the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in BSC and pop culture

Recently, there was a post in the BSC Snark livejournal community where a member had just seen Sixteen Candles for the first time and had the same reaction I did all those years ago, when I first saw that movie: how the hell is this Mary Anne’s favorite movie? It includes such topics as underage drinking, date rape, and people paying money to see a girl’s underwear.

Obviously, it was just a movie that was popular at the time the book was written–I believe it’s in The Ghost at Dawn’s House–and Ann was like, “Oh, family forgets sixteen-year-old’s birthday, but she ends up with the school hottie! Perfect for Mary Anne!” Actually, this is really strange, but I just tried looking up Sixteen Candles in the Complete Guide and it’s NOT THERE. Obviously, someone at Scholastic realized that this wasn’t an appropriate movie for their target audience to want to watch. Luckily, we do NOT censor the wiki and it’s in there.

It’s not uncommon for authors to stick a bit of themselves and their interests into the things they write. Sometimes, this works out fine. I am a huge fan of Meg Cabot, and Mia, in The Princess Diaries, is a character who has obviously inherited a lot of Meg’s interests. Mia sits around watching Buffy and Lifetime movies and makes references to topical pop culture events all the time. If you read Meg’s blog, as I do, you’d know that these are things that Meg is really into as well. And that’s ok, because these interests are pretty believable for a teenage girl. (I would personally LOVE to sit around and discuss TV and celebrities with Meg!)

Ann, however, as all fans of the BSC know well, is into, well, I Love Lucy and Wizard of OZ. Now, I would say it would be OK for one or two of the characters to be into these things. When I was a teenager, I watched a lot of old tv–I was even weirdly obsessed with this programming block on GSN they showed at like, 3 in the morning that was game shows from the 50s and 60s. I’ve Got a Secret/What’s My Line/To Tell the Truth, etc. But I was a weirdo who had few friends! EVERYONE in Stoneybrook, it seems, is well-acquinated with the plot of every Lucy episode and has seen OZ too many times to count. When Ann does try to insert references to current trends, like with Mary Anne loving Sixteen Candles, it often is a strange choice or inappropriate because Ann truly does not to get out much. Recall, if you will, Ann’s biography, where she recalled a “wild night with the girls” in college–EATING A TON OF ICE CREAM. Which is totally fine! There is not wrong with being pop culture illiterate, or a homebody. I think that in Main Street, where Ann makes zero pop culture references and writes about a bunch of kind-of-nerdy girls, plays to her strengths well, and uses her hobbies and interests in a way that doesn’t seem anachronistic for the age she is writing about.

This is one of the things that actually IMPROVED with the ghostwriters, I think. I trust Peter Lerangis to be pretty up on pop culture–I got into a twitter discussion with him a while ago about SOPA, and he knew who Louis CK was. (So do my parents, I guess–both my mom and my dad love his show. But still. I don’t think Ann would be familiar.) But anyway, once you get past the books where Ann was the actual author and no one was thanked for their help with the manuscript, you start getting references to things that were popular at the time, like 90210 and grunge and Hanson. There is a little less Lucy and a little more “I’ve been told I look like Jason Priestley.”

There is a downside to this, however. Like how many references in The Princess Diaries will be totally confusing to kids in ten years or so (Who is Jason Alexander and why did Britney Spears marry him?, they will ask), the references in the later BSC books very firmly place them in their years of publication. Whereas the endless old-stuff references just seem a little strange in the early books, but I don’t see that many things that really clearly mark them as late 80s/early 90s the way the later books are so clearly 90s.

So, you know, often I think the best thing is to just make up your own pop culture. Let U4Me go on tour with Spider and the Insects.

So Ashley of dibbly-fresh sent me the new editions and The Summer Before (those who pay close attention the fandom will know why soon ;) ), and I, naturally devoured them all. I’ll write about the prequel later, because I have more to say about it and probably should read it a second time before I sit down to do a thorough post about it, but here’s what I think about the rereleases.

