Feeling Bad For Prep School Brats

What Women Really Think
June 23 2009 3:32 PM

Feeling Bad For Prep School Brats

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Willa Paskin Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

Early in the first episode of NYC Prep , Bravo’s new, Gossip Girl -inspired reality show about New York City high school students that starts tonight, PC, the self-styled Chuck Bass of the bunch, says to the camera, "In New York City, money flows like the wind." It was at this, the moment of the overly knowing, slightly off metaphor, that I realized it was going to be impossible for me to hate him. Try as he and the five other teenagers featured on the show might-and God they try-there is no talk of money, sex, or power, no uncanny preciousness, no shopper at Barneys, no address on the Upper East Side, no limo rides, and ultimately no reality show that can turn these kids into adults. Despite their best efforts, and all of their privileges, they are in a high school state of mind.

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Take, for example, Camille, a senior at tony all-girls school Nightgale-Bamford, who asserts about her own future: "I will go to Harvard. Then I will be the business head of a genetics firm. And then at 40 I will have a husband and two kids." This is delivered with the frightening intensity we have come to expect from Blair Waldorf, and is not, exactly, typical of the average 17-year-old. And yet, it is still wholly laughable. Check back in a few years, Camille, after life has gotten in the way.

Even more of the series is taken up with genuinely unprecocious high school antics, just enacted on the glamorous streets of New York City. Taylor, a 16-year-old who attends, gasp, public school tells her mother that she is throwing a party. (Her mother, a divorcee, does such a credible impersonation of a good parent, one wonders if she thought she was letting her daughter appear on some PBS special.) It turns out "party" means hanging out with a dozen other girls in a sushi restaurant.

Even the circumstances that do seem unusually adult, like Kelli and her brother living alone in the city while their parents stay in the Hamptons, aren’t quite. Living alone really means ordering Chinese food on your parents' credit card every night. That’s sad, not cool. And then there’s Sebastian, a self-described ladies man, with shaggy blonde hair who tells us all episode that he has sex with girls all the time, like some slightly less creepy version of Kids ’ Telly. And yet, there’s no evidence to support his claims, except a few kisses on the cheek. Later in the series, PC asks a dinner table full of his peers how many of them are still virgins-it’s the vast majority.

Of course the kids all want you to think they’re the hippest, coolest, most knowing bunch of teenagers to ever live, and they say all sorts of gross things and buy all sorts of expensive objects to prove it. (PC, in a recent radio interview , called the Real Housewives, who are also on Bravo, "trashy pieces of sh-t who are not in real society at all." Stay classy, kid.) Is it because of the NYC-SoCal difference, or the Bravo-MTV one, that more coherent sentences are uttered in the first episode of NYC Prep than in all episodes of MTV’s Laguna Beach combined? Of course, it’s unclear that the hyper-verbal New York City kids know or understand themselves any better than their spaced out, mute California counterparts, who at least got to behave like the confused 17-year-olds they really are. NYC Prep did nothing so much as make me feel deep-body tired for these kids, hustling so hard, with a toddler’s frenetic, purposeless energy, to prove they are in the know . Lucky Cali kids just get to hang out on the beach.

Ultimately, these teenagers inspired a pretty genuine sympathy in me, having nothing to do with what they said or did, most of which is pretty heinous. (This feeling makes watching the show significantly less fun than watching The Real Housewives series. Those shows supply viewing pleasure by delicately triangulating our fascination, disgust, and concern. But since NYC Prep involves minors, it lessens our disgust, while amping up our concern. We feel bad, even when they are being little jerks, because they don't yet know better, thus upsetting the carefully calibrated balance that keeps voyuerism fun.) They’re living in that existential, hormonal, crazy crisis known as adolescence, when you just want , you want so fully, so completely, things that are all wrong-like To Be The Business Head of A Genetics Firm, To Make Sure People Know You Are In "Real Society," To Have People Think That You Hook Up With 32 Girls A Month, and To Have Everyone In Your School Watch You On Bravo. Probably, no one should be allowed on camera in this state, but, if you are, well, I’m not going to be the one to make fun of you for it.

 

Photo of New York City by Getty Images.

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