Training a “Gospel Girl” When Every Daughter Wants to Be a “Gossip Girl”

Training a “Gospel Girl” When Every Daughter Wants to Be a “Gossip Girl” March 6, 2008

The New Yorker has a good story on a series of books that you may or may not have heard about. They’re called the “Gossip Girl” books and they deal with a pack of tony New York prep school kids who act like, well, tony New York prep school kids. I can write that line with credibility–I went to college with a bunch of this type. They were fascinating to a small-town Maine boy, much like a rare species of African bird. I have not read the books that touch on this demographic and will not be reading them at this time. I can, however, say that Christians should be aware of these books and the worldview they represent. If you have kids, or if you are involved in ministry to teens, or if you are remotely interested in how the culture is thinking, you will want to be aware of this series and the tv show it has spawned.

Janet Malcolm, the author of the piece, summarizes the key characters of the show in this fashion:

“As the first book opens, Blair Waldorf—who is almost seventeen and lives in a penthouse at Fifth Avenue and Seventy-second Street, with her divorcée mother, Eleanor, her younger brother, Tyler, and her cat, Kitty Minky—is sulking in her room. Blair, in the description of a classmate, is…an antiheroine of the first rank: bad-tempered, mean-spirited, bulimic, acquisitive, endlessly scheming, and, of course, dark-haired. The blond heroine, Serena van der Woodsen (who lives at an even better Fifth Avenue address, right across from the Metropolitan Museum), is incandescently beautiful, exceptionally kind, and, in the end, it has to be said, somewhat boring. The series belongs to awful Blair, who inspires von Ziegesar’s highest flights of comic fancy.”

Apparently, Blair attempts to accomplish two goals throughout the series: sleeping with a boy she likes and getting into Yale. Serena apparently is nicer and morally purer than Blair. The series involves a series of exchanges between the two and various boys, with a good deal of commentary thrown in on modern rich parents. The parents of these girls and their classmates seem to do very little to regulate, constrain, or direct the behavior of their progeny, though they wish ardently for their children to attain the trappings of a “good life”: an excellent education, wealth, an attractive spouse/partner. The show, which I have not watched but am familiar with, seems to follow roughly the same lines as the book series, though with larger roles for the parents.

So what’s the big deal, one might ask? Well, it’s my humble opinion that though we Christians may not watch this show (and shows like it), and though we may very well steer our children from such fare, we will nonetheless benefit from knowing that it exists and from studying its worldview to anticipate how the secular world will be influenced and, in turn, will seek to influence our children. Books and shows like “Gossip Girl” have a serious trickle-down effect in the broader culture. There’s a reason that they’re set in New York, one of the cultural capitals of the world, and they influence the way that children all across the world think and view themselves and others. These particular works seem to encourage the reader to think that parents (and adults more broadly) are stupid, irresponsible, and not worthy of the authority they possess; that it is good and right for children (teens) to pursue sex, intrigue, and materialism of the most excessive sort; that beauty and social standing set one’s course in life. Of course, the author of this series mocks these views, but it seems clear that her mockery is set in a worldview that simultaneously enjoys and even celebrates them. If beauty and materialism really aren’t important, why write a series of novels that, however ironically, celebrates them?

We need to know about cultural influencers like Gossip Girl. In a culture that prizes wealth, beauty, and social standing to an extreme degree, we must make sure that we prize spiritual wealth, spiritual beauty, and kingdom standing. We must take care to train our children, whether in our families or our churches, to reject the culture’s ideals and principles and to embrace God’s. I can only think of what series like this will do to a young girl, culturally plugged-in, who does not have a strong Christian family to train her to think rightly about Gossip Girl. It is only natural to assume that she will measure herself by its standards, prize its worldview, and slowly, quietly turn away from the true beauty and riches of the Christian faith. The things of this world do not appear to the natural man as hideous, remember, but as beautiful.

Gossip Girl is a polished bauble in the eyes of many girls today and is a part of a culture that creates great animosity for things of God. Let us work, then, to create families where biblical womanhood (and manhood) is celebrated, where beauty is seen primarily in spiritual terms, where wealth in Christ is far more precious than the designer labels that call out for our consumption. Gossip Girl may tempt young women, but when it is placed alongside a joyful, God-centered, well-led Christian family and church, its luster will fade, and our girls will not want to be women of gossip and intrigue, but women of the gospel.

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  • Kianna

    Ehem. I respect what your saying. All the “Gossip Girl” stuff is phoney. It’s fake and it lures girls into a dangerous, downward-spiraling, unhealthy world (no matter how good it makes them feel temporarily). Girls (and boys) need to learn to place value in much deeper things. Take up a cause. Crusade for something. Want to help the world. That’s what teens need to be thinking about. What I do disagree with, is the fact that you seem to think this can only come through the Christian faith. There are many ways to be good and whole. If Christianity is what leads you to that, I am happy for you. If not, there ARE other ways. Goodness is goodness. Christian or otherwise.

