I started high school in 1990, the same year Brandon and Brenda Walsh transferred from Minneapolis, Minnesota to West Beverly High School in Beverly Hills 90210. Then, two episodes in Brenda, and the rest of us, met Dylan McKay, the brooding James Dean-esq “bad boy” of the campus who really had a softer side.
From the start, I was not on Team Dylan. I never gravitated to the bad boy because to me bad boys practically screamed a project that I was going to have to spend way too much time trying to fix. Brenda, on the other hand, was looking for a boyfriend project (maybe since her brother was trying to actually be his own person) and Dylan certainly had more than enough personal demons to keep her very busy. It didn’t hurt that he had the brooding look down perfectly and freaked out the adults.
Except, I don’t think Dylan was ever the bad boy. I think Dylan McKay was actually the only real adult at West Beverly High because he (mostly) made the choices that you wish teenagers would make. He stood up for an awkward freshman against bullies and he mostly successfully navigated so many more adult situations than any of his peers like the shady dad who may or may not be in hock with the mob, and an alcoholism problem. It was also never clear if Dylan actually lived by himself, the holy grail of teenage existence.
In today’s MeToo environment, what also strikes me as one of the most adult things Dylan did was treat Brenda with respect and take consent seriously. Unlike so many boys – Steve being a glaring example – Dylan did not “prioritize [his] pleasure over [Brenda’s] feelings” or “interpret [her] behavior through the lens of [his] own wishes.” In a way, Dylan taught adolescent girls what they should expect from a boyfriend or partner.
Would Dylan have turned out this way if someone other than Luke Perry, who was already 24 at the time, played him? We’ll never know but what is certain is that Luke Perry owned Dylan McKay outright and with pride and for that he should be remembered well.
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