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.
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.