Thesis: Criticism of Television Shows

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TV Show Critique -- Gossip Girl

TV Show Critique of Gossip Girl

Media plays a powerful role in the development of a teenager's personality and on teen culture, as a whole. Celebrities and popular personalities on television, radio and magazines dictate what is "in" and what is "out" on impressionable teenagers. They are bombarded with images of media everyday and everywhere. Simple forms of media influence can be witnessed in common conversations held among friends, with the use of terms or phrases made famous by popular personalities. An example of such a term is "Frenemies," which was coined by the character Carrie Bradshaw from the television show, "Sex and the City" and describes friends who are constantly at odds with each other.

"You know you love me," is a phrase made famous by Gossip Girl also known as "GG" from the controversial Gossip Girl book series created by Cecily von Ziegesar in 2002 (Naugle, 3) . Described as "Sex and the City for the younger set" (Waters, 5) these books were made into a teenage drama television (TV) series in 2007. Following in the footsteps of past teenage drama series like 90210, Dawson's Creek, One Tree Hill, and The O.C., the Gossip Girl TV series has since become a huge sensation among teenagers. This paper seeks to better understand the reason why a TV show like Gossip Girl has such an impact on the everyday lives of teenagers and how it has affected their values, traditions, and the relationships they maintain with both family and peers.

The first part of This paper shall cover a review of related literature, beginning with Rosemary V. Barnett's views on the development of teenagers from childhood to adolescence. The paper will then relate this to the insights given by Jennifer A. Irving on the control that media has on teenagers, and how they are more susceptible to media's subliminal messages. The author will then link this to the reason why a television show like Gossip Girl has such a hold on today's teenager as well as the possible impact that Gossip Girl may have on a teenager's moral development and the effect of this on their social interactions.

Review of Related Literature

Rosemary V. Barnett's series of articles give insight on the challenges that teenagers face during their journey of childhood to adolescence. The late teen or late adolescent years (from the ages 15- 18 years) are not only awkward but they are also difficult because of the many physical changes adolescents have to go through in the transition into adulthood (Barnett, 2008). Rapid physical changes make teenagers more sensitive and insecure about who they are and where they belong among peers (Barnett, 2008).

Jennifer A. Irving reaffirms Barnett's take on the adolescent stating that, "Adolescence is a very complex time in a teen's life. Most adolescents struggle to find an identity that is individual and unique, while at the same time conforms to the various societal pressures to which they are exposed." (Irving 4). Using different channels of influence, such as television, radio, movies, magazines, media often takes advantage of such a vulnerable period in a teenager's life. An American writer Allen Ginsberg once said "whoever controls the media -- the images-controls the culture" (qtd in Irving 7). This has never been more true than it is today, accompanied by advancements in technology and communication, media is able to constantly bombard teenagers with unreachable standards or images to emulate that may hold realistic and damaging consequences (Irving 8).

Along with the search to find out, "Who am I?" comes the teenagers' yearning for independence from their parents. The new genre of "chick lit," in particular on von Ziegesar's Gossip Girl book series, is able to lure in teen readers by portraying teenage characters who are beautiful, rich, independent and mature and live in a fantastical world but still have to battle to the everyday life of high-school (Naugle, 30); thus, the novels still maintain a personal connection to the reader.

Von Ziegesar successfully creates a setting that has just the right blend of fantasy and reality. For example, even if von Ziegesar's world is restricted to the New York Elite who live in the Upper East Side of New York City, her descriptions of the homes of the characters are vague and common (Naugle, 37). This lack of detail gives the reader the freedom to imagine their own home or any other that they may have seen (Ibid).

The situations and the characters are also a mixture of fantasy and familiarity. The fantasy is that all of the characters are beautiful, rich and have "unlimited access to money" (qtd in Naugle, 33). They live an extravagant life where they throw parties, such as the "Kiss on the Lips party where authentic Kate Spade bags were given away as party favors to unimpressed guests," have "fabulous vacations (private yacht rides to tropical islands)," attend "crazy parties in the Hamptons" and go for a "weekend getaway to Paris" (qtd in Naugle, 33).

However, this fantastical world is counterbalanced by the everyday struggle that the characters face in their high-school lives. They, too, battle with issues that were once considered to be taboo, like sex, alcohol and drug abuse (Naugle, 44-49). The characters also exhibit a maturity longed for by readers and viewers as there is a lack of parental presence, and guidance, throughout the series (Naugle 36). For older and more mature viewers, TV shows like Gossip Girl are but "guilty pleasures" and used for pure entertainment. However, for teenagers that are easily molded, Gossip Girl is just a novel or a TV show but something that reflects some parts of their own lives and, in a way, is a release for their most repressed desires (Naugle 38).

The main Gossip Girl characters -- Blair, Serena, Chuck, and Nate- are stereotypical (Naugle 38). "Blair, the beautiful but bitchy and conniving brunette who struggles with bulimia; Serena, Blair's "frenemy," who is considered to be the "perfect blonde bombshell" but is also "extremely self-centered"; there is Nate, the hot all-American preppy guy who all the girls want and all of the boys want to be like; Chuck who is Nate's sleazy bestfriend but whose family's power and influence makes him more tolerable in the eyes of his peers; Isabel and Kati who strive to brew up more drama in the story" (Naugle 39).

The "lower class" characters, who live in Brooklyn, include "Jenny the annoying wannabe who is willing to risk everything just to be part of the "in-crowd"; Dan, Jenny's older brother, a hippie poet who is both trying to find his place among his peers but is also highly resistant to the "in-crowd"; then there is Vanessa, Dan's bestfriend, a cynical, goth-rebel chick; and Blair's minions," (Ibid).

The main characters are also highly flawed and yet do not try and do not want to change their bad habits (Naugle 38- 42). On the contrary, the characters flaunt their flaws and weak moral values and claiming that, "we aren't always the nicest people in the world but we make up for it in looks and taste" (qtd in Naugle 41). The creation of far from perfect characters humanizes the over the top characters and teaches teenagers that being privileged does not mean that life is any easier.

However, it may also be detrimental to the development of a teenager's moral development since the characters lack parental guidance, they are free from rules and restrictions and can get away with almost anything. Moreover, the overly concern with material possessions like wanting to have the latest designer bags or shoes as well as the superficial means of happiness and instant fixes of gratification, such as getting wasted on alcohol or high on drugs, may have lasting negative impressions on teenagers and what activities that think are fun or values that they consider to be important.

The lack of parental presence and guidance in the Gossip Girl stories may diminish the importance of strong parental bonds and ultimately, solid family relationships. The viciousness of the "frenemy" relationship that Blair and Serena have and how Serena sleeps with Blair's boyfriend, Nate, could teach teenagers that it friendships are not shallow and sex is more important than loyalty to a friend. Although, on the upside, the main girl characters in Gossip Girl are strong and they are not dominated nor mistreated by the boy characters. Blair and Serena's lives do not revolve around boys though they do not lack them. Blair has higher ambitions, such as her academic studies and her dream of going to Harvard and Serena places more importance on her extracurricular activities like, starring in movies and being a model (Naugle 41).

More so, the discrimination of the upper class characters against the so-called lower and unsophisticated class characters is clear (Naugle, 51). This is evidenced in von Ziegesar's comparison of Dan renting a tuxedo from a rental store with the Armani tux he considered buying at Barney's:… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Criticism of Television Shows.  (2009, May 3).  Retrieved May 19, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/criticism-television-shows/99251

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"Criticism of Television Shows."  Essaytown.com.  May 3, 2009.  Accessed May 19, 2019.
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