For the 12-year-old version of myself, Dawson’s Creek was part of a forbidden world after 8pm. My feminist gears weren’t turning back then — instead I was eagerly following the entanglements between Capeside’s main characters in order to glean a picture of what life in high school would really be like.
I recently decided to return to everyone’s favourite sleepy coastal town and thought it might be interesting to look back at its episodes with a feminist lens. It’s more than an excuse to revisit the days of Dawson’s mushroom haircut; even though the successful teen drama ended in 2003, its legacy continues today.
The apparently sordid triangles of teenage sex and scandal still live on through television shows like The Vampire Diaries (also the creation of Kevin Williamson) or Gossip Girl (which ran from 2007 to 2012). The premise might vary from drama to drama (or in the case of Dawson’s Creek, the level of the vocabulary), but they still package some of the same messages for teens.
In the opening scene, we meet fifteen-year-olds, Joey Potter (Katie Holmes) and Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek), who have been best friends for much of their young lives. We learn that Joey has only just realised the whole boys-aren’t-yucky thing at fifteen and worries about hormones complicating her relationship with her best friend. Dawson begs her to stop talking about their “mounting sexual theoretics” (three words I couldn’t have strung together at that age). They sleep next to one another like they always did. But Joey’s restlessness only signals one thing: hormones are about to ruin everything…
Head and shoulders image of (left to right) Pacey, Joey and Dawson, taken from The Complete Fourth Season DVD boxset. All three characters look straight at the camera with slight smiles but look fairly serious.