Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Laguna Beach, the Gossip Girls, and the Female Chauvinist Pig

The other day, in my YA class, we were discussing books. Imagine that--we were actually talking about literature. Well, not literature so much, but about a certain genre that is becoming more and more popular. This genre is like Sex and the City without likable characters.... We're talking sex, drugs, and rock and roll...

Laguna Beach is an entertaining, but slightly irritating series on MTV in which very wealthy, vapid girls have sex, party, and talk about one another. Gossip Girl, a book series published for high school teens, is about very wealthy, vapid girls who have sex, party, and talk about one another. Hmmm... There is a trend here....

Now, here's the deal. I'm a librarian, and I love to read. I read EVERYTHING. I mean EVERYTHING. I love chick-lit, and badly formulated romances, I love suspense, and even a little b
it of DEEP writing. But, I have to admit, that I enjoy falling in love with a character. In fact this is why I have such a hard time reading short stories. I miss each character at the end of each story. So, this is why I'm so troubled by this new genre. Not only are these characters doing over-the-top stuff (I can handle that! We all need a good fantasy nowadays!), but they just aren't likable! It's not like the book Damage in which the characters are manipulative, evil, yet strangely enjoyable to follow. Instead I found myself bored. The characters are one-dimensional, strangely depressing, and I really had a hard time rooting for any of them.

Sex and the City introduced my generation to designer everything. Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte may have sipped on twelve-dollar martinis, partied in the hippest clubs, and bought shoes like Imelda Marcos, but they were good to each other. That's what made the show survive. This newer genre portrays younger women in a very different light. Not only are they drunk sex-a-holics, but they actually seem to lack souls--which makes them much more frighte
ning to read about.

The thing that I find the most disturbing is that no longer can we blame this limiting portrayal on men. Instead, female authors are the ones who understand that there is money to be made if this sells. Interestingly enough, many of these new works, are produced by women writers. So, are these books just poorly written fantasy, or are they more telling than that?

As a side note to this, I read a book last year that has continued to occupy my mind--especially when I recognize the trends that have invaded the publishing world. The culture of easy exhibitionism and Girls Gone Wild-like behavior is fascinating to read about in the book, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy. In it, Ms. Levy explores feminism from various perspectives. She writes about both the women who profit from this new exhibitionist culture, as well as the females who have recreated themselves to fit a stereotype of "sexy" that today's society seems to crave.

From the review in Publisher's Weekly:

What does sexy mean today?...It has elevated porn above sexual pleasure. Most insidiously, it has usurped the keywords of the women's movement (liberation, empowerment) to serve as buzzwords for a female sexuality that denies passion (in all its forms) and embraces consumerism. To understand how this happened, Levy examines the women's movement, identifying the residue of divisive, unresolved issues about women's relationship to men and sex. The resulting raunch feminism, she writes, is a garbled attempt at continuing the work of the women's movement and asks, how is resurrecting every stereotype of female sexuality that feminism endeavored to banish good for women?

Are women sexually empowered because we now control this sexy exhibitionism, or are we really only acting this way for our male audience?

This is the same with Paris Hilton and the rest of the Gossip Girls. Maybe they are just smarter than the rest--they understand what sells, and they produce it. Yet, perhaps there is a deeper sadness lurking below the surface. Although I don't have many answers, I think as a woma
n, and a librarian, I have a lot to think about when suggesting books for my teen readers. The "teacher" part of me knows that any reading is "good" reading, and that fantasy comes in many forms. I believe strongly that I will purchase what my patrons want-- I just wish some of the characters in the books had more interesting qualities than just their Prada bags. As I read the novels, I wish I could discover some quirky imperfections that made the characters a bit more human.

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