Wednesday, February 8, 2012

'Less Than Zero' & 'Gossip Girl'

Described as "relentless emphasis on brand names, popular culture and commodities, coupled with its detailed description of consumerism, the reifications of violence, decadence and extreme sexuality," in 'Blank fictions: consumerism, culture, and the contemporary American novel' by James Annesley, blank fiction is a term that applies to types of work like 'Less Than Zero' by Bret Easton Ellis, and I feel like this definition almost offers up a checklist of what any writer looking to produce a 'blank fiction' story could look at in order to do so.

If I were to produce the same checklist for 'Less Than Zero', it would look a little something like this:
Brand names: repeated mentions of MTV, Coke (Coca Cola, that is).
Popular Culture and commodities: Use of drugs and alcoh
ol, ongoing talk of Hollywood and the scene that came with it.
Reifications of Violence: Finn using Julian as a "whore", the dismemberment of the two teenagers on the snuff video shown at a party, the body found in the alleyway, the forcing of both Muriel and Julian to 'shoot up' and take heroin, the drugging and rape of the twelve year old girl at the end of the novel.
Decadence: the ease at which these wealthy youths can access money to buy drugs and alcohol, under no surveillance from their parents apart from their trust funds, use of fake I.D.'s, no doubt due to their access to money.
Extreme Sexuality: the sexual encounters of Clay, both male and female, the on and off relationship with Blair, the sexual confusion of many of the characters, including Trent, Julian, Finn, Daniel - none of which are characters described as openly gay.

The use of drugs in the novel can be linked to other media of that time - looking at the Brat Pack, in particular 'The Breakfast Club', where in detention they smoke marijuana and it is not seen as a big deal to them, it almost comes across as a normalization of the whole culture. Bret Easton Ellis has since admitted to reading the novel later in his life and viewing it differently, as I think when he wrote it (aged 19), he could perhaps identify with some of the stories as he was around the same age.

Even today, this checklist still applies to the typical American teen drama starring wealthy 'troubled' teens, the most similar in my opinion to 'Less Than Zero' being 'Gossip Girl'. The show follows a group of teens who live on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, all incredibly wealthy due to their parents and unlimited trust funds, attending private school and living the 'high life' for lack of a better word. Based on books of the same name, the show is a slightly more tame version of the novels, not showing so much of the drug culture or as much sex as there are in the books. When I started reading 'Less Than Zero', the Gossip Girl books immediately came to mind and I saw many similarities; the drug culture, on
/off, almost incestuous relationships, the issue of rape etc., and I wouldn't be surprised if Ellis was an influence for Cecily von Ziegesar, the author of the 'Gossip Girl' series. Another small link is that an episode of 'Gossip Girl' was actually named "Yes, Then Zero" - as a nod to the novel by Ellis.

Much like the film adaptation of 'Less Than Zero', which I looked at reviews for, the television series of 'Gossip Girl' was largely altered for the big screen, arguably making it more audience friendly. It almost makes me think that it is easier for authors to be explicit in literature as it is almost less accessible, whereas television and film which is arguably more accessible, at least to an impressionable audience.

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