The Non-Judging Breakfast Club: 'Gossip Girl' and the Pretend Teenager
More importantly, Gossip Girl gives no sense of what it might feel like to be a teen. The usual “teen problems” are superficially treated, if at all. The first season saw a half-hearted attempt to show the repercussions of Blair losing her virginity to lothario Chuck Bass in the back of his limo, but that was quickly abandoned —Blair was such a Machiavellian manipulator that a plotline based on her loss of innocence was implausible. The parents on the show are generally so preoccupied with their own problems that they present no real opposition to teen culture. The archetypal teenage struggle to fit in is also non-existent; although the show began with Jenny Humphrey, a girl from a “poor” (read: upper middle class) family struggling to keep up with her more wealthy schoolmates, her father soon married a rich divorcee, ensuring that no character would be without designer duds.
Instead, the show resonates with adult viewers by reveling in the most scandalous aspects of adult life: sexually adventurous relationships, drinking and drug use, and high-flying careers. Blasé, these teens speak about their adult concerns as though it were perfectly normal (“You haven’t eaten bread since middle school,” Blair says to Serena in a recent episode). Chuck assumes control over his late father’s billion-dollar empire and opens a hotel and club; instead of the usual scenario of a house party broken up by police (these martini-glugging teens are never carded), Chuck’s club was shut down because of a bogus liquor license. These teens have none of the anxieties and awkwardness that accompany teen sexual inexperience—they have sex as nonchalantly as adults. Plus, they hook up with actual adults; Blair with a friend’s uncle, Jenny’s brother Dan with his English teacher, and another student, Nate Archibald with a married woman he meets in the Hamptons. Serena decides to reel in the Broadway director hired to direct the senior class play, as though he were the cute boy from Biology. And the play these students perform? An adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Newland Archer and Countess Olenska would be scandalized.
Rather than worry about the effect that such precocious and hyper-sexualized teen shows have on today’s youth, we might ask ourselves what they say about us, the adults who are actually watching. It’s tempting to argue that such shows offer a temporary and harmless escape from the responsibilities of adult life. To project teenagehood as that escape, however, is essentially an act of hopelessness, an admission that the best life has to offer is long gone.
Already, this idealization of adolescence has begun to affect the way we aspire to look, and they way we behave. Today’s young adults enter the workforce later, leave home later and marry later than their counterparts from earlier generations. We aspire to look young, and to act young. At what point will we just become a nation of teenagers?
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