I re-watched most of the show for this piece, and guys: Dawson’s Creek suuuuuuucks. The stereotypical nature of the characters, the two-dimensionality of the women, the 100% repellent leading man combine to create something totally offensive to the adult eye. And yet, none of this matters, not one little bit. Dawson’s Creek still means so much to me, and to every single other woman who came of age in the nineties. It’s been ten years since the show finished and we care about Dawson’s Creek enough to celebrate Pacey Witter, to lament Dawson Leery, and to connect with the lyrics of Sixpence None the Richer’s ‘Kiss Me’ in a way that we would consider ultimately lame, had the song not appeared in the show’s soundtrack. I think this inexplicable, unbridled and - at least for now - undying love by us for Dawson’s Creek can be put down to one thing: teenagers believe in magic.
Well not magic, exactly. But teenagers do believe in true romance and happy endings, and these are basically the same thing as magic for adults: appealing, but silly and untrue. Teenagers can separate their head from their heart via a thoroughly delightful lack of experience and, therefore, disappointment. Case in point: we listened to the Dawson's Creek soundtrack in the Catalogue office one afternoon and collectively reminisced about the perfection of Pacey. A colleague made the statement that, around the same time she was obsessed with Dawson’s Creek she went to see The Foo Fighters play live and half-way through the show violently burst into tears when she realized, for the first time, that it’s possible to be deeply in love with someone (in this case Dave Grohl +_+), and they could have no idea that you exist. At that exact moment, she stopped believing in magic. She stopped believing in magic, but she didn’t stop believing in Dawson’s Creek.
Our teenage ability to deny Real Life might explain why we fell in love with Dawson’s Creek in the first place, but it doesn’t really explain why we still love it so much now, which is totally cool, because a dude called Constantine Sedikide did that when he began to study (and re-define) nostalgia in 1999. Sedikide defines nostalgia (in an article from the New York Times) as something that “made me feel that my life had roots and continuity. It made me feel good about myself and about my relationships. It provided a texture to my life and gave me strength to move forward”. Consider the above, then consider that, according to researcher Damien Barr (who wrote Get it Together about the particular tribulations of our generation) 20-somethings today are overly nostalgic because “we are less prepared for our difficult present by having had a very easy time of it when we were very young…we grew up in a boom, we are living in a bust…we are going back to the bands, the TV shows, the films - all the things we enjoyed at school and at university." Erica Hepper, a psychologist at the University of Surrey in England agrees: “Nostalgia helps us deal with transitions. Young adults are just moving away from home and/or starting their first jobs, so they fall back on memories of family Christmases, pets and friends in school.” Now consider both the above, andthen consider that A) Dawson’s Creek actually embodiesnostalgia (four best friends who fight their fear for the future by reminiscing about the past), that B) we were introduced to it during the most nostalgia-inducing period of our lives, and that C) we are the most nostalgia-susceptible generation ever. We may no longer believe in magic, but because of all of this, Dawson’s Creek is the next best thing.
Of course there were other reasons that we loved Dawson's Creek over all other television programs - let's talk about sex, baby. Even though I dislike Dawson Leery with the passion of a thousand suns, his desperate attempts at love (what he says he wants) and sex (what he actually wants) are very important: they pulled at our virginal heart strings like nothing else, and they pulled at them hard. There’s nothing like a celluloid representation of something you desperately want but cannot (yet, at least) have to make you addicted. When the virginal Dawson and Joey aren’t sharing a bed or talking (and talking, and talking) about why it’s no longer appropriate for them to share a bed, then a sexy, mysterious, rebellious teenager has been exiled from New York to her very religious Gram’s (sic.) cottage in the country, primarily because she has been having too much sex. When the core teenagers aren’t thinking about or talking about sex, then the Dawson’s Creek’s writers are exposing their pubescent viewers to their worst nightmare: sexually active middle-aged people, via Dawson’s buff, stereotypical dad, and a mother who wants more than all of that, namely her news co-anchor. Pacey unites these distinct worlds by having a very Pacey affair with his teacher: “The truth is you're a well put together, knockout of a woman who's feeling a little insecure about hitting forty. So when a young, virile boy such as myself flirts with you, you enjoy it. You entice it. You fantasize about what it would be like to be with that young boy on the verge of manhood. 'Cause it helps you stay feeling attractive. Makes the aging process a little more bearable. Well, let me tell you something. You blew it, lady. Because I'm the best sex you'll never have” (Pilot A.K.A Emotions in Motion). That line, from Pacey to Tamara Jacobs, is important for two reasons: because it describes sex, and because it describes sex in the kind of confident, insightful way that no 15 year-old describes sex, which is the way every Dawson’s Creek characters describe everything, which is exactly the way we - as young adults who desperately wanted to be treated like actual adults – liked it, and wanted it.
