"Young Adult Fiction: Wild Things" by Naomi Wolf
Leeandra: "OK, how many people here have read any of the Gossip Girl books? (most of the girls' hands go up) How many people have watched the show? (nearly all of the hands go up). First thoughts on this essay--is she accurate? Are the books really like this?"
Student 1: "These kids are nasty!"
Leeandra: "OK, what do you mean by that?"
Student 2: "You know, they NASTY! Be all talking about sex and drugs all the time. Kids ought not to be doing that."
Student 3: "Kids these days all be doing that."
Leeandra: "So are the Gossip Girl books an accurate portrayal of teenage life?"
Student 1: "Oh yeah. They all be having sex and shit. Thinking 'bout boys and sex all the time."
Leeandra: "Yes, but haven't teenage girls always been thinking about boys and sex all the time? What makes the Gossip Girl books different from, say, Judy Blume books? Wolf points it out on page 840, first paragraph."
Student 4: "Well, they're for a different generation. Judy Blume wrote in the olden days."
Leeandra: "I don't think the 1970s technically count as the olden days yet, but how have teenagers really changed that much?"
Student 1: "Oh they changed! They NASTY! What with that dirty dancing and all that. Kids these days. Got no morals."
Leeandra: "How old are you?"
Student 1: (taken aback) "I'm 18!"
Leeandra: "So you have more morals than someone six months younger than you?"
Student 1: (blank look)
Leeandra: "Do teenagers really talk like this: (reads ridiculously purple prose from Gossip Girl, in which Nate and Serena have sex in a Bergdorf's dressing room while talking like jaded 45-year-old soap opera stars)?"
Student 4: "My cousin had sex in a hot tub!"
Student 5: "You cousin's a nasty ho!"
Student 4: "Don't be dissin' my cousin!"
Leeandra: "All right, no talking smack about people's cousins here..."
Student 5: "But she IS a nasty ho! Baby only 14 years old and she be having sex and having babies instead of jumping rope."
Leeandra: "NO TALKING SMACK ABOUT ANYBODY'S COUSINS. BACK TO THE ESSAY. Does ANYBODY really talk like that?"
Student 6: "Well, that part sounded like a movie script."
Leeandra: "How so?"
Student 6: "How many teeangers wear fancy underwear like that?"
Leeandra: "OK, now we're getting somewhere."
Student 7: "Can I write my review of something I saw on the Playboy Channel?"
Leeandra: "Can you read page 841, paragraph 2 out loud to the class?"
Student 7: (begins reading ridiculous Gossip Girl sex scene, makes it a sentence and a half in, blushes, stutters, stops) "I can't read this out loud!"
Leeandra: "Then no, you may not."
Student 8: "Ah, yeah...BURNED!"
Student 7: "Shut up!"
Leeandra: "Back to what [Student 6] said...how big a part do designer labels figure into these books? Is that an accurate depiction of teenage life?"
Student 6: "Maybe for really rich kids...the kids I know all carried fake Gucci bags. You can buy them from that gas station on Claiborne."
Student 2: "You can get them cheaper on Chef Highway!"
Student 3: "Where at on Chef?"
Leeandra: "You can exchange shopping tips after class. So, Wolf seems to be saying here that having the right labels is something extremely important to these fictional rich kids' world, and [student 6] says that the real, not rich kids she knew all found it very important to carry knockoffs of these labels--is this two sides of the same coin here?"
Student 1: "What you talking about?"
Leeandra: "Well, the kids in the Gossip Girl books are very wealthy and can afford these status symbols. Most of the kids you and I know aren't wealthy and can't afford them, but they want them just the same. Why?"
Student 3: "Kids today. They got no morals."
Leeandra: "Can you elaborate on that?"
Student 3: "Be having sex in the movie theater during the boring parts. You don't do that up against the wall! You do that in the bathroom!"
Leeandra: "I'm not going to touch that observation with a ten-foot pole."
Student 7: "These girls be giving the boys oral sex in the boys' bathrooms at school! That SOOOOO nasty."
Student 8: "Ms. Nolting, you know how many germs are in a boys' bathroom? I mean, in a high school?"
Leeandra: "Well, I really don't know for sure on the germ question, but I'm having a hard time thinking of a less romantic place to do it. Which ties into the essay again: is Wolf criticizing the Gossip Girl books for having sex scenes and shopping in them, or is she criticizing them because all the sex and shopping takes place in a world that doesn't seem to have any morals?"
Students: (blank look)
Leeandra: "OK, try again. Is Wolf criticizing these books because they show teenagers having sex and shopping, which we've well established that teenagers do in the real world, or is she criticizing them because sex and shopping are the be-all, end-all of life, that these kids don't seem to care about whether they're good people, they might have a lot of sex with someone but they don't ever seem to be in love with them, that gaining wealth and status is the main goal of life and you should want to be rich and popular even at the expense of being nice?"
Student 6: "Well, they do get kids to read, and that helps them on their LEAP tests."
Student 1: "Reading comprehension is very important."
Students: (all nod in agreement)
Student 9: (who has yet to turn in a single assignment or speak once in class all semester, yet dutifully shows up every day) "Were we supposed to read something for today?"