In seventh grade, my literature class read S.E. Hinton’s famous novel The Outsiders. We proceeded to watch the film version in class and have an exam on the book, and that was that– everyone moved on to studying the next classic. I, however, was still deeply fascinated by the world of greasers and socs in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I soon found myself writing fanfiction and editing together photos of characters from a book published in 1967.
Trust me, this is very embarrassing to admit. I don’t want to confess how many times I reread the pages of the book or rewatched the movie. For years, it was a guilty pleasure. But, I was not alone in this odd obsession. After all, a group of my friends in class was equally enthusiastic about it, and the online fandom was surprisingly bustling at the time I joined. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone reading this right now could relate too.
There were dozens of fan pages specifically dedicated to The Outsiders back then. Honestly, the community was overwhelmingly active, especially for a film that was nearly 30 years old. Regardless, everyone in the fandom adored the characters, and this love naturally carried over to the actors that portrayed them. I remember how thrilled I was to see that my mom convinced C. Thomas Howell, the actor behind Ponyboy, to wish me a happy birthday on Twitter. I attempted to see as many 80s films as possible in order to better educate myself on the early careers of the cast. This meant watching St. Elmo’s Fire to see Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez, Risky Business for Tom Cruise, and Dirty Dancing – my personal favorite – for Patrick Swayze. Somehow The Outsiders opened me up to parts of film culture I had little to no knowledge of. This exposure led me towards a stronger appreciation for film in general.
The Outsiders Instagram sphere was my first exposure to the world of online fandom. Luckily for me, it was a positive experience. It was innocent– people were there to contribute to the community, make friends, and have fun. I genuinely miss this sense of togetherness. The fandom was exempt of the toxic fan culture that seems so prevalent today. The community instead fostered a safe space. It provided me with an outlet to express my creativity in a way that connected to my passion for the book.
One of my favorite embarrassing fun facts is that I wrote an 80-page fanfiction about Dallas Winston and Darry Curtis, my two favorite characters, when I was at the peak of my obsession. I hunkered down in front of my laptop and wrote multiple pages every night– I went back and did extensive editing and character reworks just for fun. I never even published it online. Instead, I made my mom print out two copies for me at Staples, and we put them into binders. For years, I forced this memory to the back of my mind, but I recently came across one of the copies while cleaning around the house. Of course, my curiosity got the better of me and I started to read it, dragging one of my friends along for the ride. I can’t even begin to express just how much we laughed at my twelve-year-old writing skills. Still, I can’t be entirely ashamed of it– that awful fanfiction inspired and encouraged me to work on my writing.
While my love for The Outsiders was juvenile, I still understand what drew me to the book in the first place. Although I may not have focused on its more substantial aspects, the novel actually provides some worthwhile commentary on social tension, prejudice, and familial dynamics. As readers or as viewers, we’re forced to step into the shoes of the greasers in the story– the kids from the wrong side of the track. They have personalities and interests, and they all deeply care about each other. While the Curtis brothers are the only members of the bunch that are related by blood, the whole crew is a closely-knit family.
When I was young, I focused on the relationships between the greaser boys the most. I found them interesting, and I identified with their bonds. I failed to really recognize the social context. Of course, I understood it was there, and I recognized that the characters’ social standing had a direct impact on the story. But amidst my doe-eyed obsession, I pushed these more critical real-world topics from the novel aside. I chose to focus on a romanticized version of the characters pushed by the fandom and by my own interpretation.
Since seventh grade, I’ve developed my critical thinking skills and my awareness of social issues enough to see a clearer image of the novel beyond just how I liked the characters. I can appreciate what my previous experience with The Outsiders gave me – opportunities to explore my creativity and connect with others. I appreciate what my current experience with The Outsiders gives me: a more thorough understanding of how to practice empathy and explore the lives of people unlike myself.