I will admit it, I watch Gossip Girl. It took me a while to type that, and I cringed as I did, ashamedly. Because the truth is I really hate that show. It’s not a guilty pleasure like The Rachel Zoe Project, Real Housewives or eating an entire tray of cookies. It’s the only show that I consistently watch even as I feel nothing but contempt for every character on the show. I’m rooting for no one, the “plots” (if you can even call them that) are so absurd as to be almost insulting to anyone who has ever taken a high school English class, and the tired formula of inventing some ludicrously inane formal event in each and every episode so that the entire cast can be assured of being assembled together in their couture finery at the end of the show makes Three’s Company look fresh and inventive.
Why do I watch then? To see the clothes and to prove to myself that my generation were by far, cooler, edgier teenagers.
Sure, we weren’t as cool as the Gen X-ers, with their John Hughes 80s movies and their internet bubble, but those of us who came of age during the angsty grunge era kinda lucked out, especially compared to the current generation of teenagers. We didn’t have the Disney corporation sponsoring our adolescence, and our TV bad boy didn’t dress like George Stephanopolous
I realized this recently when I picked up an issue of Seventeen magazine at a newsstand the other day. Seventeen had been my very favorite magazine from the ages of thirteen through seventeen when I began reading grown-folks magazines. Compared to the now-defunct YM (sleazy), Teen (YM post-lobotomy) and whatever other garbage, Seventeen always seemed to be bit more high-minded. Interviews with celebrities who talked about more than hair products, articles about careers, college, school and body image, and music that didn’t come from a movie about a bunch of teens in high school.
Alas the salad days of that magazine are gone forever and what remains is essentially a catalog filled with makeup, perfume, hair styling products and bunch of other garbage endorsed by the cast of, yes, High School Musical. Apparently, the only celebrities in all of teendom are manufactured, produced and presented by the Disney Corporation. It’s a bunch of the High School Musical teens and Miley Cyrus as well as this Selena Gomez person who is famous for reasons unexplained in this magazine. With bated breath I read about her enthusiasm for Clinique â€œHappy, Citrusâ€ perfume and her groundbreaking insights that smoking is “grossâ€ and â€œlike,makes your teeth yellow.â€
Beginning with a full page photo of Lauren Conrad frowning as she valiantly attempts to insert a button into a buttonhole on a model’s dress, emblazoned with the screaming pink words â€œGet Your Dream Job!â€, an article on careers was one of the low points of my perusal of the magazine. Sandwiched between a five page spread which instructs you on which perfume is right for you depending on which girl-box you fit into (Daring, Sweet, Earthy, Sophisticated or Glamâ€”remember, you can only be one!) and a section entitled â€œEAT FOOD!â€ , (What a controversial directive!) this article was depressing for several reasons. Perhaps I’m remembering earlier issues of Seventeen with the rose colored glasses of hindsight, but I’m pretty sure that it didn’t posit that the 5 most covetable careers were:
1. An Actress
2. A model
3. A Doctor ,
4. A Fashion Designer
5. A Musician
With the exception of â€œdoctorâ€, a profession which of course has been glamorized out of all realms of reality by television, (and which was illusrtated in this article by a picture of some lady from Grey’s Anatomy, who I’m pretty sure isn’t a licensed physician) every single one of the careers that the girls polled aspired to have is almost entirely based on being rich, skinny and hot. The choice of actress was not illustrated by Katharine Hepburn, Cate Blanchett or Bette Davis. Rather Leighton Meester of Gossip Girl was Seventeen’s visual aspirational figure. Likewise â€Fashion Designerâ€ was not illustrated by Marc Jacobs, Stella McCartney or even Coco Chanel, but Kira Plastinina, a fifteen-year old Muscovite heiress who’s millioniare father offered to bankroll her now defunctâ€œfashionâ€ line for her.
It really does appear that Seventeen has gone the way of Mtv, most movies and the radio in becoming the most corporate-ized version of itself possible pandering to the absolute lowest-common denominator. This is a far cry from the magazine I read as a young person, where I learned about grunge, Isaac Mizrahi, the realities of relationship violence and that yes, I am still a virgin even if I use a tampon. It’s an even further cry from the magazine Sylvia Plath interned for, and that was meant to create a nationwide dialogue with young women who previously had had no platform for discussion about the topics that affected their lives and the culture they were living in. Instead its now a glossy, scented training bra for Cosmopolitan.
Perhaps the interent has taken the job of creating cultural dialogue away from print media but in my mind shouldn’t it be the other way around? Let the website of the magazine be the catalog, with webpage after webpage of trinkets and perfume and makeup tips and behind-the-scene looks at photo shoots. Allow the tangible magazine to retain something of its former self rather than allowing it to be yet another marketing tool for the Disney brand.
Cold comfort though it was, I was happy to see that the Trauma-Rama section still exists, showcasing reader’s most humiliating run-ins with tampons, digestive problems and accidentally kissing your gym teacher.
â€œ Try to make things interesting and relate them to your life. When you are studying ancient Roman figures, try to picture the hotties from Gossip Girl in their places. Who would make the yummiest Ceaser? Ed? Chace? or Penn?”
I weep for the future.