Those innocent days when adolescents drooled over photos of J. Lo or dreamed of becoming Mrs. Leonardo DiCaprio are gone for good. Now, obscene amounts of money and ultra-luxe material goods are the only worthy pin-up icons for Generation Text-Message.
The current “must have” for shows aimed at younger viewers is teenaged characters whose conspicuous consumption and jaw-dropping sense of entitlement could knock the shoulder pads right out of Alexis Carrington’s power suits.
Parents may simply be tempted to roll their eyes at these characters’ antics. But it’s a different story for their kids.
How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm—or, at least, content to wear retail—when Colin, the self-proclaimed “Crowned Prince of Cleveland,” gets two new cars and a dance troupe comelier than the Laker Girls as his personal posse on an episode of MTV’s My Super Sweet 16?
On Gossip Girl, a new CW series, Chuck addresses another member of his wealthy teenaged clique: “What we’re entitled to is a trust fund, maybe a house in the Hamptons, and a prescription drug problem,” Chuck lectures Nate in the first episode. Whether it’s wine, weed, or in this case, sex with a hot young woman, Chuck explains that they both deserve only the best. “So smoke up and seal the deal with Blair, cuz you’re entitled to tap that ass.”
Meanwhile, pardon me while I “tap” a rerun of The Nanny or something else equally highbrow. But then, I’m hardly the target audience for this heavily promoted fictional show where an unseen, all-seeing blogger (“Gossip Girl here, and I have the biggest news … ”) chronicles the texting-and-trashtalking, wasteful-spending-and-getting-wasted lives of pampered Upper East Side highschoolers.
Who else but teens (and maybe their younger siblings) would want to watch a show where drama swirls around one super-pretty girl’s deliberate attempt to exclude another from something called the “Kiss on the Lips” party?
The problem is that what teen watching wouldn’t want to be Nate, Blair, and the rest of their limo-riding, Champagne-quaffing, no-adults-anywhere-at-this-hot-club partying cohorts?
Based on a popular young adult book series, Gossip Girl really is spoiled heiress apparent to a recent trend of creating programming whose teen characters’ sense of entitlement is as big as their bank accounts.
Things started innocently enough with scripted fare like Beverly Hills 90210 and The O.C., which gave birth to the brattier reality shows Laguna Beach and The Simple Life.
But it took My Super Sweet 16—MTV’s “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to … and if I don’t get a Lamborghini” look at real-life teen birthday celebrations—to truly, uh, perfect it.
Criticizing the over-the-top reality show is like shooting fish in a diamond-encrusted champagne bucket. Wherever you aim—at Aly, who made someone dye the “ugly” Maltese puppy she received as a present a more attractive color; at Mary, who rode in a stretch black Hummer (accompanied by a showgirl and a magician) to deliver her party invitations—you can’t miss hitting some shamelessly pampered teen right in her “Damn the cost, it’s all about me” spot.
But you also can’t overlook the fact that My Super Sweet 16 has become a breakout hit since debuting two and a half years ago. The show delivers some of MTV’s highest ratings among coveted twelve to thirty-four year olds and has already spawned a full-length movie. Worse, it never dies: Twenty-plus episodes can be watched on MTV.com apparently in perpetuity—and, ironically, for free.
Meanwhile, impressionable youths who want to throw their own Super Sweet 16s off-air (a growing number, according to media accounts) needn’t worry, since every episode essentially follows the same smug script: Birthday teen boasts of planning the best/biggest/hottest party ever—and of being universally envied for being so attractive/rich/popular. Teen then spends hours planning his/her elaborate arrival at the party and shopping for the expensive new car he/she will be “surprised” with by his/her parents at the end (Mary got a horse, decked out in her favorite hot pink).
Those “Super” parents’ idea of “tough love” must seriously confuse their accountants: Colin was told he’d be getting a used car instead of a $75,000 BMW—then wound up getting both the Beamer and a Range Rover. Savannah had to make do with just one designer gown—and $300,000 worth of jewels.
Similarly one Gossip Girl mother lavishes couture wear on her daughter, chirping, “You’ll never be more beautiful or thin or happy than you are right now.” But Gossip Girl isn’t about adults. It’s about teens who all go to the same elite private high school (and highlighting salon), and who seemingly have no limits—credit or otherwise.
In episode-one, poor little rich girl Serena is staying in one of New York’s toniest hotels (the family manse is being renovated), which is owned by Chuck’s parents. Like a Donald Trump mini-me, only cockier, Chuck orders the hotel kitchen closed early so the chef can make a grilled cheese-and-truffle oil sandwich for Serena—who is blithely and underagedly downing martinis in the bar.
Clearly, we’re supposed to care about Serena and her “issues.” Mostly, though, this writer cares about all those real teens out there drinking in such onscreen excess.
How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve had a taste of martinis and truffle oil?