The text is quite large, but the same font, so after a while, it’s less noticeable. I’ve read that they were aiming a slightly younger target audience, so this, and the graphic covers, makes sense. The handwriting is now fonts, and not the fonts that were created for the CD-roms. I suppose, going along with the new lower target audience thing and the decreased emphasis on learning cursive in schools–I’m shocked at how many even my age can’t read cursive–I’m not surprised. I’m sure it increases readibility. Plus, Claud’s “how did this girl ever get out of the first grade” spelling errors have been taken down a notch. She now seems like a perfectly capable twelve-year-old who isn’t the greatest speller, but at least picks up a book once in a while, even if it is Nancy Drew. If they get to Claudia and the New Girl, I wonder what they’ll do with the spelling test scene, where they go through Claudia’s spelling thought process.

After reading about the Sweet Valley rereleases, where they got rid of 1BRUCE1, I was scared about what I’d find. But they did a nice subtle job, one that I only noticed if I was really looking hard–and I’ve been reading these books constantly for nearly 20 years now. They changed “tape deck” to “stereo,” for instance, and frankly, even when I was a kid no one said “tape deck” any more. Charlotte’s favorite tv show is no longer The Cosby Show; she now has a favorite board game instead. Kristy, however, still says “One false move and I’ll punch your lights out,” and if I were an editor I would have taken that out, because what the hell are the best baby-sitters in town doing, threatening violence against their clients? WTF, Thomas?

So all in all, I think they did a damn good job here. In fact, I was kind of hoping for MORE edits, just so it’d be DIFFERENT and exciting. But whatever, yay Scholastic. I do wonder, though, if the lack of more edits to modernize it will lead to reviews like the latest ones on Amazon for the new Alice McKinley book, Alice in Charge:

The dialogue between Alice and her friends falls flat. They simply don’t speak the way teenagers talk. In fact, sometimes when various characters talk, they seem to serve only to hammer home the moral lesson Alice is learning. Naylor (or her editors) seem to want to avoid dating the books. This is admirable, but it makes Alice and her friends much less relatable and their world feels inauthentic. The books contain a few token references to Facebook and Starbucks, but are otherwise so devoid of pop culture that these token references stick out like someone’s parent trying to be “hip to the scene.” The characters often listen to “a CD.” CDs are dinosaur technology to your average high school student. The names stick out to me as well. Many of them seem to be literally like `50s era names–Penny, Fran, Rosalind, etc. There’s nary a Taylor or a Brianna to be seen.

As a long-term fan, I like that the overall feel of the books wasn’t affected. But after spending time with girls in the target age group earlier this month, I’m not sure how much they’ll connect with it. Plus, it seems now that eleven-year-olds are sittees, not sitters. They’ve available for preorder on Amazon up until Kristy’s Big Day, and like I said in my last post they planned to do the first seven at least, so we’ll see if we get any after that.

In the 90s, I remember seventies stuff being pretty cool. That is how we ended up wearing bell bottoms and velveteen tops in 1997. The last few years have been all NEON! RAYBANS! LEGGINGS!, culling its sartorial influences from the 80s. There’s a 20-year cycle of fashion, when things have faded from memory just long enough to stop seeming hideously ugly.

Thus, we have started to see a 90s revival, both in fashion and in entertainment. Beverly Hills, 90210 is back on air, as is Melrose Place. Of recent book releases, the book I’ve heard the most about is Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music by Melissa Meltzer, which has insipired even those who weren’t even alive at the time to listen to Bikini Kill.