    • Hi Kianna,

      I apprecite your tact and candor in response to the author’s post. I aim to do the same. You said “goodness is goodness”. I could not agree with you more. The problem though is that no person you have ever met is good. The heart of a person tells whether or not if they are good. Some are better at concealing the truth than others. We can test this theory by examining our own hearts and compare it to the actions of others. First I would ask you if you ever told a lie? Then I would ask you if you have ever taken anything that did not belong to you? I would ask you to think deeply and to keep the answer to yourself- have you ever looked a man or woman with lustful desire? I would ask you if you have ever gotten angry?

      Based upon your answers to these questions I would then point out to you a person like Bill Clinton. Who blatantly lied to America and cheated on his wife. These actions started in his heart. I would then point out Sahel Kazemi, the young mistress of the late Steve McNair. She involved herself with a man that belonged to another and whose anger over loosing the relationship caused her to take both their lives. You and I are no different from these tow people. I will be honest and tell you I have to answer yes to each one of those questions.

      These actions are rooted in what is called sin. We are all born and molded in sin. You do not have to teach a child to lie. You do not have to teach them to get angry and throw temper tantrums. They are born with these things in them. It is our job as humans to first recognize the sin within us and secondly as parents recognize it in our children. Christianity is the ONLY religion that will look at the heart of man and call it what it truly is- wicked. If we are all sinful and filled with wickedness, where do we find goodness? Apart from God non is good.

      I could give you scriptures to support my claims but instead I would much rather you look at yourself based on what has been presented and come to the inevitable conclusion- that there is non good apart from God. God is offering forgiveness and exchange for our sinful lives.

      He asks that we accept His free gift of salvation by believing that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins.

      • Kianna

        I understand and, belive it or not, agree with almost everything you’ve told me. Call me a misanthrope, but all people are wicked. Even the nicest person has a capacity for evil in them, only some much more than others. And whether people want to see it or not, most people in the world are not nice. They can be, but they’re not. I’m not. There are few people who will look at themselves and admit that they could be nicer, sweeter, better than they act. I applaud the honesty of Christians, because they are able to openly say that they are not perfect. That in fact they are far from it. Children need to be taught goodness and honesty. Every child knows how to lie and throw fits. That shows how humans are naturally. However, I think it would be foolish to say that only a Christian can teach a child goodness. It doesn’t take prayer to teach a child to behave. Are Muslim children not taught to be kind and resepctful? Are Buddist children not taught to live good lives? Are Atheists children not taught to love their fellow man and respect the fundemental human right of every person they come across? They are. To think otherwise is close minded, in my opinion. I’m a Pantheist and yet the acts men are capable of appall me. I have wicked moments. I’d even venture to say that I have more wicked thoughts than is natural for a person. I know I am bad. I know that am full of what you call sin. I don’t deny this. However I just think that in the same way that there are many ways to get a child to behave and that all children are different and respond to different methods, there is more than one way to cure the malice in people. I choose my version of the Golden Rule: “If you don’t want people to f*@! with you, don’t f*@! with them.” Or in other words: “Be nice or go away.” That’s how I rule myself. It has nothing to do with any god, yours, or anyone else’s. I reject your idea of attaining goodness, but I would reject a Muslim’s or a Jew’s. I don’t pushed my ideas on you, either. I simply ask to agree to disagree on the points we cannot be of the same mind about and work together to reach the goal we both think needs reaching.

  • Again I thank you for being respectful and tactful in your response. Thank you for really reading my post and giving a straight forward response. We can truly agree to disagree. But I have one final question based on your comment “Children need to be taught goodness and honesty.” If all men are basically evil where does this standard of goodness come from and why is it important?

    If human beings are the ones in ‘charge’ of the standard of goodness, why should I or anyone else be subject to another mans rules. You live by a “Golden Rule:” that may or may not be the rules I choose to live by. Granted it is a necessity for order and civility in any society but if man is making the rules why should any one obey. Who decides who will be in charge and why are they able to give punishment for rules that I may or may not agree with?

    There has to be a purpose for this goodness and honesty higher than the basic respect of others for the purpose of receiving it.

    • Kianna

      I don’t believe that people need a cosmic big brother to force them to behave like civilized adult human-beings. Actually, no. I do think that they do. I’m not including you, because frankly you strike me as an intelligent, well rounded and generally put together person whose views I can respect though they differ from my own. However, I am a misanthrope and really do believe that the majority of humanity would be wild, dangerous, animal like beings if not for thier religion. In fact they’d be worse than animals becasue they would have the intelligence to know what they’re doing is wrong but not the moral standards to stop. In a perfect world, that I truely believe humans as they are now will never achieve, no one would do that. It would be a utopian socialist society where everyone took care of everyone else because as the saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Beng angry and hurtful takes time and energy that could be spent on creative, productive things like making art or music, curing disease, feeding the hungry, etc. Being good should be its own reward. Seeing that someone else happy because of what we’ve done for them should be one of the greatest joys that we experience as humans. It’s not that way, but it should be. Goodness for goodness’s sake. It makes logical sense, and humans claim to be creatures of logic. It has less to do with a standard of goodness and more to do with social efficiency.

  • Thats for your your insight.

  • I meant thanks for your insight, sorry.

  • Kianna

    Nice debating with you. Love to do it again anytime.