The independent news organization of Duke University

Vicariously livin' in Laguna Beach

“[Life] is solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.”

~Thomas Hobbes in The Leviathan, 1651

“[M]y friends and I… have unlimited access to money and booze and whatever else we want, and our parents are rarely home, so we have tons of privacy. We’re smart, we’ve inherited classic good looks, we wear fantastic clothes, and we know how to party. Our s--t still stinks, but you can’t smell it because the bathroom is sprayed hourly by the maid with a refreshing scent made exclusively for us by French perfumers.”

~ Cecily Von Ziegesar in Gossip Girl, Book One, 2002

I watch Laguna Beach: The Real O.C.

Not only do I watch it, but I’m actually a converted fan. After months of verbalizing my disdain for the plotless MTV reality series—the main premise is unchecked teenage hedonism against a sunny SoCal backdrop—I now devote my precious respite from a 40-hour-per-week job to watching this show’s weekend marathons.

Hence my Saturday afternoon positioning. I’m still in my pajamas, legs draped over the arms of an overstuffed chair. My tongue is wagging around in the air, blindly feeling for my green Starbucks straw. Apparently I’m too entrenched in the small-screen melodramatics to wrench my eyes away from the screen. “Characters”—at this point, they’re really more like close friends—L.C. and Stephen are driving over the Golden Gate bridge. “Whoa,” says L.C., her blonde hair flapping out behind her gigantic sunglasses. “I, like, don’t live with my parents anymore.”

The camera pans over to Stephen, wearing an identical pair of Olsen-twin sunglasses.

“Weeeeird,” he says.

The screen fades to black. Adam Levine’s scratchy voice croons a three-note love song.

Dude. This show is soooo deep.

What is so enthralling about Laguna, as it is affectionately pet-named, remains a mystery even to a critical connoisseur such as myself. Yet there are certain basic tenets of the show that are common to many of the most popular books, movies and serial television dramadies among young adults. These tenets? A lack of consequences, rules or laws; an abundance of wealth; the absence of parents and/or any sort of nuclear family structure; an indulgence in multiple unhealthy habits. Protagonists live a life of excess, their daily dealings unscathed by the cruel realities of a violent, Hobbesian world. In Mean Girls parlance, it’s a pretty fetch setup.

Young culture worships this premise, and as a lemming, I’m hardly above it. Last weekend, because the Laguna marathon hadn’t yet commenced, I instead lazed at the pool, hiding a Gossip Girl book inside my De Kooning biography. Almost two million copies of the unapologetically trashy series have sold to a demographic that, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, doesn’t even read anymore.

We must be hooked.

But what frightens me more than my rapidly intensifying addiction is that this fantastic lifestyle isn’t so far removed from our lives as college students. “Mean Girls” is the title of a Duke Facebook group, for Christ’s sake. We may not all live in luxe impiety a la the Cruel Intentions cast, but we have the same freedom from consequence in our Gothic bubble—the most important pillar of hedonism. There are no steadfast “rules” here or at most colleges around the country.

Young grasshoppers, Oh-Niners, I hope I haven’t convinced you that Duke is what my Misss-ippi debutante of a grandmother would call a “fast and loose place,” or that our little spread here in North Cakalacky even mildly approximates the fast times at Laguna Beach High. There’s a difference, after all, between being the scrupled life-of-the-party and being the coked-out bulimic with a festering case of the clap (you all know at least one of these).

But balancing ain’t easy, son, especially if you’re a fresh-off-the-boat freshman. The trick is in learning restraint, training yourself to employ some self-control, even if it’s 1.) really hard or 2.) sooooooo passé.

You’ll probably learn this hard way.

The truly fetch thing about college, however, is that this freedom is yours to claim. What will you do with it? Will it be freedom to expand, to grow, to experientially ascend the throne of adulthood in a four-year whirlwind of the stimulating, the raucous and the mind-blowing? Or will it be freedom to choke yourself with self-serving behaviors, to get lost in the fray, to wind up a suburban mother of two reliving her long-gone Upper East Side high school days in a beach-read series?

That choice—like all the ones you’ll make this year—is yours and yours alone.

Sarah Ball is a Trinity sophomore and editorial page managing editor for The Chronicle.


Share and discuss “Vicariously livin' in Laguna Beach” on social media.