Many made-for-TV documentaries with a teen target audience attempt to scare them into avoiding sex, drinking, drugs, crime and violence by showing them fictional scenarios depicting what might happen if they engage in these activities.
These cheesy TV specials are ineffective and panned by teens and parents alike, which is why filmmakers Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines didn't want to use scare tactics or reenactments in Seventeen to change teen minds- so they used raw footage instead:
Seventeen would’ve been the sixth installment in Middletown, a five-part documentary series on small town American life. Middletown was filmed in Muncie, Indiana, conceived as a follow-up to two Depression-era sociology studies that took place in Muncie, Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture and Middletown in Transition: A Study in Cultural Conflicts. The series aired on PBS in 1982.
Seventeen is the work of filmmakers Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines (note that DeMott is female, despite her traditionally male forename). The duo followed a group of Class of 1981 seniors during their final year at Muncie’s Southside High School. In the film, students mouth off to their teachers, curse up a storm, talk openly and graphically about sex, get drunk, get high, and are generally seen acting in an irresponsible fashion. Race relations is a recurrent topic—the language used will be shocking to the average viewer—with the threat of violence breaking out between black and white residents so frequent that it becomes unnerving. A number of students appear in Seventeen, but the focus is on Lynn Massie, a particularly outspoken and vivacious teen. Massie, who is white, is dating a black classmate, which is frowned upon by many in her community. At one point, racist neighbors burn a cross on the Massies’ front lawn...