What Does Michael Cera Say About Youth Culture Right Now?

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Aug 11, 2010 @ 03:32 PM

In Michael Cera’s newest endeavor, Scott Pilgrim Versus the World, the 22 year old evolves from superbad to superhero.

According to the movie’s description on IMDB:

“Scott Pilgrim’s life is so awesome…Everything's fantastic until a seriously mind-blowing, dangerously fashionable, roller blading delivery girl named Ramona Flowers starts cruising through his dreams and sailing by him at parties. But the path to Ms. Flowers isn't covered in rose petals. Ramona's seven evil exes stand between Scott and true happiness. Can Scott beat the bad guys and get the girl without turning his precious little life upside-down?”

Maybe this isn’t the kind of superhero we’re used to seeing (although recent films like Kick-Ass and even the soon-to-be-released Exes seem to be turning the tables and taking a poke at this genre). But “unconventional” seems a good word to describe almost every role that this unlikely leading man has tackled. Remember when he secretly pined away for his cousin (Arrested Development)? Or when he played his own moustached alter ego in Youth in Revolt?  But is he really so unexpected or is he the most predictable teen idol to hit matinees in years?

More than just a talented comedian with impeccable timing, Cera might be the perfect representative of the new youth aesthetic.

First, he breaks the rules of “aspirational” that have defined teen icons for decades. Not that the occasional geek hasn’t caught our attention before…But today’s stars really look like underdogs – not like models without make-up. And while we love Twilight and don’t think Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner are going anywhere, more teen boys (and girls) are likely to recognize Cera as the kind of guy they are or are around. So perhaps his appeal is driven by mere relatability, but maybe he also breaks the rules that we think movie stars have to follow…And rule-breaking is, and will always be, something that teens admire.Michael Cera

Second, he represents the perfect mix between pop culture and counter culture. Cera’s indie sensibilities appeal to the more sophisticated and underground aesthetic of the latest cohort of teens, but he does it in a way that makes it mainstream. Rather than daring you to discover him, he’s out there – and in theaters on an almost constant basis. He gives teens a sense that they’re in on the joke – not that they have to try so hard to be included. He winks at his own age group, with humor and a sense of style that seems like one that only they would “get,” but he makes himself more available than exclusive. And that he’s rejecting the clichés of conventional teen culture without abandoning the fun.

Finally, his sense of humor fits perfectly with the wit of the Facebook generation. Cera chooses roles where the humor is far from frat-boyish…even when it’s veiled in seemingly simple bits about boyhood crushes and beer bongs. Instead, his character’s comedic power comes from dry turns of phrase, and self-aware, self-deprecating quips. In his Funny or Die videos, like his self-help parody, “Impossible is the Opposite of Possible,” he shows off the kind of smarts and subtlety that make him sing with the social network set.

What can marketers learn from Cera? In a nutshell…

  • When you’re thinking aspiration, look beyond the surface…Today’s teens care about substance more than we might think.
  • When you’re considering a counter culture approach, remember not to take yourself off teens’ radar – or too far from their comfort zone. Find that happy middle ground between irreverent and accessible.
  • And when you’re looking for superheroes, look for ones who work their mental muscles as much as their physical ones.

Tags: Michael Cera, kids, movie, Youth, Teens, TV