Dylan McKay Inspired Teenagers to Be Authentic

Luke Perry as Dylan McKay in Beverly Hills 90210 | CBS

Every generation has its own cool rebel. I have always taken pride in being a child of the early eighties. The last frontier of Generation X, the last great generation, before the existence of the online as we know it today and before virtual un-reality messing up our lives and our world, before smart phones, Facebook, Spotify and Netflix. The generation of grunge music, indie films, anti-fashion, cultural upheaval and soul searching. It’s difficult to explain to those growing up in this age how truly freeing and different (good different) it felt and was back then.

Of course, to a teenager of the 90s, things did not seem that extraordinary and put-together, still figuring out what to do in life. I had not yet learned to fight against the accepted confines of society, I had no taste in music whatsoever, I had not yet discovered my passion for cinema, nor had experienced the films of River Phoenix. But I had Dylan McKay, the other icon of the ‘90s, and the most important and pervasive tv series in my teen life, Beverly Hills 90210. The James Dean-like hair style, the melancholic glare, the restlessness, the washed-out blue jeans, the white t-shirts, the checkered shirts, the black Chuck Taylors, the motorcycle.

Luke Perry’s Dylan McKay arrived in Beverly Hills 90210 late and without apparent effort (he didn’t appear in the pilot episode), but as soon as he did, he took pop culture by storm. He was propelled into teenage conscience and became an aspirational model. He redefined cool. A sensitive bad boy who didn’t have to sacrifice vulnerability for virility, who knew how to be fiery without being fisty. That’s where the deep sense of indentification with him came from: because he contained within himself our ambiguity, our human weaknesses.

Dylan McKay was from Los Angeles and understood film, the movie theater and its place. When he makes his appearance in that second episode, before his first date with Brenda Walsh, who is from Minnesota, he asks her if is she had ever seen Animal Crackers. She says she may have, once, on tv. And he replies that Animal Crackers on the big screen is a different thing. So he takes her to the cinema to watch the 1930 Marx Brothers film, but once they arrive, he changes his mind. He easily shifts his expression in the way that a consummately modest knowledgeable person might reveal profound thoughts self-deprecatingly, as if to excuse himself for his intellect, so as not to make others feel bad or not to put himself in the center of attention.

Dylan McKay became cool not only because of his looks and rebellious nature, but because of his strong sense of independence, because he was earthbound and authentic. I only wish that, as a teenager, I understood it. That I understood myself and my place in the world. That I didn’t have to fit in. That I had my own voice. That I always must stand by what I believe in. That I must be myself. That I must go my own way. That’s the quality Dylan McKay’s character conveyed and I will always cherish it. Thank you, Luke.

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