On any given Tues. night, thousands of girls on and off Radford University’s campus wait anxiously for the newest episode of the hit television show “Pretty Little Liars.” It’s a teen mystery show set in a town called Rosewood, following the lives of best friends Emily, Aria, Spencer and Hanna. The girls try to uncover the truth behind the murder of their friend Allison.
I’d never watched the show before, but after my roommate’s continuous begging and because of my own curiosity, I decided to give it a shot.
“Pretty Little Liars” is a low-budget show with bad (but beautiful) actors and actresses that contribute to unrealistic modern beauty standards in the US. It encourages these standards by only casting people who are thin, muscle-toned, “sexy” or “hot.” In some cases, even the parents don’t look old enough to play a parent role, but the teenagers are, of course, played by people in their mid-twenties. In almost every episode, we see the characters discussing how “hot Mr. Fitz is” or their plans to go tanning. Lines such as “I’m all for boob jobs…”(Season 1, episode two) or “…like I’m some marching band geek with Funyun breath…”(Season 1, episode three) emphasize the superficial attitude of the television show. When discussing Aria’s father’s affair, Hanna says, “Meredith? Her name is Meredith. Eww! That isn’t even a cute girl name. I’m seeing big pores and mousy roots. If you’re gonna cheat, you might wanna do it with someone who deep conditions their hair occasionally.”
Their levels of concern range from what lip gloss looks best, to which girl they saw a boyfriend flirting with at school. These characters encourage a very scary norm for our generation. The show influences teenagers to care very little about anything but themselves. Not only are the girls selfish and uncaring, but they are extremely reckless with few consequences. In the first episode of the show, Hanna steals a pair of $350 sunglasses and her mom is punished for it. Hanna also steals her boyfriend’s car at a party and wrecks it because he hasn’t been paying her as much attention as she would like. Her only punishment is to work in an office for a few weeks. The other girls’ reaction to this extreme response is so minimal that it desensitizes its viewers and encourages them to do something a little extreme next time their significant other pisses them off. In episode five of the first season, Hanna and her boyfriend Sean see each other for the first time since she wrecked his car, and they spend more time discussing their plans to go to homecoming together than they do his destroyed vehicle. No one seems very concerned about Hanna’s mental stability or the danger she put herself in by destroying Sean’s car.
Another alarming example of the girls’ careless and reckless attitude is their reaction to Emily’s boyfriend Ben’s attempt to rape her. When Emily tells the other girls about it, they seem more concerned about the fact that Toby, the creepy, misunderstood character, was there to rescue her. They also ask, “Are you sure you’re done with him?” I would hope that in reality, friends would have a different reaction to a girl dumping her boyfriend after he tries to force himself onto her sexually. It’s very alarming because rape is such a serious issue for them to have a cavalier attitude toward. They genuinely believe she shouldn’t end her relationship, which is more than a little concerning if you ask me. However, that’s how the girls react to many serious issues in the television series — which is why I think it’s very dangerous and encourages its viewers to act as recklessly and carelessly as the characters on the show.
The show also promotes a very concerning definition of friendship in which some of the girls seem ashamed of their talents or passions, instead of celebrating them. We see Emily discussing music she likes with Toby, but she almost seems embarrassed to like the music he likes. We also see her reject Toby when she’s around the other girls, but she’s much friendlier to him when they are not nearby. Spencer also seems to hide away her academic skills when she’s around the group. It’s odd, because Toby explains to Emily that he thinks different is good. This almost seems to be what the show is trying to prove, but it consistently does the opposite.
“Pretty Little Liars” is incredibly popular for all the wrong reasons. It lacks characters that young women can aspire to be, themes that can encourage a moral standard and then some. If it ever hopes to be anything more than trash television contributing to an increasingly reckless and apathetic generation, it will need to make major changes in its characters and so much more.