Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
I confess: I love the show Pretty Little Liars. It’s standard teen-drama fare with a twist. The show centers on the quartet of Aria, Spencer, Hanna, and Emily, who struggle to solve the mystery of their queen bee Alison’s murder. The plot, driven by overwrought acting and lots of text messaging, twists in unexpected (and often ridiculous) ways each week as the girls battle the unknown character “A”—who blackmails them with their secrets. From a moral standpoint, the program raises a lot of red flags (not least of which is a glorified student-teacher relationship), but I watch this show weekly as escapist fare that bears little resemblance to actual teenagers and their families.
Yet in spite of the suspenseful and strange plotlines, there’s an underlying message in this show that resonates throughout pop culture and parenting narratives that are all too familiar. These girls and their parents live separate lives. The girls, often home alone (yes, I realize that sets a mysterious mood, too), find safety, trust, and empathy only within their clique. And the irony of the title is that this foursome relentlessly pursues the truth—always to be undermined by “A” and their community’s perception that they’re just attention-seeking liars. Even when their parents try to support and protect them, the parents blunder and fail, and ultimately miss the mark.
This week, two mothers met to talk over the glimpse they’d caught of “A” terrorizing their daughters. After a fashion show debacle that slandered Alison and made the girls appear cold and cruel, the parents finally start catching on that something is amiss. Aria’s mother quips “How did we miss this?” but it still never feels like resolution might come through the parents. The show relies more on parent-child estrangement than actual conflict (though that comes up as well) to convey the isolation that these girls feel from everyone but each other.
That alienation makes the plot both cliché and iconic: four seekers united in their quest for truth, misunderstood by the world around them (hey, it worked for The Wizard of Oz). What strikes me about the themes is not the originality though, which is mostly derived from bizarre, nonsensical narrative turns, but the redundancy of distracted parents and children set adrift. It’s not the lies that make the show interesting but the consistent failure to expose and uncover the truth; as the foursome gets more entangled by “A” and more obsessed with the truth, I can’t help but wonder how the program’s target audience might feel differently if enticed by Truth and not lies.