I wouldn't call myself a big fan of "Gossip Girl," but I do watch it. I say this with a certain amount of shame. It's not a "good" show--artistically or otherwise. It has no redeeming social value beyond base entertainment. And it portrays the teens and young adults of the Upper East Side private schools as callow, conniving, amoral messes.
The feelings that "Gossip Girl" stirs up for me read like a list of the Seven Deadly Sins: Lust for Chuck Bass, Envy of Serena's hair, Gluttony at the feast of way-over-the-top characters and gaping "plot" lines, and Pride in my beautiful city (at least the beautiful parts of it), lovingly rendered in shimmering Technicolor.
Many episodes evoke Mirth--and that's no sin--particularly when the writing is crisp and witty and chock full of insider jokes. But the same episodes might call up Anger, like when a character mentiones, by name, a certain Upper East Side private girls' school in connection with a (made-up) sex scandal. That's when I get worried that the good folks of middle America will get the wrong idea about the typical Upper East Side Private School Girl (hereinafter, UESPSG for short).
You see, my daughter is a UESPSG, and her reality is a galaxy far, far away from GG's small-screen universe.
She's in eleventh grade, trying to make good grades and getting ready for the SATs and the accompanying college application frenzy. As far as I can tell, she has little in common with GG's eye-candy characters, hell-bent as they are on sex, drugs, alcohol, underage nightclubbing, designer goods and luxury hotel suites.
My child is into Harry Potter. Still. And so are a surprising (to me, anyway) number of her peers.
She continues to collect volumes of Harry Potter books, even though her bookshelves are full of first editions, including those from OTHER COUNTRIES. We're on to the audio books now, and lamenting that there's no Harry Potter for Kindle (yet.)
She re-read Potter this summer on the beach, blindly lost to the books while teenage boys circled her like so many adolescent sharks.
She has an app on her iPhone called "Spells," which turns the device into a noisy, fireworks-spewing wizard's wand. After the fourth "Expeliarmus!" last night, I had to ask her to turn the thing down.
She watches "A Harry Potter Musical"--(a parody, natch) incessantly on youTube.
And God only knows how many Potter-inspired websites she's monitoring, posting to, and possibly managing.
But here's the topper, and the thing that gives me great hope for the world: She started a Muggle Quidditch League at her school.
Yep, at one of those Upper East Side private girls' schools, where all the girls are....well, you know from the TV show, right?
The Muggle Quidditch league is, by all accounts, wildly popular. It's not a school-sanctioned club, she advises me, but it's the biggest "club" in the Upper School--about a quarter of the highschoolers signed up and went through a reportedly hilarious "sorting." If they ever get around to actually playing quidditch (I await the inevitable deluge of brooms upon my household) it will be the "sport" at school with the highest rate of participation. It's all she can talk about.
I asked her last night if other private high schools had Harry Potter clubs or Quidditch leagues. Doubtful, she said. They're too cool for that. As she points out, rather proudly, her school is the Dunder-Mifflin of Upper East Side girls' schools. (If you have to ask what THAT means, you're not watching enough television.)
So what, you might wonder, is up with that? High school girls role-playing Harry Potter, and not the least bit ashamed of how uncool it may seem to the outside world?
I have a couple of half-formed theories.
One is the obvious safety and comfort that this alternate Potter universe presents. At Hogwart's there's NO PRESSURE: No academic carrots-and-sticks, no endless talk of getting into the right college. There's very little substance abuse and even less romance. Just spells and potions and magic with a view to to keeping the Dementors at bay.
It's a relatively safe and closed environment where a group of kids are free to be "different" from society-at-large. Let's face it--Hogwarts is the ultimate nerd haven. So too is its real-world spinoff, the Muggles Quidditch League, an inclusive place where teenage girls can take a step back from that scary precipice of adulthood and engage in a little fantasy fun without fear.
Who knows how long this fascination will last? Who cares? I welcome it, because the girls are obviously having fun, and at no one's expense. It makes my daughter very, very happy. And it's allowed her to (finally) be a leader, because she found something that others would follow her on. Thank goodness it was quidditch and not, say, dealing ecstasy at the bus stop.
And I'm sure my daughter hasn't thought of this, but a leadership position in the Muggle Quidditch League might look pretty good on the right college application. Not that that's conniving or anything. I'm just sayin'.