Thursday, March 06, 2008

Training a "Gospel Girl" When Every Daughter Wants to Be a "Gossip Girl"

The New Yorker has a good story on a series of books that you may or may not have heard about. They're called the "Gossip Girl" books and they deal with a pack of tony New York prep school kids who act like, well, tony New York prep school kids. I can write that line with credibility--I went to college with a bunch of this type. They were fascinating to a small-town Maine boy, much like a rare species of African bird. I have not read the books that touch on this demographic and will not be reading them at this time. I can, however, say that Christians should be aware of these books and the worldview they represent. If you have kids, or if you are involved in ministry to teens, or if you are remotely interested in how the culture is thinking, you will want to be aware of this series and the tv show it has spawned.

Janet Malcolm, the author of the piece, summarizes the key characters of the show in this fashion:

"As the first book opens, Blair Waldorf—who is almost seventeen and lives in a penthouse at Fifth Avenue and Seventy-second Street, with her divorcée mother, Eleanor, her younger brother, Tyler, and her cat, Kitty Minky—is sulking in her room. Blair, in the description of a classmate, antiheroine of the first rank: bad-tempered, mean-spirited, bulimic, acquisitive, endlessly scheming, and, of course, dark-haired. The blond heroine, Serena van der Woodsen (who lives at an even better Fifth Avenue address, right across from the Metropolitan Museum), is incandescently beautiful, exceptionally kind, and, in the end, it has to be said, somewhat boring. The series belongs to awful Blair, who inspires von Ziegesar’s highest flights of comic fancy."

Apparently, Blair attempts to accomplish two goals throughout the series: sleeping with a boy she likes and getting into Yale. Serena apparently is nicer and morally purer than Blair. The series involves a series of exchanges between the two and various boys, with a good deal of commentary thrown in on modern rich parents. The parents of these girls and their classmates seem to do very little to regulate, constrain, or direct the behavior of their progeny, though they wish ardently for their children to attain the trappings of a "good life": an excellent education, wealth, an attractive spouse/partner. The show, which I have not watched but am familiar with, seems to follow roughly the same lines as the book series, though with larger roles for the parents.

So what's the big deal, one might ask? Well, it's my humble opinion that though we Christians may not watch this show (and shows like it), and though we may very well steer our children from such fare, we will nonetheless benefit from knowing that it exists and from studying its worldview to anticipate how the secular world will be influenced and, in turn, will seek to influence our children. Books and shows like "Gossip Girl" have a serious trickle-down effect in the broader culture. There's a reason that they're set in New York, one of the cultural capitals of the world, and they influence the way that children all across the world think and view themselves and others. These particular works seem to encourage the reader to think that parents (and adults more broadly) are stupid, irresponsible, and not worthy of the authority they possess; that it is good and right for children (teens) to pursue sex, intrigue, and materialism of the most excessive sort; that beauty and social standing set one's course in life. Of course, the author of this series mocks these views, but it seems clear that her mockery is set in a worldview that simultaneously enjoys and even celebrates them. If beauty and materialism really aren't important, why write a series of novels that, however ironically, celebrates them?

We need to know about cultural influencers like Gossip Girl. In a culture that prizes wealth, beauty, and social standing to an extreme degree, we must make sure that we prize spiritual wealth, spiritual beauty, and kingdom standing. We must take care to train our children, whether in our families or our churches, to reject the culture's ideals and principles and to embrace God's. I can only think of what series like this will do to a young girl, culturally plugged-in, who does not have a strong Christian family to train her to think rightly about Gossip Girl. It is only natural to assume that she will measure herself by its standards, prize its worldview, and slowly, quietly turn away from the true beauty and riches of the Christian faith. The things of this world do not appear to the natural man as hideous, remember, but as beautiful.

Gossip Girl
is a polished bauble in the eyes of many girls today and is a part of a culture that creates great animosity for things of God. Let us work, then, to create families where biblical womanhood (and manhood) is celebrated, where beauty is seen primarily in spiritual terms, where wealth in Christ is far more precious than the designer labels that call out for our consumption. Gossip Girl may tempt young women, but when it is placed alongside a joyful, God-centered, well-led Christian family and church, its luster will fade, and our girls will not want to be women of gossip and intrigue, but women of the gospel.

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