Creator Michael Jacobs says Girl Meets World’s Riley will not, “aspire to be an actress, singer, or dancer,” and I think that is freaking fantastic. Jacobs says it will about, “the confusions about growing up and what we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to aspire to be. There’s a column that I want to play in and that column contains The Wonder Years and Happy Days. That was always the column that I wanted Boy Meets World to be included in and I want Girl Meets World to be in that column as well.”
There is scarcely a show on television that doesn’t turn teenagers into consumers by making the characters obsessed with fame (disguised as “big dreamers.”) and decked out in designer clothing, caked on makeup and too perfect hair (Hello, Pretty Little Liars. Do those girls wake up at 4AM to get ready for school?).
Let’s just look at the synopses of some contemporary teen shows as described by Wikipedia.
Victorious: “The series stars Victoria Justice as Tori Vega, a teenage girl who is given the opportunity to attend Hollywood Arts High School, a performing arts school with a group of eccentric students.”
iCarly: “The series follows teenager Carly Shay and her best friends Sam Puckett and Freddie Benson as they create and star in their own web show.”
Big Time Rush: “The series is about about the Hollywood misadventures of four hockey players from Minnesota—Kendall, James, Carlos, and Logan, after they are selected to form a boy band.”
Hannah Montana: “The series focuses on a girl who lives a double life as an average teenage school girl named Miley Stewart (played by Miley Cyrus) by day and a famous pop singer named Hannah Montana by night, concealing her real identity from the public, other than her close friends and family.”
Dog With A Blog: “Avery Jennings and Tyler James are step-siblings from Pasadena who hate each other but come together in the pilot episode. The family faces an even bigger adjustment when they discover that their new dog, Stan, can talk and also has a blog, unbeknownst to the family. Stan uses his blog to discuss the happenings in the Jennings-James household.”
Jessie: “Stars Debby Ryan as Jessie Prescott, a small town Texas girl who moves to New York City and becomes a nanny to a high profile couple’s four children”
Hollywood Heights: “The series follows the journey of a teenage girl whose life changes drastically when she becomes a star and wins the love of her rock and roll idol, and both are tested by setbacks, heartbreak and deception.”
OK, I think you’re getting the point. The list goes on too. There is scarcely a show about teenagers that doesn’t revolve around a “small town so-and-so” or a “regular so-and-so” who feels they are destined for something bigger. It’s what Glee, The Carrie Diaries and even Gossip Girl are about and there isn’t much else in the landscape of teenage dramas or comedies. Why is this a problem? For starts, shows that feature “ordinary kids thrown into extraordinary circumstances” promise young people something that is ultimately detrimental to their psyche, aspirations and sense of fulfillment, it’s the promise that everyday life isn’t good enough. What’s worse is that it promises that everyday life isn’t good enough for you.
This is a problematic notion to instill in any young person because it ingrains them with the idea that they are entitled to a kind of glamour, decadence and narcissism reserved for very few people who are willing to put up with the heightened and most often, detrimental lifestyle of Hollywood. It also excludes the fact that most people won’t ever get to have that wish fulfilled, most of us will have regular lives. These shows forget to tell us, they even make a point of not telling us, that regular lives can be happy ones, fun ones, even dramatic ones. This is worrisome when you look at the overwhelming exploitation of teenagers on reality television in shows like Buckwild, 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom, just to name a few.
These Hollywood Porn Dramas, don’t highlight the hard work and many sacrifices that come with fame, many of which include not having a childhood. There is such discrepancy between the portrayal of child stars in television series and real child stars in the media.
It’s painfully obvious that this culture of teens with delusions of grandeur is a very real problem. Teens don’t turn to parents, teachers or counselors for help, they turn to the internet for validation and in turn receive criticism. Teens don’t make zines, they try to go viral by sucking on tampons and sleeping with dogs. The more absurd or gross the last viral video was, the higher the stakes to outdo it. They go on reality shows instead of attending performing arts schools. They shamelessly sink to any level of embarrassment, garnering any amount of ridicule because the more people looking at them, the more people acknowledging them somehow means they are special.
This is incredibly sad because real life is happening all around them and they are missing out. There are real friends, real family, real love and heartache and they will never know it because they’ve misconstrued reality with fiction. Real life is stranger than fiction - more interesting, more glamorous but yes, much harder. Young people want shortcuts to fame because hard work sucks and because our culture has promised them that even cats can be famous. Instead of measuring their worth and self-esteem on what they have done, on the choices they’ve made and on the things they will do, they can measure it in pageviews, likes and followers.
I am satisfied to see that Girl Meets World will be about coming of age. It will be about normal things, normal confusions, stupid boys and trivial arguments with friends – the stuff of real life, the stuff of real people, the stuff of individual experiences that make you you - the ones that make you special.