Monday, March 31, 2008

Loving The Gossip Girl

I finally caught up with the reading at the Adbooks listserv and discovered a link to a new article about the The Gossip Girl in The New Yorker.

In Advanced Placement, Janet Malcolm says early on of Gossip Girl author Cecily von Ziegesar, "Von Ziegesar pulls off the tour de force of wickedly satirizing the young while amusing them." Yes, Malcolm really, really likes The Gossip Girl series. Since she follows up her statement about Von Ziegesar amusing the young with the contradictory, "Her designated reader is an adolescent girl, but the reader she seems to have firmly in mind as she writes is a literate, even literary, adult", her delight may be understandable. She's read far more of the books than I have (I found the first one painful), so I'll have to take her word about how much fun the later entries in the series are. I do want to take issue with one of her generalizations about children's literature, though.

At the end of her article, Malcolm complains about The Gossip Girl TV series because of "its promotion of the books’ parents from their status as emblems of parental inadequacy to that of characters in their own right." She believes that characters who are merely "emblems" are actually a good thing--at least in children's literature. "What makes classic children’s literature so appealing (to all ages) is its undeviating loyalty to the world of the child. In the best children’s books, parents never share the limelight with their children; if they are not killed off on page 1, they are cast in the pitifully minor roles that actual parents play in their children’s imaginative lives. That von Ziegesar’s parent characters are ridiculous as well as insignificant in the eyes of their children only adds to the sly truthfulness of her comic fairy tale."

I totally agree that children should be the center of children's literature. It's also true that a lot of classic kidlit involves orphans because the authors needed to get the parents out of the way so the kids could have adventures. But that was then, and this is now. It's the twenty-first century, and we've moved past those cliches. It's not acceptable to create characters who are "emblems" in children's literature just because that's what they did in days of old. Adult fiction isn't mired in nineteenth and early twentieth century forms. Why should children's literature be stuck there?

There are many, many writers out there who are able to maintain loyalty to the world of the child without using shallow stereotypes. But I wonder how many of them Malcolm has read. Earlier in her article, she used the following quote as an example of Gossip Girl wit: "Auntie Lyn," some old lady who'd basically founded the Girl Scouts or something, was supposed to talk. Auntie Lynn was already leaning on her metal walker in the front row, wearing a poo-brown pantsuit and hearing aids in both ears, looking sleepy and bored. After she spoke—or keeled over and died, whichever came first—Mrs. McLean would hand out the diplomas.

"Only someone very hard-hearted wouldn't laugh at this," Malcolm insists.

Come on! If she hasn't read any YA or even books for younger kids she must have at least seen a couple of teen movies. That portrayal of elderly people is one of the oldest stereotypes in the book! Kids must have read or seen something similar a half dozen times by the time they reach their mid-teens. If they're serious readers, they've seen it more.

I certainly have no problem with people enjoying The Gossip Girl. I'd even be interested in hearing a positive argument for the series. I read this article, after all. But suggesting that it's good because it carries traditional kidlit cliches doesn't do it for me.

Advanced Placement seems to me to just be another one of those articles on children's/YA literature by someone who isn't very familiar with the field.


Post a Comment

<< Home