You lkig 'bout my Shattering TheMyth
The screenwriter, director and stars
are all twentysomething. So how
well does Reality Bites portray us
en director Ben
UR NaStiller's Reality Bites
made its debut at the
Sundance Film festival
in January, it was tout-
ed as "the twentysomething film
we've all been waiting for."
Moviemakers had already decid-
ed that this film should define
the values, concerns, fears and
ambitions of our age group. And
the world waits...
Fearing a backlash from the intended
audience, Stiller and screenwriter Helen
Childress have since played down the
movie's generational implications. They
maintain Reality Bites is a love story, and
people our age will relate to the charac-
"We've been kind of shying away
from calling it a generational movie;
they're trying not to market it like
that," says Helen Childress, the film's
23-year-old screenwriter. "The danger
is you say you're doing one thing, and
then you don't do it, and you're kind of
Reality Bites is a comedy and a love
story about people in their 20s. The
film's central character, Lelaina Pierce
(Winona Ryder), and her close friends
(Ethan Hawke, Janeane Garofalo and
Steve Zahn) graduate from college as
the film starts and are now caught up in
the quest for a "real" job and economic
independence. Only Lelaina's job
(working at a television station) is mar-
ginally career-oriented; her friends
work at newsstands and at The Gap.
The fact that Lelaina was valedictorian
of her university is no help in employ-
ment and, in one scene highlighted in
the film's trailer, is regarded as a hin-
drance. She and her friends wonder
how to make it, how much of their
pride they'll have to swallow, and what
they should believe in.
These characters are extrapolated
from Childress' circle of friends at the
U. of Southern California, where she
attended the film school. After she
applied everywhere (including
Wendy's) for a job, and was turned
down, Childress became frustrated
when she learned her friends were being
rejected as well.
"We're intelligent, pretty well-edu-
cated people," she shakes her head, "and
we're not finding jobs anywhere."
What had begun as a romantic come-
dy began to take on generational impli-
cations. "Articles started appearing and
I realized more people were going
through the same thing," Childress says.
"I thought it would be great if this
movie would validate people and make
them feel like 'OK, I'm not alone."'
Childress attributes her immediate
success with her script to timeliness. "I
think it was honestly right place, right
time. Certain elements fell into place.
Winona responded to the material."
After the highly successful actress
signed on, Childress found herself in
the enviable position of working as a
screenwriter for a major studio.
"Getting a job, I wrote about not having
one," she laughs.
Some experiences in Reality Bites are
easy for people our age to identify with
and relate to. Characters in the film
hang out watching syndicated reruns,
deal with unstable relationships and eat
by charging food to their parents' gas
cards. Childress obviously identifies
with most of these experi-
ences, but a few she identifies
with more than others. "I'm
ashamed to say this, but [I
identify most] with the scene where
they're getting stoned, the conversa-
tions, what they're talking about."
The question remains whether the
movie is the defining film of a genera-
tion. The answer is a qualified no.
While people of our age can recognize
and relate to many of the characters'
concerns and actions, inconsistencies
pile up because the film exaggerates for
laughs and stereotypes for brevity.
Instead of playing up the more subtle
aspects of being part of our generation,
the film tends to lump us together as a
directionless mass of freeloading fast-
While the roots of these situations
may be in reality, despite a young direc-
tor, writer and actors, the finished prod-
uct isn't wholly indicative of twen-
tysomething life. Lelaina charges $900
to her gas card, spends way too much
time and money on 900-numbers, and
every parent in the film is a caricature.
Childress explains the departure from
reality as the byproduct of comedy.
"They were exaggerated for effect,"
she says. "[The film] wouldn't have got
made at all if the plot was styled down
or the laughs were styled down."
Childress says the parents were much
more developed in the original drafts
but were phased out by the studio in
favor of a more linear plot.
Stiller, also an actor in the film,
defends some of the decisions that
leaned in favor of a romantic comedy
over commitment to a generational
film. "I wanted it to be a love story at
the end of the day," he says. "I wasn't
worried about making generational
Although Reality Bites may not end up
being the defining film of our genera-
tion, it does have other things to offer.
Both the soundtrack and the presence of
popular young talents make this roman-
tic comedy one that will attract many
viewers from our age group.
In addition, Reality Bites was written
with an optimistic message in mind, one
that Childress hopes viewers take home
She says while the Vietnam genera-
tion deconstructed many of the belief
systems central to Americans for
decades (God, country and family), the
post-Vietnam generation lacks these
seemingly vital values and beliefs. "It's
up to us to start inventing new myths.
"The film asks, 'What is there to
believe in?"' says Childress. "And I guess
the answer in the film is each other, and
love, and be[ing] true to yourself."
People expecting to identify with this
film as they did with so many of John
Hughes' films of the '80s or Cameron
Crowe's more recent Singles may have a
more difficult time with this one.
Those who have waited this long for
the defining film of Generation X just
may have to wait a little longer. UI
At Iowa State U., if a virgin walks
under a certain tower, a brick is
supposed to fall on her head.
However, few, if any, such accidents
have been reported to the campus
At the U. of Wisconsin, senior Eric Fair
says, "There's a statue of Abraham Lincoln
on Bascom Hill. If a virgin walks in front of
thestatue, Abe will rise up out of his chair.
"Of course," he adds, "I haven't seen him
Almost every college has its own stories,
its own collection of strange and bizarre
campus myths. They begin as rumor and,
as they are passed down to incoming classes '
(full of gullible freshmen), graduallyM
become part of the school's history.
According to Jan Brunvand, a professor
of English and folklore at the U. of Utah,
any group of people which gets together in
one place ends up developing legends.
