Who Wants To Be A Moron?
Rebecca Traiser muckrakes through teen girl culture to find out if it's as brainless as it appears. I recommend reading it all, but this got me thinking:
What does it mean that in 2004, Jessica Simpson got famous for being flummoxed by a can of Chicken of the Sea tuna on "Newlyweds," and that in 2006, Kellie Pickler became a star by asking, "What's a ballsy?" For one thing, it means that the same young women who had hung on Simpson's every word about staying a virgin till marriage and who were calling in their votes for Pickler were also getting the message that it's funny and attractive to be an idiot.
Funny, yes. Attractive, I'm not sure. Now, yes, Jessica Simpson is physically attractive to an extreme, but I don't think most girls would want to have her personality. I think that idiocy is humorous to most people, a phenomenon that is not new (Three Stooges anyone?). (I'd never heard of Ms. Pickler until reading Traister's article, so ...)
I think that in the teenage years a lot of people, of all genders, are so incredibly obsessed with sex that most everything else falls by the wayside. I think that both boys and girls start to act deliberately stupid when they're teens because of a sort of brain-body binarism that interferes with the ability to contain both.
Anyway, I think everyone in the stage of "exploring their sexuality" acts in ways that are appallingly stupid and seem to lack any self-respect. Boys too. If you didn't humiliate yourself as a teen trying to get laid, you're either asexual or lucky.
When I was a teen a decade ago, I think things were a lot worse. Maybe it just felt that way because I was a teenager and it's a lot easier to see the world in semiotics when you're not a slave to the symbols in the way you are at 16. (Typing all this has made me feel profoundly OLD.) Anyway, Traister mentions how Nicole Ritchie has become uber-famous after becoming scary-skinny, but I actually don't really think that she's a "role model" the way the scary-skinnies were when I was a teen. I mean, she was the celeb-norm, weight-wise, in the 90s. Now, she's sort of an object for pity. At least, it seems that way to me.
Also, this article notes some of the articles in Seventeen (about the NSA and American foreign policy) - WHAT? That's incredible and laudable. Yes, these mags coexist with Prom Magazine, but that's pretty amazing. Whether most subscribers are actually reading these seems slightly less important than the fact that they are exposed to the idea that teen girls should be aware of politics.
There's also the Internet. Traister points out that, via MySpace, teens can find just about any interest, identity, or prediliction. I think that goes a long way toward diminishing the power of any one cultural image of young womanhood. I know that the queer visibility alone that such a mechanism for self-definition offers would have really shaken up my ideas as a teen.
I think that what young women see in their communities is about 1000% percent more important. Where I grew up, the girls were acting dumb and helpless all the time, and the smarter they were supposed to be (honor students and the like) , the dumber and more helpless they tended to act. (There were exceptions, don't get me wrong, but this was common.) Were they doing this because they saw it in magazines? Maybe. I don't really know. But I do know that seeing it around them was profound. It's also true that the popular girls, the girls with the cutest boyfriends at my high school, were also the girls who acted like morons. (Other schools seemed to be different, but it's hard to know as a sort of outsider.) You know what though? The guys who acted like morons also had the cutest girlfriends, so ... Let me make clear that the way that girls acted like morons and guys acted like morons were very different, but they all were gross.
I also think that "intelligence" in articles like Traister's is usually conflated with "confidence" and I think it's true that girls are expected not to have that. I know because I was an arrogant, opinionated, too-cool-for-school bitch in high school and it led to a lot of hate. :)
As far as Paris Hilton and her ilk, it doesn't seem like they're "stupid" so much as spoiled and mean. I saw this video of Brandon Davis and Paris Hilton trashing Lindsey Lohan that was just, I don't know, horrible. But the "mean girl" thing seems to have gotten a traction it didn't really have when I was a teenager. I was a teen, of course, during the Joey Potter/Kelly Kapowski era. We preferred Jem and the Holograms to The Misfits' rich bitch routine (or were supposed to). Money, and the freedom to be evil that it provides, seems to be the major thing here.
For more, Jossip has a good response.