Bang Bang You're Dead – a 2002 Showtime original film based on the 1999 play of the same name by screenwriter William Mastrosimone – sabotages its attempts at dramatizing an American high school experience with its massive amounts of stereotyping. The stereotypes in Bang Bang You're Dead are particularly acute thanks to the nature of its subject matter – the causes of late-90s school shootings – and its stated mission to raise awareness of those causes.
The film follows high school sophomore Trevor Adams, played by future X-Men star Ben Foster, through a year of everyday but nonetheless hellish torment at the hands of Rivervale High School's student population. Introducing himself as a social "pariah" to anyone brave enough to speak with him, we discover Trevor set a trash can on fire the previous year. This act has reduced his social circle to exactly two people: Rivervale's crusading drama teacher Mr. Duncan, played by Tom Cavanagh, and the school's absurdly perfect new girl about town, Jenny, played by Jane McGregor. Jenny is an impossibly flawless teenage girl character, unconcerned with her own social status and unafraid to interact with Trevor. Who, as the designated Lone Wolf of the narrative, spurns her advances to participate in this film's other sub-plots.
In a self-reflexive move, Bang Bang You're Dead attempts to parrot Hamlet's dictum that "the play's the thing," whether catching the conscience of kings or high school students. To this end Mr. Duncan casts Trevor in the lead role of a Rivervale High production of William Mastrosimone's 1999 play Bang Bang You're Dead. The content of Mastrosimone's play, which dramatizes the mental collapse and eventual suicide of its main character, Josh, sparks controversy among Riverdale's over concerned, one-dimensional parents, who fear Trevor's portrayal of an unbalanced youth on stage will push him over a real-life edge, leading him to commit an act of violence.
These characters expose Bang Bang You're Dead's pervasive use of stereotyping. This flattens and distorts its characters, allowing them to service the plot and provide Mastrosimone's characters – in the film – to explain the meaning of his play to the film's audience. The Crusading Drama teacher is a cliché as old as drama schools, while the lone outcast in the black trench coat, the morally outraged parents, and the ethereally perfect teenage girl are all late twentieth century stock characters.
Stereotypes gain credence because of the isolated fragments of reality contained within them. Throughout the 1990s, many American communities were seized by the pseudo-scientific belief in fiction's power to influence reality. Controversial musical acts, like Marilyn Manson, and popular horror films like Scream, were held responsible for contributing to a wave of school shootings. Exaggerated media portrayals of these real world murderers led to the creation of professional profiles. A stereotype emerged. Children across the nation were unfairly labeled "at risk" and subject to everything from public censor to expulsion.
By depicting a world of stereotypes in Bang Bang You're Dead, both play and film perpetuate the very thing they argue against.