Degrassi and Me

I know Kevin Smith thinks he has a claim on being the oldest of old Degrassi fans, but I do not believe Mr. Smith watched the very first episode of Degrassi Junior High in his junior high for a school workshop day.  But I can.  The year was 1987, and “Kiss Me, Steph,” the episode where Stephanie Kaye runs for school president in some really trashy outfits and gives kisses to perspective voters, was shown to every kid in my school.  We had to talk about the ep, why the characters did what they did, how it made us feel, etc.  It was a strange, yet completely welcome departure from our normal school routine.

Shortly after that magical day, my friends and I noticed that Degrassi played after school on PBS.  So I started to watch.  I was easily hooked.  I loved how the characters had zits, and funny hair, and bad clothes, and adorable Canadian accents.  I loved how I could sort of relate to their stories, even though none of my friends smoked pot or had their parents die in a car accident or dropped acid and jumped off a bridge, only to come back a brain-damaged version of oneself.  I knew every character’s name and story. 

I continued to watch when the show evolved into Degrassi High.  These kids were exactly my age, and there wasn’t a show on TV with such realism.  Beverly Hills 90210 also came out while I was in high school, and while those guys were the same age, that show was about escapism.  The characters on Degrassi were my friends.  My life was so intertwined with Degrassi that I had to rush home from taking the ACTs in order to catch the premiere of the final season of Degrassi High: “Bad Blood Part 1.”  I bet Kevin Smith can’t claim that.  I ordered special teacher’s guides and Degrassi newspapers that were offered at the end of every episode.  I still have them, in fact.  And when my family was asked to take part in a television ratings survey- a la the Nielsens, but on paper and only for a week - I made sure to write in Degrassi every single day, even if I didn’t get around to watching.  I wanted to let the ratings people put there know how loved the show was.

Fast forward to me as an adult.  I can’t remember where I learned that there was to be a new Degrassi.  It probably stemmed from one of my random online Degrassi searches.  At first I was skeptical.  How could it be even remotely as good as the original?  I learned that several of the original cast members would be returning, and the first episodes would focus on a Degrassi High School ten year reunion.  Just as I was facing my ten-year reunion milestone, so were my friends at Degrassi.

I wasn’t sure about Degrassi: The Next Generation (which is sort of a dorky name, no?).  Why should I be interested in the lives of these kids, even if one of them is Spike’s daughter that she had back in eighth grade?  But I was interested.  I only managed to watch the show sporadically, since we just have basic cable at our house.  The mega million-channel cable is at my parents’ house.  But then I got hired as a middle school librarian and came up with the best idea: Breakfast with Degrassi.  A club where students come to school early, eat breakfast I provide (Pop Tarts and juice boxes), and enjoy an episode of Degrassi on the big screen in the library. I purchase each season with my library budget (but of course take every episode home to “preview”), and play the episodes for the students in order from the beginning of the first season.  It took a while to catch on, but now I have between twenty and thirty kids in the library every Friday morning.  You should see their little faces, staring at the screen.  Some kids come to the library to do homework but become mesmerized by the pubescent faces of Jimmy, Page, Liberty and J.T. (RIP).  I am happy that my chosen career has allowed me the joy of sharing one of my greatest loves with a new generation (Hmmmm…  Maybe the title makes m more sense). 

Admittedly, I do feel a little creepy sometimes.  Degrassi can be way pervy, particularly in the high school years.  I hate to think of my students getting into drugs and alcohol and gonorrhea sex bracelets (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should watch the show).  But I am committed.  So committed, in fact, that when they had a Degrassi marathon one New Year’s Eve, I convinced my husband, my sister, and my best friend to watch with me.  They were hesitant, but everyone stayed up until four a.m. just to see the episode where Rick pushes Terri into a rock.  Why is she not on the show anymore?

My Degrassi love culminated last summer with a pilgrimage to Toronto’s Degrassi Street.  Click HERE for pictures.  It was one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  I will live on Degrassi Street someday.  No Joke.  Matt is down with it.  Some day I will wake up in the morning, feeling sad and lonely, and there I will be on Degrassi Street.  Whatever it takes.  You know I can make it through.

Copyright 2011 Julie Halpern