‘We Are Who We Are’: The actuality of friendship and self-identity in teen TV

Monday, November 9, 2020 - 2:35pm

NOSELL

HBO

Over the years, with the increasing number of streaming platforms, there’s been a surge in TV series created for general audiences. Growing up, I was only able to watch whatever cable TV offered to me. Most of the shows consisted of highly fabricated and unrealistic storylines. They made life as a teenager seem utopian. Luca Guadagnino’s new series “We Are Who We Are” ensures that teens today grow up with realistic notions of what adolescence is actually like in modern times. While it took me a while to fully understand the basics of the show, all of a sudden it hit me like a bus. Fraser Wilson (Jack Dylan Grazer, “It Chapter II”) is the new and out-of-place 14-year-old on a U.S. army base in the beautiful town of Chioggia, Italy where he meets Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón, “Miu Miu: Icons), who struggles with her gender identity. After watching the third episode, I came to the conclusion that both Fraser and Caitlin are essentially platonic soulmates who were once lost but just so happened to find each other at the perfect time. 

After catching Fraser taking pictures of her in class and getting followed by him to a bar the night she dresses up in boy’s clothing, Caitlin’s a bit fed up with his antics. It frustrated me to see her not recognize the desperate attempts that Fraser was making in order to find his place. It’s clear that there are some underlying issues Fraser has with himself and his two lesbian mothers, who struggle to adequately get ahold of his outbursts. He deals with his frustration, anger and fear of abandonment by creating a persona. Meanwhile, Caitlin displays discomfort with her mother but adores her father. When Fraser and Caitlin meet, their connection blossoms into a beautiful yet raw platonic friendship that explores love and individualism. Since both come from households with parents who are unable to provide the care that they are looking for, Caitlin and Fraser find that care in each other. 

Many TV series don’t focus on developing relationships like these because of their focus on the storyline. Television can be so influential, and it’s crucial that teens can place themselves in the storylines that are presented to them. In today’s world, where it is widely accepted to explore one’s gender and have the right to determine how to identify, it’s comforting to see Caitlin’s character arc because these are the issues that actual teenagers face in real life. However, Fraser also uses Caitlin as a blueprint to help him understand the importance of close, interpersonal connections. It’s important to introduce these inner conflicts. There’s no sugarcoating it. They both learn and settle their issues by leaning on each other. One can learn how to face these types of situations just from watching the series. 

And because nuanced stories about friendship are underrated in modern-day TV, as I continued watching the show, I wondered why most teen TV shows are so focused on sexual relationships instead of platonic friendships. Friendship is the first stage of love. Friendship is love. There’s nothing wrong with having two characters meet and create a friendship that doesn’t end with the two of them being in a sexual or romantic relationship. Why? Because teenagers aren’t monolithic. What about the teens who only seek friendship? Or the teens who aren’t aware of what true friendship is? Or how to maneuver through a friendship while also struggling with self-discovery? 

Everyone needs someone  to help them through the hardships and confusions that life throws at our feet. Caitlin made Fraser feel welcome and Fraser allowed Caitlin to feel comfortable with who she was becoming. This is pure friendship that every teenager must witness. And as television continues to advance in the world of streaming, we should make note of how certain TV shows are capable of allowing those to maneuver in a world that is meant to be seen in a more realistic light. Television is for entertainment purposes, of course, but if the entertainment industry continues to exploit the teenage demographic by providing impractical enactments, there will be a lot of teens with high expectations.

Daily Arts Contributor Jessica Curney can be reached at jcurney@umich.edu.


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