Thursday, July 2, 2009
NYC Prep: Who Am I Trying to Kid? I’m Totally Into It
I distinctly remember being at a party in high school where I thought long and hard about the way that I leaned. I wanted the lean to suggest social indifference, coolness, but not quite inapproachability. I truly believed that people noticed—and cared—about how I propped myself against a wall.
Of course, at some point, as an adult, I began to realize that while life is all, indeed, a stage, sometimes your audience has gone to the loo. Or maybe is too busy staging their own personal drama to notice yours.
I mean, we all come to this realization, right? Unless, of course, you’re a wealthy teenager living in New York city.
Then, your extreme narcissism is not just adolescent navel gazing, it’s actually grounded in some empirical reality. From Gossip Girl to Born Rich to the Real Housewives of New York, to pretty much every television series that sets up NYC as the ne plus ultra of fame and coolness—you have been repeatedly told that you are extremely fascinating, that your lives inspire envy, and that people really do care.
You could say, then, that the teenage terrors in NYC Prep have been waiting for this close-up their entire lives.
In particular, the show’s breakout star—the dandyish, sexually indistinct P.C.—has so much to say about prep school mores and customs, it seems he must have keeping these thoughts in a diary of sorts: “Things To Say When I Am the Inevitable Star of My Own Reality TV Show.”
P.C. is so eager to share his every waking thought, he has actually allowed the Bravo cameras to follow him into his therapy sessions. (I understand why a 17-year-old boy would do this, but what on earth is the therapist thinking?)
Viewers both hate and love P.C. They hate him because he is, inarguably, absurd: He affects an aura of jaded world-weariness that is simply ridiculous for a teenager (he calls his fellow teens “children.”). He thinks his studied ennui makes him seem worldly and sophisticated. Instead, it makes you want to give him a timeout.
But we love P.C., too, because he is entertaining—a cub Tom Wolfe, with bon mots that may not be as bon as he thinks they are, but are still much more amusing than we have any right to expect from a teenage boy—and because his sexual orientation seems as much a mystery to him as it does to us. P.C. talks about sexing up the ladies, but it’s hard to believe him. Does any straight boy really wear scarves and skinny jeans and turned up blazer collars with such regularity? And why does he have no male friends—just a series of female friends, exes, and spiritual advisers.
Chief among these female friends is Jessie, the meanest of the mean girls on the Upper East Side, and P.C.’s ex (“It just didn’t take,” they explain. . . hmmmm.) Jessie is way into fashion, volunteers for the Operation Smile charity, and can cut down a potential rival with one blistering stare. She’s also hopelessly, futilely in love with P.C, although she convinces herself they’re just good friends. As with many of the girls on NYC Prep, I can already see Jessie as a blowsy 35 year old. She’s not so much a child as a Real Housewife in training. Still, I feel sorry for her, because it must be hard to put out all that toxic energy—especially when you just want to be loved by a boy who is either gay, or just not that into you, or both.
Next, there is Sebastian, the hair-flipping super stud of the bunch. Fellow bloggers have wondered why he is such a success with the ladies, to which I say, “Really?” A kid like Sebastian—with his girly hair, soft, Sean Cassidyish features, and faux cosmopolitan manners (he speaks French, poorly)— is catnip to the teen set. Plus, his name is Sebastian. For god’s sake, it may as well be Mr. Darcy.
Finally, there are the brunette girls, all essentially interchangeable in my mind. If I have this straight, Kelli is the one with the especially indifferent parents (quite an accomplishment, considering that adults gets more play on the Peanuts than they do on this show)—they live in the Hamptons most of the year and leave their 17-year-old daughter to her own devices in NY. (Quick, call the authorities!) Moon-faced Camille is the over-achieving yenta of the bunch, who doesn’t seem to think she’s worthy of a boyfriend of her own, as she’s always ministering to the romantic needs of her gal pals. And then there’s Taylor, who’s supposed to be our plucky heroine, but in my mind is a sort of an All About Eve character. She pretends she’s just a shy public school girl learning the ropes, gently poking her toe into those intimidating prep school waters, but clearly she is a pint-sized predator. She wants Sebastian, she wants the best parties, she wants the coolest friends. She wants it all. Watch out, Jessie.
I do worry about these kids. After all, coming to the realization that all eyes aren’t on you is sort of an essential component of growing up, right? But what if you skip that step entirely? Are we looking at future sociopaths? Blissfully happy adults who never have to check their youthful narcissism? Or just chronic reality TV subjects? Whatever the case, I’m so there.