The Art that Defines Us

Words by: Lauren Gallina 
Art by: Lillian Busby

Twelve years ago, on a warm Saturday morning, I sat cross-legged in front of ABC3 while my mum combed out my loose curls and put them into two tight braids. As “Scotty and the Ninjas Too” were lighting up the screen, their voices filling the room, we were idly watching on. Both my mum and I focused on getting ready for netball before rushing out the door.

The art I consumed through my youth — from my early childhood to my last days before ‘adulthood’ — has affected my outlook on the world. I am sure the art that defined you is different from the art that defined me, so whether or not you resonate with Saturday Morning Disney, Wattpad or Timothée Chalamet, I want to describe to you my youth in art.

(2007 – 2012)

From 2007 to 2012, I had little to no autonomy with what I did, watched, or listened to. There was a Video Ezy down the street from where I grew up. Every Friday, we would have a family movie night. My dad would drive my brothers and I down, and we would walk through aisles looking at hundreds of DVD covers, trying to pick which ones we should borrow. If we were lucky, Dad would give us 10 cents for the gumball machine. The gum was terrible, the flavours were too sweet and they were too chewy, but I still always felt grown-up when I was allowed to have one.

The most borrowed movies in the Gallina household were ‘kid adventure movies’, which is a genre definition I have created to describe this style of film: The Spiderwick Chronicles, Spy Kids, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Nim’s Island, Bridge to Terabithia, Night at the Museum, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Scooby-Doo Movie, Arther and the Invisibles, National Treasures, Nanny McPhee, Zoom and Zathura.

Much like every other child during this time, I ate these films up. I truly believed I was a special kid with magical or genius powers who should go on wacky adventures. For most of my childhood, my favourite movie was Night at the Museum. Not only did it give history an exciting new voice, but it also introduced me to my first celebrity crush: Rami Malek. All kid adventure movies were extraordinary as they gave me young characters to identify with.

In A Series of Unfortunate Events, Violet was clever and adaptive; she always knew how to get herself and her siblings out of trouble. In Percy Jackson, Percy had difficulties with reading and writing, but this was never something to be looked down on. In Scooby-Doo, Daphne was a multifaceted young woman who enjoyed ‘girly things’, but she never let that define her. In fact, her femininity was an assist, not a hindrance.

In every kid’s adventure film, the characters were complex and real, and I constantly fell into universes where I was a demi-god, a solver of mysteries, a little cowboy, the smartest of my siblings, etc. 

Another piece of art that defined this time was ABC3. Australian television during my childhood was incredibly impactful. We are the only generation who got to experience ABC3, as the newer kids are already streaming, and our parents never had Mortified.

On Halloween 2011, I sat on my couch in pyjamas, hair drying from the shower, and watched ABC3’s “Halloween Special”. ABC3 aired their spookiest shows from 4pm to 10pm, including a three-hour run of just Dead Gorgeous episodes. I have had many different Halloweens since then. No matter how fun Zoe’s high school Halloween parties were, the 2011 ABC3 “Halloween Special” will always be the funniest 31st of October I ever had.

(2013 – 2015)

My first few years in high school from 2013 to 2015 were bookmarked by Gloria Jeans, Hello Kitty perfume, Adidas Stan Smiths, sleepovers, and the smell of slightly burnt hair. I had a great group of friends, and despite anything that was happening at home, my girls made me feel safe and secure. All the art that defined me in this era of my life was art I shared with them.

The most distinct art forms that have had the most lasting impact were Harry Styles fanfiction and sleepover movies. If you had Wattpad downloaded during this time, I hope you still reminisce about literary geniuses such as imaginator1D, and masterpieces such as The Bad Boy Stole my Bra.

Unfortunately, when you and your friends are 14 and reading ‘Bad Boy’ Harry Styles fanfictions, you get used to toxic tropes, terrible men, and abusive relationships. Damaging themes like these were prevalent in a lot of fanfiction at the time and were always romanticised. An invasion of privacy was an example of how much Harry loved you, a glass being thrown was an example of how upset he was that you were going out in a short skirt because he just wanted to protect you. The internet had no regulations; who was going to explain to a giggling group of early high schoolers that men should never treat you like that when Harry Styles did every day?

