You And I Could Write A Bad Romance
I don’t usually do this, but it requires some back story before you automatically judge me. I’m aware that Gossip Girl isn’t exactly what one would call a masterpiece. But it is television crack. It’s a show I initially got into because of Kristen Bell, who played Veronica on Veronica Mars (which, I’ll have you know, is a masterpiece). She narrates for the show, so I was curious about her next project. Gossip Girl is intensely addictive, and both my sister and I were immediately hooked. The show is basically about a group of Manhattan rich kids and the hijinks they get into when their rich parents are too busy to actually parent them.
The thing is, that kids get up to more than their parents will ever know about. Usually by the time parents are really starting to worry that their kids are up to no good, it is more than way too late. So when a recent episode of the show had the Parents Television Council (PTC) in a frenzy, I had to say something. In this episode Vanessa (Jessica Szohr), Dan (Penn Badgley) and Olivia (Hilary Duff) decide to participate in a threesome. The irritating thing, is that it wasn’t even explicit. Olivia kisses Dan, and then she kisses Vanessa, and that’s pretty much all we actually get to see, the rest is all implied. This alone elicited a 20% ratings increase from the previous week, according to Nielsen stats (which resulted in the highest ratings the CW has had on a Monday all season). However, after the first half-hour of the episode, the network actually lost viewers, and the viewers it still had were predominantly young adult women. At least recently, Gossip Girl hasn’t been doing so well in the ratings department anyhow, so the chance that impressionable teenagers even saw this show is slim to none, considering they do not fit into the target demographic. I didn’t even start watching it until I was 22.
Since its first episode, Gossip Girl has been stirring the pot with racy storylines and jawdropping ads (like the one pictured above). Despite that fact, the ad for the episode inspired the PTC to begin targeting CW affiliates in an effort to stop them from airing the episode (a tactic that failed miserably). The group issued a press release, stating "To include a storyline like this on a program that is expressly targeted to impressionable teenagers is reckless and irresponsible. We are asking each CW Network affiliate to use their common sense and preempt this episode. Will you now be complicit in establishing a precedent and expectation that teenagers should engage in behaviors heretofore associated primarily with adult films?" And it isn’t the first time that the group has complained about the show. In July 2008, they spoke out against a racy marketing campaign for its new season, in which ads showed intimate moments between the show’s characters (on a couch, in bed and skinnydipping), accompanied by healines that read "A Nasty Piece of Work" and "Mind-Blowingly Inappropriate."
"CW has been defending graphic content on ‘Gossip Girl’ by asserting that they don’t target teenagers," the PTC has stated. "Such a claim doesn’t even pass the ‘laugh test." Paul McGuire, a spokesman for the CW, has said that the target audience for the show is for 18-to-34 year old women, with a median viewer at about 27 years old. They did not comment on the PTC’s complaint. I can appreciate how concerned parents would be worried about Disney Graduate, Hilary Duff, starring in a threesome on a popular primetime TV show could lure in tweens who love her and expose them to stuff they’re not ready for, but come on. Hilary Duff is an adult now, and all of the main characters in the show are in college.
Even Jessica Szohr, who plays Vanessa on the show, is defending the episode. "Our show does a very good job with their advertising and the things that they do, so when they had this talk of a threesome coming up, so many people were talking about it and giving their opinions, and at the end of the day, not everyone is going to agree with what we’re doing, but people were talking about it." She told MTV News. She went on to say that the scene wasn’t as graphic as worried parents might imagine it to be (which makes me think that maybe its the parents and not the TV execs who are the perverts). "I hope they enjoyed it — we had fun doing it," she said. "They’re easy to work with. It was easy, simple and it was one of those things where parents say, ‘Why should my kid be watching this?’ If you’re their parent, tell them not to watch it. What do you want me to say?" Even though she was unwilling to apologize for the plotline, she did forewarn her own family, and went on to say that she felt it was tastefully done, as much as it may have been risqué.
E! Online counters the PTC’s argument, stating some very good points. The PTC would have us believe that the show is implying that everyone participates in threesomes. While they do happen to normal people, it isn’t common. Most people will tell you that it’s hard enough to get one date, let alone two- at the same time. And if they really were that common, I’m sure people would be too busy with their threesomes to stop and catch Gossip Girl.
Now to unleash my opinion. I do generally disagree with unecessary sex scenes in anything (television or otherwise), especially when it’s graphic and does nothing to advance the story. But at the same time, I also have a problem with refusing to say what may be controversial in the hopes that promoting abstinence will prevent teens from having sex. This is a predominantly American practice, and it fails. Pregnancy rates in adolescents are much higher in the United States, where they withhold sexual education in preference of advocating abstinence, than it is in Canada, where kids have taken sex ed by the 7th grade; and it’s total bullshit. If discussing threesomes on a popular TV show means that kids get to see a dramatization of a real-life situation, and the same show then shows them that there are consequences for complicating things with sex (especially group sex), then they may end up better prepared to decide for themselves whether that’s a complicated situation they are willing to put themselves in. In the episodes that followed, the relationships between Dan, Vanessa and Olivia began to truly unravel. Though that isn’t how all threesomes end, it’s not uncommon. I must also rebut the statement that threesomes are generally reserved for adult films. Regular joes do it, of all shapes and sizes. A great number of people I know have participated in at least one, and they didn’t get the idea from TV.
The PTC should just be glad that at least the threesome was consentual. You can’t bury teenagers’ heads in the sand and hope that they keep their knickers on. These days, 80% of teenagers are sexually active by 17 years old, and 50% of all teenagers are participating in casual sex with multiple partners. Chances are, even if you’ve tried to protect them from stuff like this, you’ve failed miserably. Most high school students seek out and view pornographic material on a regular basis (thanks, internet!). I’d hazard to say that all high school students have sexually graphic conversations with their friends on a regular basis, and most of them are having sex already. Congratulations! Because you promote abstinence and refuse to have candid discussions with your kids, you’re at high risk for becoming a grandparent before your kid graduates. Teens in homes that are ruled by parents who promote abstinence are three times as likely to have unprotected sex without the use of birth control. They are also at higher risk of STD’s and cervical cancer, because they have not gone for their annual physical. Be a real parent, and have the sex talk with your kids. They’re gonna do it eventually, and preparation is your only weapon.
And if that isn’t enough, I could understand the PTC’s outrage, if Gossip Girl had ever been an appropriate show for teenagers. But, come on! In the first episode, Serena has sex with her best friend’s boyfriend. Later on in the series, Blair loses her virginity in the back of a limo to a guy in her social circle whom she doesn’t even like. Serena is constantly engaged in gratuitous drinking, drug use, sex and partying, and in one episode, it comes to light that she committed negligent homicide with her friend Georgina, after allowing someone to overdose, and caused his death by covering it up instead of calling 911. All of these things pretty much underline the fact that the show was never safe territory for ‘impressionable teens’. Instead of attacking television networks and executives, instead of targeting screenwriters and producers, why don’t you try sitting down and watching TV with your kids so that A) You know what they are watching, and B) You can talk to your kids about it afterward.