It’s no surprise, then, that both the Baby-Sitters Club AND Sweet Valley are coming out with new books. (Yes, the long-awaited Sweet Valley Confidential is being released.) Had these books been released five years ago, only those of us diehards in the fandoms would have cared. The sales would have resembled those of the attempted revitalization of the series that was Friends Forever, if that. But now enough time has passed since the heyday of these series to mean that people who were readers the first time around might have kids of their own of BSC/SV-reading age. Those who don’t have kids might check out the books just out of pure nostalgia, and old enough now to not be embarrassed about being seen buying them Teachers and librarians, also of the first generation of readers, can introduce the books to the kids they work with. When the graphic novels came out, I think it was just slightly too early for all of this. Only the hardcore fanbase seemed to be interested, for the most part, and I don’t remember as many writeups across the internet. Jezebel, for one, has been following the reissues/prequel story for as long as the fandom has.

While ten years ago, Ann said she was simply “done” with the characters, perhaps the real implication of her words were that, outside of her hardcore and aging fanbase, the public was done. They were a relic, overshadowed by new phenomena like Harry Potter. Even a graphic design upgrade and less focus on baby-sitting couldn’t obscure the fact that their time was over. They were innocent books without anything supernatural. But now twenty- and thirty-somethings seem to all be infected with a sense of early 90s nostalgia.

Maybe Ann saw the marketing opportunity and seized it, or her editors gently suggested it to her. Or perhaps, she, too was nostalgic for the BSC’s heyday, and wanted to revisit these characters.

Today I was struck with a sudden thought. If you didn’t watch The Paper, go and watch the show on the site I just linked and then come back.

OK. Amanda Lorber=Karen Brewer in high school, yes?


edit: for non-USA readers, here’s a link to where you can watch the show.

I found this on youtube. It’s a song by a Czech band called SandWitch entitled “Mallory on Strike.” I’d like to think they were inspired by Ann’s novel, which I have been reading lately.

Stacey and the Bad Girls happens to be one of my all-time favorite BSC books. It might in fact be my #1, but I haven’t really considered this question thoroughly yet. Anyway, this book, if you’re one of those people who missed out on the later series, takes place after Stacey vs the BSC, where Stacey is kicked out of/quits the BSC, depending on whether you ask Kristy or Stacey. Stacey realized that maybe there is life outside of baby-sitting, and starts running with a different crowd. She starts skipping BSC meetings and sitting jobs to go to dates at places like Pizza Express and Burger Town, and throws a blowout party and only invites Claudia. Stacey is BSC history.

So in this book Stacey has these cool new friends, who are into things like nose jewelry and like to come over every day, watch MTV, and eat. Stacey’s mother thinks that it is time for Stacey to get a job. Hi, Mrs. McGill. Let me introduce you to a little something called “child labor laws.” (Paging the Rosebud Cafe.) There is very little for a thirteen-year-old to do except baby-sit, and as someone who was kicked out of the BSC, there aren’t really any baby-sitting jobs for Stacey to do. Stacey’s mom gets her a job at the Kid Center at Bellairs, which I kind of think is illegal, but moving on. Stacey’s cool new job gets her an employee discount, so her cool new friends use her and squeeze some money out of Bellairs, while also shoplifting paperback books. OMG.

All hell breaks loose when Stacey and her friends go to a U4Me concert. They sneak in miniature bottles of wine in their flop socks. Stacey and her new friends are no more. And Stacey doesn’t even get to see the one and only Aristotle Dukas in person. It’s very tragic.

Stacey is let back into the BSC. Good for her, I guess.

The one thing I don’t like about this book is the annoying subplot. Sharon Spier’s cousins are dropping off their six-year-old daughter for two weeks while they go to Europe. Um, yeah. Apparently the dad did not get along with Jack Schafer, so they were estranged or something. So these model parents are dropping off their daughter Amy with people she’s never seen before while they gallivant around Europe for two weeks. Obviously this does work out well, and Amy is really annoying and runs away to… the Bellairs Kid Center. Where Stacey happens to be working. It’s a bit awkward, since Stacey hasn’t made up with Dawn and Mary Anne. It’s hard to forgive a friend who spies on you from behind a jukebox.

