Spring Breakers – is this really Gen Y Women?

May 22, 2013

This weekend I watched Spring Breakers, not least to ‘see what all the fuss was about’, and I was struck by the picture of femininity that it portrayed.

Gen Y women are not given an easy ride. For some who have watched the film (yes, ok I was listening in to cinema-goers' reactions in a non-too-subtle foyer stalker mode following the film), it feels disappointing. For some people there is a feeling that the film hasn’t ‘gone anywhere’, the plot is ‘obvious’, and the experiences shown are ‘what you expect of Spring Break’. 

However, surely this is the point. That we are so expectant of this level of gratuity, hedonism and of sexual power, that it exposes exactly those norms? And hey, I’m not saying this doesn’t make for a really quite beautiful visual film!

There we 4 key themes that made me think about how Gen Y women think/feel and get portrayed…

Contradictive Femininity

The subversion of the traditionally feminine and infantilised world of the ‘college girl’ into the vicious, aggressive world of the ‘heroines’ displays some of the more stark conflicting semiotics that I’ve seen in a while. Looking at 3 girls skip down the road wearing furry backpacks, short shorts, and having just robbed a chicken shop demonstrating pure anger and aggression is a confronting scene. It speaks to the convoluted world of young women now; simultaneously living in the infantilised ‘girly’ consumer world, but capable of being hard, almost psychopathic, in their violence.

The Power of the Pack

Another truth the film reveals is the relationship between the women themselves. Despite lude sexual behaviour and insinuation all the way through, the most important relationship is in fact between the women themselves. All the ‘sex talk’ is about cementing the friendship, laughing at it, and being deliberately provocative as a way of cementing their power as young women. The deepest relationships, defined by physical touching, sticking together, to the exclusion of men is the most powerful relationship and space these girls hold. 

Sexual Power for Women

Graphic sexual references (none of which follow through to actual behaviour) are used by the women, and what’s interesting is that the language/ideas and behaviours referenced are traditionally masculine. The visual shots of drinking games, most women half naked are to some degree what you’d expect from a traditional ‘male college boy fantasy’, but it’s the women in control, holding the  agency. It is not about the men, this is the girls, and their world of sex. It is about the claiming of the male sex world for women, playing on their terms. 

The Hypocrisy of Hedonism

Throughout the film the college-goers shown on Spring Break are utilising and appropriating from the world of ‘gangsta’ – the speech, the dance moves, the music.  In a word, they’re all about being ‘bad-ass’. However as soon as the party moves from the ‘safety’ of Spring Break, to the real neighbourhoods – a dive bar, one of the girls freaks out.  It feels safe using a cultural set of codes and references when you’re nowhere near real violence or sexual threat. An interesting look at how we’re still all ‘cutting-loose’ in a space where we feel ‘safe’ and ‘the same, something we see come through as a key lifestage phenomena for late teen/early 20s. 

So what does this movie mean? 

Spring Breakers gives us a version of Gen Y women who mix and reappropriate different codes, who deliberately put opposing interests into force to reinforce their power (be scared of girls in fluffy pink halter-tops from here on in). The trend of ‘traditional girliness’ as an ironic backdrop to a savvy, explicit world of womanhood is something we see mirrored across pop-culture. It is about a generation who don’t want to be put in any given ‘box’.

The hedonism of Spring Break- that the only meaningful experience is ‘cutting loose’- has long been debated as a characteristic of Gen Y,  and is arguably a one-sided view of a generation (and not a particularly flattering one). Leaving aside the debate here, the normalcy of violence and sex can be taken as the sign of a generation who are less shockable than ever before. They have seen/heard and witnessed more sex, violence and gratuity than previous generations, as they have access to even the most unimaginable things. 

So for us as brands, perhaps it's about saying less and leaving more unsaid, than the absolute and brutal honesty this generation is accustomed to. It's about reinstating intrigue and mystique.