For decades now, a grim presence has sat heavily on the chest of popular artistic culture. Men and women now in their thirties and forties have, far past our time, insisted that everything should remain the same as when we were kids, and that any deviation from those memories, any new way of carrying out public creativity, is forbidden and to be shunned and scorned with all of the weight of our massed presence. Rarely has that knee-jerk urge to destroy something different been more in evidence than when the first Jem and the Holograms trailer hit. A horde of middle-aged men and women leaped to mass indignation, saying that this new movie had too much Internet culture, not enough of their 80s culture, and berated the film for daring to do something different to make a beloved set of characters actually engage with developing popular expression.
I know, I was one. “Synergy isn’t a holographic woman? Jerrica isn’t in charge of Starlight Records? Blasphemy!” With every inch of my 36-year old person, I was indignant that something I loved would be polluted with things like Instagram and YouTube. And that’s how I went into the movie, grumbling through the first 10 minutes, “Self-absorbed teenagers… bah!” And then something happened… I looked over at my daughters and saw that they got it, that this unbounded online creativity, this urge to be yourself in a public forum, was something they understood and that it was, in fact, a very good thing. When I was a kid, if you were strange (and I was), you remained silent. You didn’t seek support or like-minded travelers. You either hid who you were or took the shame as part of your daily routine. What Jem communicates, more than anything, is the potential for we oddballs to exist in this new public culture and find a place comfortable in our mild wackiness, and that is precisely something I want my daughters to know, and a message that popular entertainment, dominated by my generation for far too long, has often haughtily denied them.
Plus, it’s a fun damn movie. The homages to the original cartoon are plentiful and charming. Heck, the last line of the movie is, “Our songs are better. We’re gonna get her.” The hologram is updated and made so much more meaningful than anything in the original cartoon. The musical numbers are big and fun. Young Blood is at least as good as any Summer pop hit, and The Way I Was is a strong ballad that I downloaded more or less the instant that I got home, and is several degrees better than what you’ll find on the Top 40 charts. The Misfits scene is exactly what you’d want. The messages for LGBT youth are beautiful and appropriate and inspiring.
But, it seems, in our generational thirst for blood, we’ve taken something quite lovely and smashed it upon the evidence of a minute and a half that we didn’t personally identify with. We muddied the waters with all of our outrage, and choked the ability of this film to say what it has to say to a new generation who really needs to hear it. And that’s a terrific shame. So, if you have daughters or sons, and you want them to engage positively in online creativity, and assert their identity strongly, grab them today and head out to Jem. You’ll enjoy the glamour and glitter, fashion and fame, and they’ll enjoy seeing their world on the big screen.