A Class Consumed with Consumption

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Little Women and the popular teenage series Gossip Girl both share the notion of “class” represented in a way that shows particularly the upper class as a coveted lifestyle full of respected individuals that present their power through materialistic consumption and display. Meg’s few days at the Moffat’s expose her to this. Meg initially struggles to fit in with the others at the party, as her worn dresses did not allow her to do so and left her feeling embarrassed. Her girlfriends convince her to wear one of their dresses for the night. Laurie questions her judgment yet Meg later exclaims, “I’m not Meg, to-night; I’m a doll,’ who does all sorts of crazy things (94).”  Though Meg confesses to her mother, she was easily convinced to wear the dress, become “one of them,” and simply consumed by the lavish lifestyle.

Similarly, Gossip Girl focuses on the lives of several wealthy Upper East Side teenagers throughout their high school and college years. They place a high importance on fine clothing, shopping sprees, gossip, and manipulating other’s lives, as can be inferred in the images and screenshots from the show above. In Keyword’s for Children’s Literature, Elizabeth Bullen’s essay discussing “class” mentions Gossip Girl saying the series,” conflates class status with the conspicuous consumption of luxury goods, excluding those who fail as consumers of taste and distinction (51).” The characters often spend foolishly, and use money to solve there problems or bribe others, while mocking and belittling those who cannot. We as viewers get a glimpse into the upper class lifestyle just as Meg did, and we are left wanting more. We lust for their lifestyle of fancy clothes, five star restaurants, and lavish parties just as Meg has, and those without these markers of class get ostracized. This reoccurring theme of class associated with excessive consumption becomes problematic for children’s literature when the main character is “rewarded with social mobility (Bullen 51).” If children and young adults are repeatedly exposed to the idea of class and more specifically the aura of the upper class in literature, television and film, then we are perhaps facilitating realizations of their own class standing and encouraging a want for this desirable lifestyle.

5 thoughts on “A Class Consumed with Consumption”

  1. Gossip Girl, in its second season, illustrates this issue very clearly. One of its main characters, Jenny, lives in Brooklyn, which is seen in her private Upper East Side school as a lower class area full of people who, as Bullen would say, “fails as a consumer of taste and distinction.” When Jenny has an opportunity to rise to the top of the social ladder, she finds herself not only lying about her family’s class rank to fit in, but craving their class and status as well. I think it goes to prove your point that exposure to such a lifestyle can make a person insecure in their own standing, as well as take actions, however honest or moral, to move up in class.

  2. I loved this comparison of Meg going to Vanity Fair in “Little Women” to the show “Gossip Girl” because it is so spot on. The longing to have a rich and lavish lifestyle is definitely apparent in our society. It can also be seen with reality shows, especially on Bravo, such as “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and also “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” It makes me wonder why people are so fascinated by the wealthy when, as seen with Meg, once put into that position they feel uncomfortable and not like themselves.

  3. I think that your last sentence of “If children and young adults are repeatedly exposed to the idea of class and more specifically the aura of the upper class in literature, television and film, then we are perhaps facilitating realizations of their own class standing and encouraging a want for this desirable lifestyle” brings up a great point. If children are watching t.v. and wishing they could be more like the unrealistically wealthy people, that is problematic. Moreover, if they don’t feel themselves being represented, that is problematic. This makes me think of the upcoming Academy Awards show where there were no non-white nominations for the Oscar. As Will Smith brought up, this is problematic because children who are watching the show are not going to see themselves represented.

  4. I think the comparison between “Little Women” and “Gossip Girl” is so interesting, especially regarding the “Meg Goes to Vanity Fair” chapter. After reading your post, as a former teenage consumer of the Gossip Girl books and TV show, I saw a comparison between Meg in this chapter and the character of Jenny Humphrey in “Gossip Girl”. In this scene Meg attempts to “pass” as being of a higher class at this party with the help of Belle. Similarly, we see the same theme in the Gossip Girl series, in which the Humphrey family is of a very different class than the rest of the characters, and the character of Jenny attempts to “pass” by trying to dress and act in the way that the other, more wealthy characters do.

  5. I totally agree with everything you said. When I watched Gossip Girl (twice). I almost strived to be like the characters, and have lives like them. I think that there are so many storylines throughout the series targeted at class. Many times Blair and Chuck in particular look down at people in lower classes then them. One particular storyline, Nate Archibald, hides the fact that his family lost a lot of money from his friends and still pretended to be “rich.” I think its really interesting, and I had never thought about the fact that in many pop culture and in the media is so glamorized and a goal for people.

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