Guillotine those rich teens!

The fledgling blowhards of "NYC Prep" offer a cathartic release for that sickness inside your soul

Topics: Reality TV, Television,

Guillotine those rich teens!PC in "NYC Prep."

Certain television shows feel like isolated sociocultural artifacts of their times: “Battle of the Network Stars.” “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.” “The ABC Afterschool Special.” “The Day After.” “Match Game.” Likewise, by the end of its first episode, Bravo’s “NYC Prep” (premieres 10 p.m. Tuesday, June 23) seems destined to haunt us from the dusty shelves of television history, summing up the sick fixation with youth and status that infected our souls at the twilight of America’s golden age.

Like public guillotining or foot binding, our obsession with rich teenagers will baffle future scholars as an extreme reflection of our culture’s deepest streaks of envy and self-loathing. Just as we once might have satisfied our vengeful side by witnessing public executions, we now expunge our anxiety over striving but never reaching the top with these unnervingly insipid portraits of half-formed humans pickled in the poisoning influences of extreme wealth. “NYC Prep” is the reality version of “Gossip Girl” for those who take “Gossip Girl” a little too seriously — and don’t mind that real prep school kids are far less witty and fascinating than the scripted ones.

“It’s kind of disgusting how much money some people have,” PC, an 18-year-old with an unfortunate habit of turning his collar up, informs us in the clenched tone of sophistication adopted by someone who’s deeply conflicted about the legitimacy of his own swagger. “People want to strive and kind of act like an asshole and flash their money … Yeah, I feel bad for the people who can’t have that.” This kid’s words might not interest us in the slightest, if he didn’t bear such an uncanny resemblance to every fatuous blowhard we’ve ever had the misfortune of being paid good money to feign respect for. But this is how we have the last laugh: We roll back the tape to when our conceited manager was a fledgling windbag just beginning to strut and puff out his chest, then play it back with a clown music soundtrack. In the age of reality TV, our vengeance is exacted in the darkness of the editing room, sipping lattes and giggling along with editors as spiteful and disempowered as we are.



“So tonight it’s really, really important that I network and meet all these people,” PC’s closest friend, Jessie, says of a fashion event she’s attending. In case you’re wondering how some of your peers miraculously found success seconds after graduating from college, Jessie offers one clue: Many of them started sniffing out important contacts in high school and college and then powered ahead with their careers in their early 20s — you know, back when you were powering through Jagermeister shots?

In addition to being irritatingly ambitious for a teenager, Jessie appears to have a big crush on PC, with whom she has a romantic past. But in the hopelessly brutal math of teenage relations, apparently Jessie is no longer cute enough to win PC’s heart. Instead, he chases younger, less outspoken girls like Kelli, a 16-year-old who lives in a lush Manhattan apartment with her 18-year-old brother while her parents live in the Hamptons, checking in only occasionally to see if their children are still alive. Who wouldn’t instantly resent and pity these people, who can’t be bothered to raise their own kids, leaving it to the service industry professionals of NYC — boutique clerks, restaurant delivery people, spa attendants, prep school administrators — to do it for them?

And yet, who wouldn’t instantly envy these people, who luxuriate in their vacation home while their irritating teenagers sift out their petty troubles on an overpopulated island far, far away? “NYC Prep” drags out the people we know just well enough to recognize that they’re very, very different from us — that grandstanding thug at work, the chick down the hall in college with the tennis courts in her backyard, the ex-girlfriend’s spouse who speaks four languages and summers in Martha’s Vineyard — and shows us why they’re so different. We ogle their many advantages and indulgences, then soothe ourselves with how twisted and pitiable they are, swimming in such a toxic, decadent, big-city marinade. We already know that they turned out wrong, but now we know why.

Of course, if we’re watching, we turned out wrong, too. History will judge us just as badly, but that doesn’t mean we can choose differently. At this media-saturated juncture, turning off our TVs and walking out into the woods would feel tantamount to burying our heads in the sand. In the age of Twitter, Walden Pond is just as bad as the Hamptons, when viewed through the appropriately warped lens.

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>