Monday, October 8, 2007

Gossip Girl: "harsh realities" or low expectations?

Susan Vigilante over at Desperate Irish Housewife has an article in the current National Review about "Gossip Girl", yet another distorted television series about high school age kids. Click here to read the entire article, which is in Vigilante's usual conversational-satirical style.

Noticing excessive underage drinking in a famous New York hotel bar (among other moral issues) in the series, she called the director of communications at the New York Palace. Here are some parts of her summary of their conversation (with my favorites of his comments in bold)

I spoke to Peter Holmberg, director of communications at the hotel, and asked him what he thought about the New York Palace bar’s new identity as the easiest place in New York for teenager to score a martini.

At first, Holmberg seemed even more surprised by my call than I was that he took it. No one else, he said, had asked this question. But he was willing to discuss it.

First of all, he said, it’s important to remember that Gossip Girl is a fantasy. The hotel you see on the show “isn’t really our hotel. Our hotel is called the New York Palace; the one in the series is called the Palace. Our hotel is playing a character in the series. It isn’t really us. Did you see the show? That reception desk wasn’t even ours. It was a fake.”

“But that really was your bar,” I said. “And that really was your courtyard.” Besides, I went on to tell him, “The Palace” might be a slightly different name, but there’s no way anyone who had ever seen the place would confuse it with some other hotel. The place has been a landmark for a hundred years. There is simply no mistaking it for anything else.

“We are the New York Palace Hotel,” he repeated. “The ‘Palace” in the series isn’t really us.”

I said that was like saying “The cathedral” across the street wasn’t’ really St. Pat’s.


“Look,” Holmberg went on, “I read the script.” If it hadn’t included things like drinking and pot-smoking, he said, “it would not have rung true to me. This series illuminates some of the harsh realities of teenage life. It’s a quality program that touches on controversial issues.” But, he added, “If I felt it was endorsing [these behaviors] I would never have allowed it to film here.”

'Scuse me? Since when does a "fantasy", as he calls it, have to be true to life? And why does it have to teenagers trying to get into bars to score an illegal martini or five to "ring true"? What does that say about what he expects of teens?

Oh yes, and did we mention that Mr. Holmberg tires to placate Mrs Vigilante my mentioning that he himself is the uncle of teenagers?

Holmberg told me he has two teenage nieces. Thanks to Gossip Girl, he said, he has had some very “fruitful, in-depth” discussions with them about things like underage drinking

Oh, that makes me feel sooo much better.

Look, people. Teenagers already know that our expectations of them are pathetically low. But, believe it or not, there are plenty of them who manage to get through high school (and sometimes even college) without getting drunk, high, or pregnant, and who will probably never be cruel enough to put anybody in dire need of therapy.

Is there a lot of that going on? Absolutely. But even if destructive behavior is "normal" do we have to reinforce it? What's wrong with raising our kids to be a little better than that? If we're going to talk about "fantasy," what's wrong with the occasional TV protagonist who can rise above these "harsh realities"? That doesn't have to be a fantasy, you know. Most kids are capable of doing that, if given proper motivation. The trouble is, many adults don't believe this is true.

The other trouble is, many parents are afraid of rasiing kids that are different. Teenagers may get pressure to conform from their peers, but their fear of being different is reinforced by parents who lack the courage to teach their kids to be proud of what makes them distinct. Some parents are so afraid that they actually buy the kegs for their teenagers' weekend parties! They help their kids engage in destructive behaviors, assuming that if they get drunk and have promiscuous sex at home, they'll be safer because they are in a "safe place" being "supervised".

Note to concerned parents: If you want your child to survive junior high and high school, you cannot participate in mindless conformity yourself. You cannot make your first concern your child's social popularity. You must start teaching them not to follow the lemming hordes from an early age. Like, say, as soon as they start school. It really can be done.

And, by the way, if we really want teens to avoid underage drinking and similarly destructive behaviors, why are we going to such lengths to cultivate the "everybody 's doing it" myth with our popular entertainment?

So a big high five from this educator to Susan Vigilante, for her attempt to infuse some common sense into a world that needs it.

Update: I wasn't kidding about parents providing alcohol for their minor kids' parties. This was a prominent enough problem at the high school I attended, that a local judge was actually invited to a parent meeting to explain the legal ramifications of it.

According to a post over at Catholic Mom, One parent in Rockville, MD just got in BIG trouble with the law for doing so. In my home state of California, you could be charged with "contributing to the delinquency of a minor", among other things, assuming anyone actually bothered to enforce the law. Unfortunately, most of this stuff goes unreported.

I should have added earlier that parents who put on keggers for their kids are not only guilty of being lemmings--they are also criminally negligent.

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