One of the most notable things about this book is that it feels the most concurrent with its time, somehow. Now that Stacey has left the BSC, she is free to be a slightly more average teenager, so a lot of this book is filled with MTV-watching. There is talk of grunge, and flannel, and fashion that does not involve papier-mache. Stacey is hanging out with the cool kids, so we get to learn all about the mid-90s from a fashion perspective that does not inhaling paint fumes.

Stacey does not, however, live up to her sophisticated Chapter Two trait in this book. She dresses kind of dorky, bringing a white cardigan sweater to the U4Me concert. She also is hoodwinked by those “friends” of hers. Oh, Stacey. You’re the most sophisticated of the BSC, but it seems as if that is not a very large accomplishment.

One of the things that has been occupying my mind, besides the work I need to finish before the end of the semester, is finding a really good cookbook of American food. In six months I move to Russia, and the main issue of living in Russia, for me, is food. I don’t really know how to cook anything besides pasta and grilled cheese–I rely a lot on prepared food, and the kind of prepared food I’m used to is not as easy to come by in Russia. So I’ve been looking through my mom’s cookbooks, because I fear that new cookbooks will have a lot of stuff that is also hard to find in Russia.

One of the cookbooks I read this weekend was Home Cookin’ With Dave’s Mom, a cookbook David Letterman’s mother wrote in the mid-nineties. While it’s not as prevalent as her obsession for say, I Love Lucy, it was confirmed in her biography that Ann is a Letterman fan, although she rarely stays up late enough to watch it. Letterman is also mentioned a couple of the times in the series, notably in Claudia and the Lighthouse Ghost where one of the guys in the “Fred” group is pretty much a Letter Look-a-like.

Anyway, this cookbook features a Letterman family tree. On Dave’s entry, it says, “David Michael.” We all know how… obsessive Ann is with the stuff she likes, so I would not be surprised if Ann named Kristy’s brother after her favorite late night gap-toothed talk show host. This would, at least, explain the odd choice of two names–although this does not still explain why Emily Michelle Brewer is often referred to as Emily Michelle, although she is occasionally called just Emily. Without the Michael, however, you are calling DM by the wrong name, which is kind of… weird. Cause damn, that’s a long first name.

Ann has these weird obsessions, like with “I Love Lucy” and “The Wizard of Oz.” It gets tiring to read about constant allusions to Munchkinland and various Lucy plots, with people dressing up as the characters and imitating them at every turn.

Anyway, recently Nicole Richie had a baby shower. “Ann M. Martin” and “Nicole Richie” are normally not people that you would ever associate with one another. Nicole, however, recently had a “Wizard”-themed baby shower.

Perhaps Ann has more in common with Nicole than previously thought…

Today I was thinking about how fun it would be to dress as a BSC member for Halloween. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough female friends who are willing to dress up as the BSC with me for the costume to really work. Have any of you ever dressed up as the BSC for Halloween? What did you wear? My ideas:

  • Kristy: Easy–her “uniform.” Levis 501s, white tshirt with “Kristy’s Krushers” on it, sneakers, baseball cap (preferably with a collie on it).
  • Claudia: I would just go to a thrift store a get some random crap, maybe some food jewelry
  • Mary Anne: a bit harder… khakis, maybe birkenstock clogs?, a preppy sweater…

  • Stacey: Something super stylish, lots of black. I think most people like to go as early, 1980s BSC rather than mid-nineties BSC. So maybe a bolero jacket with shoulder pads. So sophisticated!
  • Dawn: Something hippie. Maybe bell-bottoms and a peasant top. And of course 2 earrings in each ear.
  • Abby: Soccer uniform.
  • Mal: Horse sweatshirt and jeans.
  • Jessi: Leotard, legwarmers, jeans.
  • Shannon: Private school uniform.
  • Logan: Rugby shirt, jeans, stupid look on face.
  • Episode 208 of “Style Her Famous” on the Style Network is a total Claudia.

    Also, I’ve noticed some confusion that was caught by my spam catcher: your comment will only show up right away if you have commented three or more times. If you’re a new commenter, your comment will be sent to me for approval before it appears on the site.

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