Young Americans ++ Interview with Director Lance Bangs

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story / Sydney Scott

Take a look at filmmaker Lance Bangs long and interesting resume and you’ll find a myriad of notable projects and videos for some of the music industries biggest bands. He’s been heavily involved with the filming of MTV’s Jackass, directed David Cross’ Let America Laugh, and shot a slew of videos for musicians like Kanye West, Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Odd Future. But, his most recent undertaking found him traveling around the US interviewing America’s youth.
Created for a partnership between Scion AV and VICE, Young Americans is a documentary series that focuses on today’s youth and the challenges facing them. Unlike reality television shows that document the worst aspects of our generation, Young Americans is a smart series that creates a conversation. During the first season, which was filmed during an election year, Bangs focused on political issues and current events. For the second season the director focused on issues ranging from LGBT rights to media representation. With the final episode airing July 17, Bangs gave us an interview about the second season and what young Americans had to say about identity and the social issues facing them today.

Season one was filmed during an election year with politics at the center of discussion. This season it’s more about identity and social issues. Where did the idea for the second season come from? Was it just a natural progression?
It was a natural progression to move on from the external political questions from the election year and get more personal about identity and how people present themselves. Even while shooting the first season, the more people I interviewed the more these sort of personal identity themes crawled forth.
How do you find people to interview?
I travel extensively for this series and my other projects, and keep cameras handy to head out exploring and find interesting characters, and then approach them and start asking questions. I also had colleagues work from my set of questions in other regions of the country to get a wide range of subjects.
Since you traveled all over the country did you see any difference regionally in opinions or ideas?
Yeah, there are definitely still regional distinctions but it feels like the more connected to mass media and internet use the people are, the more consistent their opinions and even speaking styles tend to be. When shooting for the LGBT episode, for example, there are two 22 year old guys in rural Cherryville, North Carolina working on trucks who were just as conscious about marriage equality as young people in major cities tend to be.

There’s clearly a difference between this generation and past generations when it comes to identity. Were you surprised to see that? What do you think it says about young americans and the future of America?
My long term take is that people are broadening their connection to other people their same age, and balancing out self identity with less misconceptions about “others.” Relying on fewer misinformed cultural stereotypes, but with an increased desire to examine themselves and how they present. People spoke more about their social connections to peer groups than they did about their extended families than previous generations might have.
One of the issues that really sticks out to me is cultural stereotypes, you explore this in The Asian American experience and I’m really excited to see more of it in Cultural Stereotypes. It’s clear that young Americans are still struggling with stereotypes, but do you see them possibly being the generation that could start to move past them?
I believe that a greater sense of familiarity between Asian Americans and other identities is developing, and hopefully this generation continues to steer this decline in confining identities.

It was nice to see that you focused more on people’s relationship with food in the body image episode instead of the tired media images vs real life argument. It seems that quite a few young Americans are aware of their health and wellness. Since the news is always throwing out doom and gloom statistics, where your surprised to see that so many were aware of their health?
Yeah, that’s a perceptive question. People were thoroughly conscious of what they were consuming and how they were exercising, in a way that contrasted with my memories of being their age. I don’t think my peers were as conscious or involved in balancing things out every day as these respondents seemed to be.
A lot of young Americans seem to be conflicted with how they are represented on television and in film. It seemed women had more trouble with media representation than men. Do you think it’s mostly women, LGBT and minority youth struggling with how the media represents them?
Honestly, the most thoughtful and considered opinions tended to come from women, LGBT, and minority youth. You could feel that more reflection had gone into how they process mass media and look for reflections of themselves or are conscious about misrepresentation or non representation.
You probably have tons of content that you didn’t use, were there any interviews you wish you could have used? How do you know what to include and what’s going to be right for the episode?
An early version of the LGBT episode was full of funny stories about sexual development and encounters from a range of people. We honed the edit to focus on LGBT identity, and some of the original people with wild stories fell out. Perhaps that can work in a future project or additional batch of episodes. There were some great stories.

Will you be continuing with a third season? What topic would you like to explore?
I’d like to continue on to a third season, and explore how people view ambition and power, their sense of social responsibility, their generation’s place in a historical context, how they feel about privacy, and experiences with the criminal justice system.

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