From suburbia to the moody sea: Space, subjectivity & popular pedagogy with/in popular Australian films about youth

Year: 2012

Author: Gottschall, Kristina

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper considers how discursive, semiotic and affective technologies of space and place are used in popular film to construct, maintain and challenge concepts of youth-hood, and educate film spectators about the youth subject.  The first section of the paper analyses embodiments of suburbia in relation to the gendered, classed and age-based protagonists in the cult Australian films Idiot Box (Caesar, 1996) and Suburban Mayhem (Goldman, 2006). These films ambivalently celebrate and critique suburbia in their portrayals of 'bad' young people. The physical and metaphorical places that are highlighted in the film, including the neighbourhood, the beauty salon, the shopping mall and the street, will be explored to ask how contemporary youthful femininities and masculinities are constructed and known in these simultaneously familiar and uncanny places. The second part of the paper examines three Australian 'coming of age' films about girls growing up in rural/rural coastal locales, including Peaches (Monahan, 2004), Somersault (Shortland, 2004) and Caterpillar Wish (Sciberras, 2006). Very specific imaginings around space and place are repeated in these stories and become key pedagogical practices (re)making the girl as an unstable feminine and emotional subject undergoing a transition. Film spectators are encouraged to know these angst-ridden but 'good' girls through their particular emotive geographies as if synonymous with the girl subject on her way to fully-fledged womanhood as stable, contained, rational and ironically selfless. Taking a post-critical approach to popular pedagogy, this paper explores how a body of films might work as vehicles for teaching and learning about youth and subjectivity. It is argued that technologies of space and place shape what is possible for youth-hood, enabling and constraining the subject and potentially governing the self.