Sunday, April 30, 2006

"She's a Rich Girl, and She's Gone Too Far, And You Know It Don't Matter Anyway."

I find it fun that VH1's "My Super Sweet 16" is being treated as a cultural phenomenon and social barometer of late. Take, for instance, this recent New York Times overview of the show, with a few choice behind-the-scenes casting details, such as 200 kids are interviewed as candidates to be on the show, but "only 8 or 9 make the cut." (To which I respond, "There are more than 8 or 9 of these overprivileged snots in the country?) I also liked Ana Marie Cox's quick take in Time: "Their blingy flings are not celebrations of accomplishment; they're celebrations of self."

Now, like pretty much every twentysomething with digital cable in the U.S., I've been sucked in by a few episodes of "My Super Sweet 16." For me, my initial reaction is, "Hey, why didn't my dad ever buy me a harem of musclebound Roman soldiers to carry me into a hotel banquet hall on a pallet?" Then I'm quickly reminded that it was because I grew up lower middle class. Thanks to the great editing on the show, it's incredibly entertaining to see these fortunate young guys and gals throw epic parties in random places like Staten Island and podunk New Hampshire and watch the hilarity/antics ensue. Because most of us in our twenties understand that there's irony to it: how overprivilege combines with tacky and meaningless to create a vapid bonfire of the vanities that makes for amazing television. (See: Any season of The Real World.)

What I'm concerned about is whether high schoolers (geez, I just typed "kids these days" -- I must be old) are going to see that. According to the Times article, the entertainment editor at Teen People says at least some kids are intelligent enough to find the subject matter of the show "repellent." But in an age of "aspirational" YA novels, Paris Hilton (enough said), and the over-the-top celebrity culture of consumption deified in Us Weekly, are most?

And also, I'm going to argue that these types of parties have been going on for a long time, just not on a hundred-thousand-dollar scale. Any party involving the top of the social totem pole in high school is Exhibit A. And, I'm not Jewish, but many of my Jewish friends have told me about their bar and bat mitzvahs. Their themes were "baseball," "magic," or "the Mets." One friend told me he had fireworks and a giant baseball-card cake at his bar mitzvah. As a mainline Protestant who was confirmed and received such gifts to commemorate the occasion as a Steven Curtis Chapman cassette tape that stayed in their shrink wrap until I threw it away later, I asked, "How do the Mets have anything to do with God?" I'm thinking that at least some (some, not all) of these bar/bat mitzvahs have more to do with tradition and topping one's friends than religious achievement. I'm also going to throw over-the-top weddings into the mix: You know, the Bridezilla-esque ones, where the brides-to-be seem more concerned with Vera Wang, cascading cake frosting, and spending money that isn't theirs rather than marrying their beloved.

But more than anything -- social mores, religion, what have you -- these parties are for the rich and their sycophants. Cue the Hall and Oates:

'Cause they can rely on the old man's money. They can rely on the old man's money....


Post a Comment

<< Home