Teenage Angst: why are our childhood media getting angsty reboots?
The recent Netflix reboot Fate: The Winx Saga has garnered mixed reviews.
Based on the Italian-American animated series Winx Club, Fate follows a girl named Bloom who travels to the Alfea School for Fairies after discovering she has supernatural abilities. There, she befriends a group of girls as they navigate both supernatural villains as well as high school drama.
Though the overall concept of Winx Club can be found in Fate, that’s where the similarities end. Instead of the bright colorful clothing and fun distinct personalities (not to mention a diverse cast of Black, Latino and Asian characters), we get angsty teenagers constantly arguing with one another while complaining about not being understood.
Angst, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general," is shown to be a growing theme in recent television series. Over the past few years, producers have been creating reboots of old classic kids media that are more ‘mature’ in order to fit an older, contemporary audience. We see it in Riverdale, with the easy, amiable characters from Archie Comics being replaced with gritty moody counterparts. The biggest problem is no longer about the love triangle between Archie, Betty, and Veronica, but instead an array of plot lines featuring murders, serial killers, and convincing other prisoners of the importance of high school football.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina also follows a similar angsty revision. An adaptation of Archie Comics's Sabrina the Teenage Witch, the story no longer has the fun and breezy tone the comic was known for in the early 1990s, but instead takes a more sinister route featuring demons and darker plots.
Even Avatar: The Last Airbender was announced by Netflix to be getting a live-action television series reboot, only for fans to have upending dread when the original creators of the animation announced they were no longer participating in the project due to differences in creative direction. Needless to say, I won’t be expecting Aang to be cheerfully joking around in the live adaptation.
So what’s with this sudden surge of angst in shows? Why are all our beloved childhood characters becoming edgy versions with anger management issues?
The argument often made by directors is that they want to transform these old kids' media to fit a more mature contemporary audience of young adults, both old and new. Yet despite having the words Winx in the series’s title, Fate demonstrates no attempts of salvaging elements from the original source material. Instead, producers seem to only plaster the words ‘adaptation’ on these new television series as nostalgia clickbait. For newer younger audiences of the show who have never watched the original animation, this is not a problem. Moreover, they seem to embrace this form of edgy angst found in television series.
Angsty? Call it Hypersensitive!
Angst is definitely something that is often associated with teenagers. Any of us who have once been a teenager would have probably gone through a phase of feeling misunderstood by everyone and hating the world in general. Interestingly enough, a study by Neuron suggests that this is due to the hypersensitivity people have when they are teenagers. Since teens’ brains are hardwired for impulsive decision-making in order to improve reinforcement learning, their emotions are often heightened to a point where everything -from failing a test to an argument with a friend- feels like the most important thing in the world. This explains why teenagers in particular often enjoy these darker, dramatized television remakes, as they are able to resonate with the emotional turmoil the on-screen characters constantly have to go through.
Drama, Drama, Drama
Another reason is for the sake of drama. When you amplify the problems characters have to face, the show is immediately able to explore themes and plot lines they wouldn’t have been able to before if they had stuck to only the original source material. Give a character a serial killer for a father, and tension immediately arises.
Overdramatic plot lines are not something new: anyone can a glimpse at the television series that was popular when we were teenagers to understand this. Similarly, do we genuinely believe that Veronica is able to run an underground casino as a teenager? That the guy Bloom has a crush on just happens to be the boyfriend of her suitemate which she can never get along with? No, of course not. But these over-the-top plot lines are what made these shows appealing. It gives us a form of escapism from the real world and allows us to immerse ourselves in worlds that are edgy to a point of being unrealistic.
As more and more remakes of our beloved childhood shows become adapted to dark angsty versions for the sake of appearing more “mature,” I fear that media is sending an indirect message that these elements are necessary in order to be mature and taken seriously. On the contrary, if the media featured elements that are more traditionally feminine - fashion, bright color palettes, gentle passive characters that are portrayed in a positive light - it is immediately seen as less complex and respectable.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying to perish all television reboots that choose to give a dark, angsty twist to the original source material. After all, they were able to gain popularity for a reason. However, it isn’t necessary to strip away the original media's lightheartedness and femininity in order to be more “mature”. In fact, shows can remain lighthearted while still tackling serious themes.
Let’s hope that Aang from Avatar doesn’t suddenly end up cussing and dropping words such as “mansplaining” in order to appear more “woke,” but I’m not holding my breath.