Age is But a Number

As we continue our studies of television and sitcoms, I keep thinking about some of my favorite shows over the years. I remember watching shows like Gossip Girl and The Hills and idolizing the characters and their seemingly glamorous lives.

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Image via Rolling Stone. (I’m pretty sure they are all 22 in this image, and I’m 22 now and a senior in college…most of them have full-time, seemingly lucrative jobs in industries that would definitely not hire such high positions without a college degree. Last time I checked MTV is not a university.)

While Gossip Girl is fictional, The Hills alleged to be a reality show following the lives of several young girls in Hollywood (even though we later found out that the show was scripted and my dreams were shattered. I digress.). When most of these shows came out, I was much younger than the fictional ages of each character, and my idolization came, in part, from the intrigue of maturation. Recently I have re-watched several of these shows and one thing that continues to shock me is the characters’ ages. Their behavior, dialogue, and clothing are so far beyond their years that it is unbelievable. When I watch The Hills and see Lauren and Heidi celebrating their 20th birthdays at lavish nightclubs and shopping for Chanel purses I simply cannot wrap my head around the fact that they are so young. How is Lauren a college student with a seemingly full-time job at Teen Vogue and nonstop nightlife of dating and late-night partying? How do they even get into so many nightclubs and openly drink on television when they are clearly underage? I understand now that the answer to this is that the show is scripted, they can do whatever they want, but I wonder how people initially reacted when the show first aired. The level of maturity and adult-like behavior that is present on television influences young viewers to think that these are ideals they can achieve. If Blair Waldorf is having sex in the back of a limo at age 16, why would a 16-year-old viewer think this is not age-appropriate behavior? This can be somewhat qualified for fictional television shows because they are not claiming to be reality, but it is much more problematic when the characters on a show are allegedly filming their “real” lives and participating in much older behavior. It is also important to note that much older actors often portray younger characters, which gives the illusion that their actions are conceivable based on the actors’ appearance. I think this notion of age bothers me because I recently watched an episode of The Hills and couldn’t believe how young the girls were and that I am actually older than they are. The Hills can almost be viewed through a lens that it is like a real-life Gossip Girl, and accepting these behaviors as normal is problematic to young viewers who might try to mirror their own lives after what they see on television.

 

Arianna Gershon

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10 Responses to Age is But a Number

  1. mediaphiles says:

    Arianna, I think you make some really good points in your post. I also idolized the girls in those shows when I was younger, and believed that their lives were the norm for 20-somethings. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that such shows are incredibly unrealistic. To be honest, I’m quite surprised my parents even let me watch them at such a young age! -Allie Kleinman

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I was a huge gossip girl fan in high school. I was definitely aware that the girls were a lot older than me and that their actions were more mature than most high schoolers, but that didn’t stop me from idolizing them. I think this trend of seeing much older characters playing high schoolers happens all the time on television now, and I agree that can lead to some problematic portrayals.-Valerie Medoff

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I absolutely loved this post as I always thought the same thing!! I cannot believe how mature they were portrayed when we are the same age now!!! Even in their extravagant high school parties I was always blown away, and I did not even realize they were drinking alcohol! It definitely portrays a false conception of reality.

    Stephanie Rubin

  4. mediaphiles says:

    Completely agree with the above^. In high school I thought that was semi-normal because those girls were doing those things and now being 22 I can’t comprehend it because I personally could not see myself carrying out a lot of the actions that happen in those shows. People wonder how the younger generations are progressing faster in action but it’s not just technology, it’s a combination of television shows as well.

    -Meg Murphy

  5. mediaphiles says:

    I’ve always considered the same thing when re watching shows I used to love!! I have watched every episode on Gossip Girl and the Hills and at the time I was watching them I didn’t really think about their age or that their actions were unrealistic, I just idolized them! Now re watching the episodes, it is insane to me to think that I am older than them and their lives are much top\o lavish to be a reality. I find myself asking many of the same questions you mention in your post!! like really how do they get into so many night clubs, go to college, and have decent internships all while being filmed and having an insane amount of friend/ boy drama. I never considered it while watching it but looking back it is such a skewed version of reality.

    -Sarah Bonner

  6. mediaphiles says:

    I think the exploitation of young girls for entertainment is a huge problem in the film industry. These young people (our age and younger) are used as sexual objects, and we find that concept entertaining. I wasn’t allowed to watch these shows growing up for that reason (a little salty, but mostly glad my mother could see what it was really about). –Serena Daya

  7. mediaphiles says:

    As a young viewer of these shows, I was never fully engaged in them. It wasn’t until two summers ago where I finally sat down and watched all of the Gossip Girl seasons and episodes (which I loved by the way). I would only watch these shows if they were on or if I went to a friends house it was the “cool” show to watch. You made a lot of good points in your paper and as a young girl I would have never noticed what the true meaning of the show was about and even more so the effect it would have on me and my friends in certain areas of our lives. Watching them now, I just can’t take them and their lives seriously.
    -Kendall Fischlein

  8. mediaphiles says:

    As a young viewer of these shows, I was never fully engaged in them. It wasn’t until two summers ago where I finally sat down and watched all of the Gossip Girl seasons and episodes (which I loved by the way). I would only watch these shows if they were on or if I went to a friends house it was the “cool” show to watch. You made a lot of good points in your blog and as a young girl I would have never noticed what the true meaning of the show was about and even more so the effect it would have on me and my friends in certain areas of our lives. Watching them now, I just can’t take them and their lives seriously.
    -Kendall Fischlein

  9. mediaphiles says:

    Couldn’t agree more! Even though I didn’t watch these shows when they aired, I watched Gossip Girl more recently (and love it) but found myself constantly frustrated at how these 16 year old had such unrealistic lives. I think these shows can be harmful if younger viewers perceive them to be realistic lifestyles that they should model their lives after.
    -Sarah King

  10. mediaphiles says:

    I really enjoyed Gossip Girl, and I think the first time I watched it I was 17. So when I watched it, my thought were more like, “Wait they’re 16” or “How do they get in bars at 16” or “Why isn’t my life like that what even?” I do not think it changed my views though or what I think is right. They were in no way a role model for me
    Laya Mohan

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