Brunvand began tracking urban legends
three decades ago to illustrate to his stu-
dents that oral culture is alive and well in
the information age. "Many of my students
thought folklore was something from the
past," he says. "I wanted to show them that
they knew folklore, too."
Virgin myths are just one variety of leg-
ends popular among students.
Sarah Evans, a sophomore at Butler U.,
heard a story about a fraternity house at her
school that was abandoned by its members
99 years ago. "This is a true story," Evans
says. "They were more like a cult than a
fraternity. They did a lot of weird stuff -
rituals and maybe Satan worship. Then
they sexually assaulted their house mother
and she ended up pregnant."
According to the story, the fraternity was
banished from campus for 100 years, mak-
ing them eligible to return next year.
But Brunvand doesn't think Butler U. has too much
to worry about. He says any story that begins, "This is
a true story," probably isn't.
Have you heard the one about the lipstick on the
mirror? Neil Grant, a sophomore at Iowa State, says
"a friend of a friend" told him this one:
A student, returning to her dorm room, finds the
door ajar. Nothing seems out of order, except that the
closet door is slightly open. Afraid to look inside the
closet, the student leaves quickly for the library.
Several hours later, she returns to find police and an
ambulance outside her building. In her room, she
finds the mutilated body of her roommate and a mes-
sage written in lipstick on the mirror saying, "You
should have looked in the closet."
According to Harry Oster, who teaches folklore at
the U. of Iowa, "The most popular legends are those
that tell of horrifying or extraordinary circumstances.
People are always interested in the strange or the hor-
Oster says these kinds of horror stories may serve a
purpose for both the teller and the audience. "From a
psychological view they bring out people's deepest
fears," he says. "Expressing them out loud takes the
edge off the fear."
' ' Y
:lit I w t
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. - Last fall, Gerald Gee, professor
of public relations at Florida A&M, said the phrase "nig-
ger mentality" during a classroom discussion. This fall,
he wont be leaching there.
The administration of Florida A&M, a historically
black university, has decided not to renew his contract
for the next academic year. "In part, his comment had
something to do with our decision," says Provost and
Vice President Richard Hogg.
Gee, who is while, explains, "I told [the class] I was
about to say something and use a term that is offensive
to me and I suspect to [students], too. I said, 'A person
who does not take advantage of opportunities that are
there or who doesn't make opportunities for themselves
and others, has a kind of 'nigger' mentality - the sort
of thinking that can keep one on the back of the bus,
In a letter to the administration, seven of Gee's stu-
dents said his remarks were "detrimental to his rela-
tionship with many students in our class." * Sharla
Head, The Famuan, Florida A&M
FLAGSTAFF, ARIZ. - White male professors at
Northern Arizona U. are crying foul because the univer-
sity gave raises to minority and female faculty only.
Last May, a university study found that 75 female
faculty and 208 male faculty qualified for raises. Of the
75 female candidates, all 11 minorities and 58 of the
white faculty members received raises. Of the 208 male
candidates, only the 16 minorities received raises.
The raises ranged from $183 to $6,945 per year.
Nearly 150 of the white male faculty are pressing a
complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity
"We did it to protect the rights of the affected facul-
ty," says Bob Poirier, a political science professor who
filed the complaint. The group is considering filing a
lawsuit against NAU for civil rights violations.
Interim NAU President Patsy Reed says that former
President Eugene Hughes gave the raises to correct
long-standing pay differences between white male fac-
ulty and female and minority faculty.
"The university has not found any of the actions to be
unlawful," Reed says. She notes, however, that the fac-
ulty senate is conducting an investigation to be report-
ed in April. Lukas Velush, The Lumberjack, Northern
TUSCALOOSA, ALA. - For most of last football season,
the marching band at the U. of Alabama carried flags
with crosses on them as part of a halftime show cele-
brating the Old South. But late in November, they
returned from Thanksgiving break to find that the
crosses had been removed.
Apparently, some students had complained about the
crosses, and several alumni had suggested "that the
use of the flags seemed to suggest an endorsement for
a particular religious faith in the show," says Don
Crump, assistant vice president for academic affairs.
"We felt that we might have been offensive to some
people," says Band Director Kathryn Mann. "Since
we're there to entertain, we decided to remove them.
Our intent is not to preach a message."
Stephanie Aldrich, a senior and captain of the band's
color guard, says band members felt the decision was
"kind of ridiculous. I think this is kind of taken to an
extreme." * Sean Kelley, The Crimson White, U. of
Medical students seem to be prime targets for mor-
bid stories. According to one, Boston medical students
stole the arm off of a cadaver, put it in a jacket sleeve
with a dollar bill sewn between the index finger and
the thumb, then extended the arm - with the money
attached - to a toll taker on the Tobin Bridge. When
the man took the money, legend has it the whole arm
fell into the booth. Brunvand says the tollbooth story
can be traced as far back as the 1930s.
Students also perpetuate myths related to academics.
Ask any group of students how long you have to wait
for a professor to show up for class and you'll probably
get a variety of answers. "I think it's 10 minutes," says
junior Jeff Burke. "It's in some book or something."
Junior Jeannie Young heard differently. "For a pro-
fessor, I thought it was 15 minutes," she says. "For a
teacher's assistant, I think it's 10. The professor gets
more time because he might be busier." Brunvand
says there is no such waiting limit.
He also says he's never heard of a school that actual-
ly implemented the infamous "suicide rule." But don't
try telling that to Iowa sophomore Annabelle Garcia,
who believes it wholeheartedly.
"If your roommate [commits suicide], you get a 4.0."
Garcia says. "I hope my roommate dies tomorrow." U
u aByaTory Brecht, The Daily Iwan, U. of Iowa
MARCH 1994 MARCH 1994
ZU " U. Magazine
U. Magazine " 9