Pacey’s sexual arc is, obviously, one of the most important thing about Dawson’s Creek because, while my work colleague fantasized about Dave Grohl, and I fantasized about Eddie Vedder, and you fantasized about, like, Ethan Hawke, everyone fantasized about Pacey. Pacey is Generation Y’s unicorn: he embodies all the positive characteristics we desire in a man, and none of the negative. Which is to say he is magical, and not real, and we love him because of all of this. We also love him because, when something is compared to the worst version of that thing, it is always going to seem pretty awesome. Enter Pacey Vs. Dawson. Buzzfeed recentlydid an excellent job of comparing the relative merits of things like their foreheads, and their ability to kiss foreheads but comparing their differences, while hilarious, is inconsequential: it’s like comparing adorable little Nemo to a shark that systematically tears humans to shreds and being like: “Oh, I wonder which one I like more”. No.
Pacey didn’t really have any competition from anyone else, either. Dawson’s Creek aired between 1998 and 2003 and luckily for them, there was absolutely fucking nothing else culturally exciting happening during this time (although Hannah Cooke makes a fantastic argument in favour of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on page). The US had a hangover from grunge, the death-rattle of Brit-pop was taking place in the UK, and these trans-continental anti-movements manifested as a universal music landscape dominated by bands determined to convince us of profound life truths like how much it sucks to be rained on all the time (and that this will happen to you if you lie when you’re seventeen years old - ??), boy bands, and ‘sharkie’ sunglasses (which have made a comeback alongside active wear – Kirin J Callinan: why?). The Real World had just wrapped on television but was, thanks to every unimaginative person employed in the television industry, survived by an onslaught of reality TV shows including Survivor and Big Brother. (Feature length films were actually incredibly strong during this time. Classics like Fight Club, American Beauty, Being John Malkovich and Girl, Interrupted were all released in 1999 and 2000. The only assumption I can make from this is that the people, like me, who popularized Dawson’s Creek could neither afford to attend, nor “understood” these kinds of movies yet.) 1998 was perhaps the only year since television was invented that a teen drama, featuring four teenagers, who talk about the exact same things teenagers talk about and live in a town whose defining feature is a creek (the smallest and most boring of the flowing bodies of water) could take off.
Which isn’t to say 1998 wasn’t good for some things. I’m writing this for a fashion magazine in 2014 because I’m part of the generation who came of age during the nineties, and who is now re-hashing the decade we know best and selling it back to everybody. Culture eats its own tail this way every 15 years or so and, while we are definitely re-visiting Dawson’s Creek by being overly existential and self-reflective (Girls), and sexually liberated (everything, everywhere) we are mostly re-visiting Dawson’s Creek by wearing Mom Jeans. Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer were Kevin Williamson’s claims to fame before he created Dawson’s Creek, which is to say that up until this point, his female characters were unanimously stalked and slaughtered by men. Jen Lindley and Joey Potter are definitely not progressive female characters, but they are progressive dressers. ‘Normcore’ may have been invented by trend forecasting website K-Hole earlier this year but it was alive and well in Lindley’s twin-set cardigans and utilitarian A-line denim skirts. It was alive and well in Joey Potter’s high-waist stonewash jeans and white spaghetti-strap singlets. It was not alive and well in Leery’s man jewellery, but you need only look once at the haze of practical fabrications buoyantly walking across the sand, under the boardwalk, in the show’s opening credits to know that these four teenagers are, in the words of a New York Times’ piece about this current but-really-very-nineties phenomenon: “mall chic for people who would not be caught dead in a shopping mall”. There probably wasn’t a decent mall in Capeside either, which means Dawson’s Creek’s interpretation (invention?) of ‘Normcore’ is no cheap Chinese knock-off. It’s built to last, and last it has, right up until today.
Nostalgia. Sex. Mom Jeans. These are the things our Dawson’s Creek-loving generation enjoy thinking and talking (the talking thing is very important with regards to Dawson’s Creek) about because they define us and we may as well spend our time musing on definitive things because, in the immortal words of Shooter (who I had never heard of before reading the liner notes of the Dawson’s Creek soundtrack, and therefore conclude that this was their exclusive hit), “life’s a bitch and then you die”.
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