Sex Sells… But With Hidden Costs

Just watched the very first episode of Degrassi Junior/High, called Kiss Me, Steph. Stephanie Kaye, parent’s newly divorced and struggling with her identity, decides to vamp up her image. Her best friend Voula doesn’t approve, but what does that matter as opposed to the “╦ťapproval’ of all the boys in the grade?

After a few days campaigning to be class president, she discovers that offering the boys kisses in return for a vote works wonders. She explains to Voula: all the boys will vote for me, and all the girls will split their votes between the other runners.

She ends up winning, only to lose Voula’s friendship in the bargain. And then she realises being class president is much harder then she thought. She muddles through as best she can, ultimately letting a lot of people down – ending up in an attempted recall.

She learn, in effect, that selling sex only gets you so far. And often the cost is far higher then if you’d made it on your self-respect and integrity. Because no-one takes Stephanie seriously – least of all the boys who kissed her for a vote.

And it wasn’t done judgementally, either. Most of the impact as seen through Stephanie’s eyes, who realises she just has the contempt of the girls, and the adoration of the boys, but the respect of neither. She realises she’s sunk pretty low if NO-ONE thinks much of her.

Isn’t this the ultimate goal of television? That the consequences of a character’s actions are realistic? That women, though they may basically be good people, can do rotten things? This is what I love about Degrassi. The women (who I think get the lion’s share of the good storylines) often do rotten things – and they face up to them.

No Mary Sue-ing for them.

Comments

  1. says

    I keep hearing wonderful things about DeGrassi, but I’m not sure we get it in our cable package. Perhaps I should look into DVD’s.

    Is it Canadian maybe? That would explain its being more nuanced and subtle and realistic. We don’t really do realisitic here in the states. Especially not when dealing with teenagers.

  2. says

    I adore this series. I watched the original series when I was a kid and still watch (even though I’m *almost* 28). It deals with a lot of hard topics in as realistic ways as possible for a T.V. show. I think one of the most wonderful things that the writers do is take characters to extremes. Good guy/girl one day, bad guy/girl the next which is what kids (and even some of us adults) do on a daily basis in an attempt to find/define ourselves.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    We don’t really do realisitic here in the states. Especially not when dealing with teenagers.

    :D

    DeGrassi is on Netflix, if that’s of any use to you.

  4. Purtek says

    Is it Canadian maybe? That would explain its being more nuanced and subtle and realistic.

    Yep. :) I was raised on this show. Joey Jeremiah is deeply lodged in my cultural consciousness; I even remember “The Kids of Degrassi Street”. (sorry, nostalgia tangent).

    I think the Canadianism does have a lot to do with its subtlety and nuance–first of all, shows *have* to rely on quality characterization and good storylines rather than big-name actors and big-budget production values. I suspect Canadians are also a lot more comfortable with moral ambiguity and lack of black/white, good guy/bad guy situations, but that’s a hunch.

    I haven’t watched much of “Degrassi: TNG”, but being unemployed right now I caught a two-part rerun last week dealing with a “date rape” in very complex ways. The overall grade on that one would be pretty good, which I should maybe write about in order to counter the heapings of negativity I’ve piled on other shows for their portrayals of sexual violence.

  5. scarlett says

    Crabby McSlacker, yes, the series is Canadian. We used to get it here in Oz on reruns on PBS but my sis (who was three when the original series was cencelled) had to but it on DVD. I think it’s turned in to quite the cult classic. Seriously, EVERY SINGLE episode I saw made me want to go write a THL episode about it, and I had to pick the half dozen that really stood out :p. The cloest I can come to is our Heartbreak High, which Degrassi still ran circles around :p

    If you are at all interested in decently written characters and storylines, I suggest you invest in Degrassi. Purtek’s right (comparing to Aus TV, at least from two years ago) there just isn’t the money to sink into CG and big-name stars so you have to offer quality somewhere else.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    I suspect Canadians are also a lot more comfortable with moral ambiguity and lack of black/white, good guy/bad guy situations, but that’s a hunch.

    Hunch away. I still suspect Americans are more interested in ambiguity than the American TV industry gives us credit, but maybe I’m being optimistic.

  7. MaggieCat says

    We don’t really do realisitic here in the states. Especially not when dealing with teenagers.

    Joan of Arcadia. It was such an awesome show, so of course it got cancelled after two seasons. The teenagers behaved believably and they handled the adults just as well, rather than falling into that trap where kids have either uninvolved or just completely absent parents so that they can have their teenage protagonists front and center all of the time. (This show is also one of my top two examples of why happily married adults are far more interesting than dysfunctional ones.)

    The latter part of season 2 is uneven, but that was because the network was interfering and throwing Duffs on the show (both Haley and Hillary) and forcing a beloved main character to do something completely unbelievable for him because they didn’t want a happy couple as the center of the show. (Yes I’m still really, really bitter.)

  8. says

    Thanks, everyone!

    Netflix, why didn’t I think of that. I’ll have to try Degrassi that way.

    And I’d forgotten about Joan of Arcadia, though after the first season which I really liked, I turned against it for some reason, can’t remember exactly why. And I guess there was also My So Called Life, which I loved, and Freaks and Geeks which was good too, and Wonderfalls, though the protagonist was a bit older… I think all these shows were the victims of early cancellations, but at least they existed.

    But I still want to move to Canada, where in my fantasies people are generally less lunk-headed than they are in the states.

  9. scarlett says

    I adore this series. I watched the original series when I was a kid and still watch (even though I’m *almost* 28). It deals with a lot of hard topics in as realistic ways as possible for a T.V. show.

    Tina, I’ve done a couple of DeGrassi articles if you’re interested in them – hopefully I’ve tagged them all so you just have to put degrassi in the search engine :p

  10. says

    Purtek

    Yes, those episodes were very good. Made even better by the fact that the rape victim was the school Queen Bee (or liked to think of herself as such) and wasn’t a terribly sympathetic character until this episode. The fact that the writers managed to not only write a good episode about rape but also use it to make the character more nuanced and sympathetic in ways that go beyond “oh, poor thing!” is pretty damn amazing, I think.

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