Okay, you’re never going to believe this. On a recent episode of Gossip Girl, Serena was caught buying a pregnancy test, which made everyone think she was pregnant, but it turned out the pregnancy test was for Blair. Serena tried to cover for her for awhile, but then Chuck told Gossip Girl (the mysterious, unknown blogger) that Blair slept with two guys in one week, and now everyone thinks she’s a slut.
I should be ashamed of myself for watching this trash, right? At one time, I would have said yes. But now I sit proudly on the edge of my seat every week, waiting to find out who’ll sleep with whom, who’ll pass out drunk, and who’ll commit a crime next. I’m sure at least half of you will be looking down on me from your high horses as you read this, but you can’t possibly spend your time watching PBS and CNN all day. And with the untimely demise of the witty and wonderful Gilmore Girls, and the string of pseudo-intellectual comedies like 30 Rock (Sorry Tina Fey, I loved you on SNL) that we’ve been inundated with lately (not to mention the writers’ strike), it’s hard to find truly good television.
So what’s left? Bad television. And I say let’s embrace it. At the end of the day, what we’re really looking for is entertainment, escapism, if you will. The late film critic extraordinarie Pauline Kael espoused a similar belief about bad movies: “The movie doesn’t have to be great; it can be stupid and empty and you can still have the joy of a good performance, or the joy in just a good line. An actor’s scowl, a small subversive gesture, a dirty remark that someone tosses off with a mock-innocent face, and the world makes a little bit of sense.” Now, I understand movies and TV are two different things, and Kael herself seemed to be no big fan of the wide world of television, but I think the same theory can apply.
Watching an hour of Gossip Girl’s ornate, upper-east-side architecture, and lush, delectable costuming is like eating a box of Twinkies, but without the stomachache. No, forget that. Not Twinkies, it’s like eating a four-layer, three hundred dollar, white chocolate cake with raspberry mousse filling and chocolate ganache. Because this isn’t your middle-of-the-afternoon soap opera with bad lighting and even worse interior decorating. These kids inhabit a luxurious landscape of posh hotels and drawing rooms, where the lighting is always soft and the five hundred thousand dollar sofas never clash with your latest Phillip Lim frock. Sure, you’ll spend the hour groaning and sighing alternatively over the ease with which they spend their money and sacrifice their morals, but they do it so you don’t have to. Bad TV lets us live out fantasies we never even new we had.
But, you may ask, does it rot our brains? Can it corrupt us? Well, I suppose I can’t say for sure. But I can tell you that after the credits role each Wednesday, I never have the urge to run out and buy myself a five hundred dollar pair of shoes, or get drunk and break into the nearest prep school for a pool party. Trash TV doesn’t dumb us down, it relaxes us, it makes us laugh, and wanting that can only prove our intelligence.
Don’t get me wrong, I watch “acceptable” television too: comedy for the intellectual (The Colbert Report, The Simpsons), PBS (I just watched the new, made-for-TV version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion last night), I also frequent the History Channel. But at the end of a long day, during which I have, perhaps, trudged to and from classes through 6 inches of snow, read 200 pages of Japanese history, and started researching a 20 page paper examining the representations of childhood in the works of Austen and Wordsworth, there is something truly cathartic about a world where teenagers throw elaborate, booze soaked parties, and even the kids without trust funds dress to impress.