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College Students Deserve Better Media for Themselves

"Julia Roberts?! Julia Rob ... hurts :( "

Mason, in the movie Boyhood, meets a new girl while hiking during orientation week, and the movie ends.

This is the Lunar Year of the Water Rabbit, meaning that this will supposedly be a year of great change and fluidity—ideally for the better, but eh, you never know. As we head into the beginning of this new year, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, and with that reflection has come many a rewatch of old shows and movies I used to love when I was younger.

And guys, I’ve gotta tell ya … a lot of these old faves have only gotten better—mostly because I’m finally the age where I can really “relate” to them and understand them. Shows like Broad City and Shrill, for instance, were subjects of fascination for my younger self, as I saw them being advertised everywhere. And while I did like them, I didn’t really get them quite as much as I could have, because … well, why would I? I was a kid going to UC Santa Cruz. My life consisted of sneaking out of class early and getting high in the forest every night. I didn’t know shit about anything.

This got me wondering: Just how much media is out there that isn’t just about college-age kids, but accurately represents that particular age group? I’m phrasing it as “college-age” because not everyone is able to go to school strictly during that 18–22-year-old timeframe, yet the growing pains are still largely similar. It’s such a weird time to be alive, because you’re still kind of a teenager, but you’re growing out of it, and all at once there’s all these pressures on you. Take these courses, get that job, start paying your own rent, or don’t move out and stay home with your parents.

Yet, at the very same time, you also feel pressure (emphasis on “feel pressure,” I’m not saying you have to do any thing) to party and live your life, have a hoe phase, find your future spouse, make 100 friends per season, do this, do that, do everything all at once, and then some.

It’s a gnarly time to be alive, in every meaning of the word! So … why isn’t there a lot of “good” media about it? My mama bear instincts must be kicking in, because damn it, those kids deserve more than just a nostalgia trip from out-of-touch directors.

What we’ve currently got

Monsters University

When I think “college content,” I think parodies and comedies. There was Undeclared, the spiritual successor to Freaks and Geeks, which is still good but kind of goofy and dated. There’s 22 Jump Street, which is … you know, a Jump Street movie. I GUESS there’s Pitch Perfect, but like, who cares anymore? House Bunny, Legally Blonde, goddamn Monsters University—this is the current roster we’ve got for mainstream college content.

And look, I get the appeal of setting your comedies on a college campus. College is a weird time and weird things can happen while you’re there. At Santa Cruz, all the hippies would run naked through the forest during the first rainfall of the school year. Groups of girls would sometimes fistfight in the fields just to feel alive. I once got a girl’s number just for wearing a crop-top with daisies on it and “having good vibes” … while simply studying in the library. I didn’t exchange a single word with this girl, other than, “Oh, no, that seat’s not taken.”

But the thing is, the sort of expectation that college is only a barrel of laughs leads a lot of students to be hit with all kinds of uncomfortable feelings later on. College is hard. It can be lonely and frightening. Lots of kids end up developing severe anxiety or depression because of all the pressures they shoulder while at school. And out of school, kids in that age group sometimes feel even more lost, because they often have to greet the tougher realities of life much sooner.

Sure, we have some media that covers the difficult parts, but they often only deal with a specific niche that not many people can relate to. Whiplash? Very intense! But how many people are in such rigorous music programs? Then there’s Mistress America, which starts with a promisingly relatable lead, then quickly devolves into a Fairy God-Stepsister situation.

Now, Dear White People is actually one of the better examples I’ve seen, and I ate that show up in my college days (until the fourth season, at least). And I’ve heard both Community and The Sex Lives of College Girls are pretty damn good. But come on, that’s just three, compared to all the millions of weird high school movies that star 27-year-olds.

What the kids deserve (and why I care)

The cast of The Sex Lives of College Girls
(HBO Max)

While I think I’ve got a long way to go before I ever truly “peak” in this bitch of a world, I will say that as someone who did overall enjoy my college days, I feel a lot of compassion for kids in that age demographic (especially these days). It’s a weird, tough time that doesn’t often elicit a lot of direct sympathy, and I think it would help alleviate their struggles if they had a good, earnest frame of reference for what they were going through, written by someone who wasn’t trying to sell them a dirty joke or a niche experience. Or, you know, someone who’s been out of college for years yet still gets hung up on “the memories.”

I mean, when you think about what’s popular on TV or in movies, you get either high school stories (which can be incredibly gross and superfluous for no reason), or you get stories about people my age and up. That’s a pretty sizable gap in between for such a pressured age group! What are they left with? Hyperbolized narratives about minors? Tales of adulthood that they can’t quite grasp yet? When I first watched Broad City, I thought Abbi and Ilana were just funny caricatures, but now that I, myself, am a messy broad in her twenties, I feel them so deeply. College kids deserve something like that, too, that doesn’t overly sexualize or glamorize their experiences.

In my humble opinion, a good movie or show about this time period should focus on the following:

  • All the time one spends alone, trying to meet new people and figuring out what comes next, where you want to be, and who you want to be. It’s so normal to find yourself operating solo at that age, yet it’s still fairly stigmatized, which only worsens kids’ mental health.
  • How awkward dating is when you’re that young. It’s awkward, guys. It’s not your imagination! Kids that age are just starting to learn how to communicate their wants and needs, and it can even get a little dodgy sometimes when they aren’t sure how to effectively voice these things. Oh, how I wish I could go back in time and slap some fools for my younger self …
  • The anxieties of now. Not the 2010s, not the 2000s, and certainly not the ’90s or ’80s. (Can we bury those hatchets for a year or two, please?) The anxieties of now are very particular anxieties that go unexamined far too often. So many kids recently had to go through school completely online, during a global pandemic, and I feel like people pretend as though that didn’t have an effect on how young adult life looks now. I mean, they’ll try, but it’s often a ham-fisted “poke fun at millennials” type of thing where the plot hinges around how these students can’t “scroll a book.” I guarantee you guys, these kids are too stressed about our dilapidated job market to laugh at that kind of bullshit.
  • The little victories that are worth celebrating. Getting a new job and ditching your crappy one. Having mellow nights with your roommates. Sitting on a porch after a long day and just catching your breath. Falling in love for the first time. Going out and exploring your new digs. There are so many special, sacred moments during that time period that are often overlooked by the flashier, more “Hollywood” moments, and I think it’d be helpful to encourage these kids to take their victories where they can.

I’ll end by saying this: I tend to be protective over younger folks, so if you’re reading this, your fears and struggles are valid, and all this tumult won’t last forever. We’ve all got our own paths and you just happen to be walking one of the steeper ones at the moment. Persevere, do your best, and try to have fun.

And no, you’re not “failing at life” if you’re not living like 22 Jump Street. My school didn’t even have a football team and we turned out fine.

(featured image: IFC Films)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer and dog mom. She aims to use her writing to positively represent mixed-race people like herself, and is currently working on a novel. However, when she isn't writing, she's either battling insomnia or taking too many naps. You can read her stuff at