Growing Up Degrassi: Television Identity and Youth Cultures

Now that Showcase is playing re-runs of Degrassi from the beginning of junior high to the end of high school, it’s fitting that the book Growing up Degrassi: Television, Identity and Youth Culture has come out. The book comprises 16 essays on all four incarnations of the franchise: the Kids of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High and Degrassi: the New Generation. Most of the essays tell us what we’ve known for a long time; that Degrassi represents youth far better than any other TV show of its time. Some essays feel a little dry, with stats from PBS and reiterations of why Degrassi outweighed the competition of the California high schools of Bayside High and West Beverly High; a couple of essays also compare the old Degrassi with the new. Thanks to a bigger budget and a clothing sponsorship, the New Generation is by far much prettier and more fashionable than its ’80s counterpart. Joey Jeremiah and the other pimply teens, who could have used a little Zit Remedy, also had very little acting training, whereas the new Degrassi is cast with professional actors.

My favourite essay of the book is “That White Girl From that Show.” It features Rebecca Haines, the Degrassi actor who played, Kathleen. You remember her-she had anorexia, was on the student council, had a boyfriend who beat her and a mother who was an alcoholic. In conversation with editor Michelle Byers, Kathleen, I mean Rebecca Haines, talks about days on the set and her segue “from child star to youth advocate,” a line she used in her application to graduate school. There are other great tidbits in the book, including the Degrassi Fan Fiction series where fans write possible storylines for Degrassi characters. Some of these were allegedly pulled from the archive to create the New Generation series. I suggest reading Growing Up Degrassi before you embark on the marathon on Showcase. (Andrea Nene)

edited by Michelle Byers, $28.95, 320 pgs, Sumach Press, 1415 Bathurst St., #202, Toronto, Ontario, M5R 3H8, sumachpress.com

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