Monday, March 31, 2008

The Return of Sweet Valley High… Or Why Some Things Should Just Need to Go Away

I know that I am a little late in terms of reporting this item, but I can’t let this pass without saying something about it. Random House is updating and repackaging the Sweet Valley High series for a new generation of teenage girls. For those of you who don’t remember Sweet Valley High, all you basically need to know is that it is about identical twins, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, who lead incredibly unrealistic lives in picturesque Sweet Valley, California. Although they look alike (blonde hair, blue eyes, perfect size six four figures), their personalities make them polar opposites. Don’t get me wrong – they are both rather bitchy but in completely different ways. Jessica is a manipulative, shallow, serial dater while Elizabeth is a condescending do-gooder who gives advice even when it is unsolicited. Wackiness ensues, usually due to Jessica’s desperate attempts for attention. Once in a while, the series would include “A Very Special” book that deals with poverty or racism or having to wear glasses. However, for the most part, the books were about how perfect the twins looked.

The Sweet Valley High series was very popular in the 1980s, but things have changed quite a bit since then. Consequently, Random House feels the need to update several of the details about the books. According to, these updates include changing the kind of car the twins drive (from a Fiat to a Jeep Wrangler), the after school activities Elizabeth does (rather than edit the school newspaper, she now edits the school’s website and has a blog), and the size that the twins wear (they have gone from a perfect size six to a perfect size four).

Reading the various articles about this makes me wonder if resurrecting Sweet Valley High and Elizabeth and Jessica is really necessary, since:

  1. Teenage girls tend to read the Gossip Girl books now. They don’t need two passive-aggressive heroines thrown into the mix.
  2. The Sweet Valley High books are even less realistic that the Gossip Girl books (and this is no small feat). Don’t believe me? One book is about a girl who impersonates the twins and tries to take over their lives. In another book, a prince falls in love with Elizabeth. I am not making this up.
  3. Elizabeth and Jessica are arguably two of the most annoying characters to ever grace the pages of young adult literature. What’s more, despite the crazy stunts (Jessica) and the meddling (Elizabeth), they seem absurdly popular. In a real high school, Jessica and Elizabeth would have their Fiat/ Jeep Wrangler keyed and their house covered in toilet paper on a regular basis.

I will admit that I read Sweet Valley High as a preteen. By the time I hit fifth or sixth grade, I realized just how vapid the twins were. Even now, I look back and shudder at all of the misinformation I had because of those damn books. However, they are a lot of fun to mock (just check out the Dari Burger).

Sunday, March 30, 2008

OMG – It’s Legally Blonde: The Musical!

I will be the first to admit that I am a theatre geek. My parents instilled in me an almost embarrassing love of musicals which continues to this day. I used to listen to knock-off recordings of Oklahoma! and Phantom of the Opera. Thankfully, as I grew older, my tastes became a little more discerning.

This leads me to my first rant on musical theatre for this blog. To be completely honest, I never cared for Legally Blonde as a movie. It was funny enough, and Reese Witherspoon is from my hometown, so I feel like I should like it. But I don’t. I think my main problem with it stems from the fact that Elle got into Harvard to stalk her ex while some other person who truly wanted to go to law school was rejected. I know that she comes to see Warner for the tool that he is and that she eventually excels at law. However, as a person who was rejected from a few doctoral programs, I still feel a little bitter.

That said, I had some preconceived notions about Legally Blonde: The Musical. With very few exceptions, any musical based off of a film is not going to be too great. For every Hairspray success, there is inevitably a Saturday Night Fever or a Footloose prepared to destroy the Broadway musical once and for all. Besides being based on a movie I don’t care for, the first song is called “Omigod You Guys.” As a former English teacher, that’s enough to make me want to kick puppies. The rest of the song titles seemed equally lame and generic. “What You Want.” “Find My Way.” “So Much Better.” “Whipped into Shape.”

Last fall, I attempted to watch MTV’s airing of Legally Blonde: The Musical since I could not conceive of any scenario in which I would plunk down actual money for an actual seat at the theatre. Perhaps the nicest thing I can say about the musical is that I didn’t completely hate it. The actors seemed to be genuinely excited to be there (you’d be surprised at how often some actors just go through the motions and don’t even try to hide it from the audience). The colors were bright and some of the choreography was pretty good. Consequently, if it is possible to make a good show based solely on enthusiasm, Legally Blonde would be fine.

Unfortunately, enthusiasm alone does not a good show make. The songs (as indicated by the titles) are repetitious and almost interchangeable. However, the oddest part of the Legally Blonde experience is the double-standard regarding looks. As Ben Brantley, the theatre critic at the New York Times pointed out in his review, the show tries to promote the idea that it is okay to be girly and smart. However, judging by the numerous jokes made at one character’s expense, it is not okay to not be pretty.

All in all, the entire experience was not unlike talking to a sorority girl from my undergraduate days; she seems perfectly lovely, but you get the sinking suspicion that, underneath that perky exterior, she is a real bitch.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here (not really)

Welcome to my first official blog! I am a graduate student in the Boston area who is currently slogging towards a doctoral degree. Although my mother has repeatedly reminded me that I could have become a real doctor for all of the time I'm spending in school, I actually enjoy school and education.

Before we get into what this blog is going to be about, I want to issue a disclaimer.
I don't lead a very exciting life. Right now, most of my time is spent reading books for class, researching my topic for my dissertation, and praying that I will eventually get this degree. If you are hoping for stories about keggers and hazing, you had best check elsewhere.

Now that we've got that out of the way, you are probably wondering what this blog will be about. In essence, it is my chance to discuss the things that strike me on a regular basis. This can range from the books I am reading (for class or for pleasure) to what is going on in Boston to the often odd world of popular culture. Some of these are things I truly enjoy (David Sedaris) while others are guilty pleasures (Project Runway) and some are things I truly abhor (High School Musical).

This is what I think about on a regular basis. Try not to be too afraid...