The girls in my New York neighbourhood and just about everywhere else in America - at least, those who are just entering early teenage years - will be, like, totally tuning into the CW, a new cable channel, soon. Awesome news, gang - the "Gossip Girls" are coming to the small screen. (Shrieks of delight.)
As any English teacher will find out when they ask the what-did-you-read-this-summer question in class next week, female students in the 10-15 year-old range will not be answering: "Jane Austen." As one, they will reply: "Cecily von Ziegesar," whose characters are obnoxious girls of privilege, not quite out of school, who wander the boutiques of Upper East Side Manhattan.
During the past 18 months or so, Ms von Ziegesar's Gossip Girl series of teen-pulp books have become the must-read of the current generation of not-quite-adult girls, regularly penetrating the New York Times best-seller lists. The ninth and most recent title, attractively packaged as always in a glossy cover with images of young women in tank-tops and pearls, came out in May.
Parents subscribe to the Gossip Girl fad for an understandable reason. At least their offspring are reading something over the summer and not just gaping at the television. However, the more watchful among them may have noticed that Ms von Ziegesar's protagonists are the hardly ideal role models for their daughters.
Consider one scene from book eight, featuring Nate and Serena in a changing room at Bergdorf Goodman. (Nate is unnaturally inflated with Viagra.) "He grabbed her camisole and yanked it away from her body, ripping it entirely in half in the process. Serena dropped the suit on the floor and grabbed him back ..."
The books' publisher, Alloy Entertainment, originally planned to turn the series into a film, starring teen-queen Lindsay Lohan. This was abandoned, but now CW has committed itself to a pilot and hopefully a series, along the lines of Sex and the City.
Shortly to rise from the ashes of two older, struggling cable networks - UPN and the WB - the CW will squarely aim itself at the young adult demographic. The man in charge of the Gossip Girl project will be Josh Schwartz, creator of the teen hit, The OC. "The books are a soap opera, and TV makes a lot of sense," said Leslie Morgenstein, president of the Alloy Entertainment.
Among those who have lamented the influence of Gossip Girl is the author Naomi Wolf. "While the tacky sex scenes in them are annoying, they aren't really the problem," she wrote recently. "The problem is a value system in which meanness rules ... conformity is everything and stressed-out adult values are presumed to be meaningful to teenagers."