Luckily, there is a positive to this ‘Fictional Boyfriend’ era, and that was that no man could ever live up to the fictional men others invented. No one was as caring as Dean Winchester, no one was as talented as Harry Styles, and no one was sexy as Draco Malfoy. Fanfiction was a safe place for me and my friends to date boys that didn’t exist so we didn’t get hurt.

‘Sleepover movies’ is a term I am using to define movies such as Clueless, Mean Girls, High School Musical Easy A, Wild Child, Camp Rock, Bratz, Starstruck, John Tucker Must Die, She’s the Man, 10 Things I Hate About You, Bring It On, and Pitch Perfect. These are movies that were targeted towards young teenage girls, and that we would always watch at sleepovers.

The early 2000s and 2010s were a minefield if you were a girl (or had the task of raising one) during this time. Every sleepover movie was full of materialism, fatphobia and internalised misogyny. Although some of these films aimed to criticise this — such as Mean Girls and Easy A — that didn’t mean it could reverse the effects of the worse films, or that their young audiences would always understand the criticism.

The nights when my friends and I ate too many chips and stayed up far too late watching these movies are so special to me. However, it is clear years later that the content we were watching promoted ideas that we didn’t have the tools to combat. I still struggle with body image and anxiety about materialism. Both of these problems began in this era when lines about calories and designer handbags were written into everything I watched. Therefore, the art that defined me has clearly not always been positive. 

(2016-2018)

The formative years of what I am defining as my youth, from 2016 to 2018, were spent on the brink of collapse. For the first time in my life, I truly understood what depression and anxiety meant to agonising extents. Because of this, I often forget these years exist. Once I was out of high school, I simply removed them from my mind. Any mention of my school would make my heart race, talking about grades would make me feel like there was a ball stuck in my throat, and thinking about my teachers made me cry. Naturally, this means I haven’t reflected on the art that defined the last few years of my childhood, until now. 

I fell deeply in love with movies and music in this period, and I used both as a form of escapism. In this era, coming-of-age movies defined me. It was my favourite genre, as I wrote in all my media assignments. TV shows like The Carrie Diaries, Buffy, and Gossip Girl were always on. Movies like Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name (Timothée Chalamet was a theme), and The Perks of Being a Wallflower were constantly watched.

I looked high and low for quality indie and coming-of-age films as well. I watched a chaotic film about a strange kid performing in order to impress everyone he knows (Rushmore). I watched a colourful movie about a dysfunctional family who would do anything for their youngest daughter (Little Miss Sunshine). I watched a perfect movie about a kid in year eight trying to fit in (Eighth Grade).

The emotional catharsis coming-of-age films gave me was almost addictive. At a time in my life when emotions were often my enemy, to see a character you root for overcoming theirs was always so rewarding. 

Additionally, I started to escape into music, and the soundtrack to my life really began. It was filled with Ariana Grande, Lorde, Harry Styles, and Nicki Minaj. My school uniform in the later years of high school wasn’t complete without my headphones. 

The art from this period did not define me or affect me the same way it had done previously. It didn’t give me confidence, it didn’t make me feel represented, but it also didn’t give me issues. For this time, for the first time, I defined the art. 

I moulded coming-of-age narratives to suit my week at school. I listened to ‘Super Rich Kids’ and imagined myself being someone else. I watched dumb TV shows to escape my reality. I fell in love with art because I used it as a crutch — a thing to make life easier. 

We have all been consuming art since we were born. The art that defines me hasn’t made me who I am, but it has helped shape parts of me. I still think I am capable of anything like the kid adventure movies told me I was. I still like to imagine fantasy worlds where I am dating famous people. I still love girly things and dressing up. I still pour myself into movies and albums as if they were my second life. And, unfortunately, I still have a lot of baggage to get through from all that. Growing up is never an easy thing, and I am thankful that I came out so happy and well adjusted. 

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