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Shannon Purser on Molly Ringwald Comparisons & the Power of Gen Z
Where generalizing and its mealy-mouthed accomplice, marginalizing, are concerned, Purser feels hopeful that we’re approaching a point in history where they will no longer be the norm. “Our generation, more than any other, is making strides in being more inclusive and more careful in the way we label and treat other people,” she says. “Which is something that I really appreciate and admire about young people today.”
I feel like I have lived a thousand lifetimes in this short amount of time that I’ve been working.
That’s not to say Purser is so starry-eyed about her generation that she doesn’t recognize its shortcomings. On social media, she’s picked up on a disheartening trend in online bullying. “I definitely have [been trolled], and it’s really been disturbing to me because I’ve noticed that a significant majority of the people who are needlessly cruel to me are young people,” Purser says. “I wonder where that comes from—but I do know where it comes from because there’s this pressure to be validated and to fit in.”
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This particular pressure isn’t coming from previous generations but from within Purser’s own demographic. She explains, “Sometimes that means being good at sports or being the smartest. But sometimes that means,Who can get in the meanest jab? Who can get attention from a famous person? That’s how I’m going to feel validated.It’s really a shame to see these young kids who think that’s the way to get the attention that they want. So I try not to take it too seriously, especially when it comes to young people, because I have to believe that there is room for growth and redemption, that they can change.”
At the end of the day, if you have that love and respect for yourself, you’re much stronger.
In this respect, Purser isn’t unlike the characters she plays.Stranger Things’s Barb Holland,Riverdale’s Ethel Muggs, Sierra Burgess—they represent an alienation that many of us have felt in some form along the way. It’s understandable that Purser is fast becoming a symbol of self-love. Fans are even pegging her as the new Molly Ringwald, a crown Purser can hardly believe is befitting. “I mean, I adore her. She was like the face of her generation. She brought authenticity to all of her characters that I just really love and admire. And, of course, it’s great to have another redhead to look up to, for sure,” Purser says with a laugh. “I would love to bring the kind of quality of work that she did but in my own way. My own spin on it.”
And two short years from now, Purser may just look back on her role inSierra Burgess Is a Loseras the beginning benchmark. Asked about her favorite love story from the film (because there are a few), the actor’s response is a Ringwaldian mix of diffidence and self-awareness. “My favorite love story is between Sierra and herself,” Purser says. “It’s so important, and it’s something very personal to me as I’m learning to overcome my own self-doubts and insecurities.
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