the show, but in conversations with these survey participants, it became evident that the show is influential. The flawless looks, talk, and dress of the actors and actresses made some of the girls feel insecure and upset that they could not reach the “90210” level of perfection.

Ask yourself or others these questions to determine if there is a need to address “90210” in your youth group.

  • How many of your youth watch the show?
  • How many of their friends watch it?
  • Do they see it as reality or fantasy?
  • Are there problems in the group about
    • Self-esteem?
    • How guys view girls (or how girls view guys)?
    • How they view sex?
  • Is there a need for kids to be taught about how to discern what they watch or to help their friends discern what they watch?

Implications

  • Using “90210” to discuss issues of sex and perfection may be useful for teaching kids how to watch TV and also for introducing them to more important views on these issues.
  • The show, in more recent episodes, has graduated the high school students into college life. It has lost some of its popularity, but it is still watched by millions of teens and is still filled with sexual images and prettier-than-real-life stars. Teens need to learn to discern what they are watching, and youth workers can help train them to do so.

Marc Zeisloft
© 2019 CYS

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