MTV, no longer satisfied with simply ruining teenagers' minds (it took mine in 1982), has become the most astute and thorough documentarian of just how bad teenagers can be. I'm not talking about teenagers who murder their parents or set fires. I'm talking about teenagers who have $500,000 birthday parties. Not so long ago, the ABC "Afterschool Special" had to invent fictional teenagers to illustrate a variety of bad manners, clique wars, juvenile delinquency and adolescent dysfunction. MTV has found something much more horrifying: actual American teenagers -- and the richer their parents are, the more you want to reach through the television and throttle them all. The more the press learns about "Laguna Beach," MTV's high-end, allegedly true, docu-saga about the richest, prettiest kids in that Southern California beach town, the less "real" it seems. I may not believe in the tooth fairy, but I do believe there really is a Kristin. (And a Talan, and an LC. And I believe they all have Hollywood agents and will try to have acting careers, briefly, and eventually get work in PR.) Mostly what I believe, when I watch "Laguna Beach," is that I'm going to be gloriously, wondrously sick to my stomach.
I challenge anyone to resist the powers of "My Super Sweet 16," MTV's celebrification of seriously spoiled brats. You simply cannot get this level of cluelessly extreme misbehavior from showbiz celebrities; you have to go extremely local. As one recent birthday girl explained to the show, "It's like we are celebrities, only we're not really famous." She and her friends then go to the beach for a pre-party photo session with a "top" photographer. They pose sexily by the harbor, giggling, their little rolls of fat muffin-topping out from their lowrise jeans. Then she must get home, so she can yell at her mother, and pout, and make yet another list of who isn't invited to her nightclub birthday party, and do many other things that make you long for corporal punishment.
I admire the unflinching way MTV edits these shows down to an unctuous, selfish essence -- without sermon. But does this harm teenagers who are actually watching? Do they now think that a 16th birthday (or a shopping trip, or a prom, or a cosmetic surgery, or a first kiss) is invalid without cameras, without star treatment? It's an ingenious marketing plan on MTV's part: Celebrity life is boring, unless you get to be a celeb.