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26 September 2009

Cruel Intentions: The Oxbridge Years

I've always enjoyed quirky juxtapositions and this was cemented in place by the Italian literature course, Visions of Hell, which I took in my second year of university, Dante's Divine Comedy being a classic melting pot of high and low style, with popes and priests being punished alongside pimps and prostitutes. This means that I've never really been too ashamed of watching trashy shows such as Gossip Girl, as long as they are interspersed with the occasional deeper, more meaningful diversion. Besides, Gossip Girl is actually quite well written with a very sharp and funny script and the odd bit of decent acting; it can't be so bad if the Daily Intel blog tags it the Greatest Show of Our Time.

Compared to the programme I just watched, Gossip Girl looks like the televisual equivalent of In Search of Lost Time or War and Peace or similar. Trinity has been pretty heavily advertised, of late; at least, at the cinema, which is the source of nearly all the adverts I've seen. It's a ridiculously camp new "drama" set in a "fictional" college at the prestigious BridgeFord University (wot, not CamOx University?) with a whole load of cardboard cut-out, clich├ęd characters. Oh, and there is also something sinister going on, with frequent references to the fact that the college is thoroughly rotten--right to the top. Especially at the top. Dun dun duh!

Not being an expert in the New York prep school scene, I've never really felt in a position to do my own reality index of Gossip Girl (and why would I want to when the Daily Intel's is so good?) but I did attend a large, rich Oxbridge college, not dissimilar in some ways to this Trinity, so I thought I would tally up just how unrealistic the show is.

I should also add that I thought the show was pretty dire: the acting was shoddy and the script was laughable--and not in a good way. I'm sure some parts are supposed to be tongue-in-cheek and that the target audience is probably not people who have been to colleges like Trinity, but even so, I wasn't hugely impressed with episode one, realistic or not. A quick summary of the characters is on the ITV website; the bios are pretty short as the characters are all so two-dimensional.

Realer Than Lord Snooty's Obvious Crush on Sebastian Valmont in Cruel Intentions
* Earnest Christian has a tea and biscuits party in her room, shortly after hanging her crucifix on the wall. University was the first time I really met hard-core Christians en masse and there were such tea parties (though plenty of other people arranged them too, of course). [Plus 10]
* Earnest Christian and Lewisham Lad talk about which questions they answered in their A-level exams. [Plus 2]
* In her first anatomy tutorial, Earnest Christian reveals that she has been reading up on her tutor's research--there is always (at least) one... [Plus 5]
* Lord Snooty (AKA Dorian) expects his bedder (person who does light cleaning of students' rooms in Cambridge; known as a "scout" at Oxford) to service more than his room; he also impregnated his former Swedish bedder who left to get an abortion. Tales of male students getting involved with their bedder reached my ears more than once while I was at university, so this may actually be fairly realistic. [Plus 1]
* The Dandelions Club is an all-male society for the richest, most important men in the college. Their antics, including wild parties with champagne and nudity and the recruitment of two would-be-cool-dudes to be their "jesters" (i.e. slaves) for the year, may seem OTT but perhaps no more so than many other elite college drinking societies. One such society admits only the richest ten men in the college; others, like this one, are less about elitism and more about debauchery. [Plus 2]
* The hazing, which involved the jesters being pissed on in turn by various Dandelions and which will, doubtless, escalate throughout the series, doesn't sound dissimilar to the events organised by various university sports clubs. [Plus 2]
* Also, when Lord Snooty tells Lewisham Lad how awesome the Dandelions Club is and LL asks how he can join, Lord Snooty replies, "You can't because your...parents are poor" (except, the pause is long enough to convince the audience that he is going to say, "because you're black"). His snobbery is caricatured and although I never met people who said things like that, I did know some who thought it. [Plus 1]
* Plus points too for Rosalind, Lord Snooty's kissing cousin, who slinks around college in a leather miniskirt and is furious when Lewisham Lad fails to be impressed be the fact that she is 45th in line to the throne. She does get her wicked way in the end, though, by asking whether he's ever come on anyone in the royal family before--perhaps one of the most ridiculous lines in the whole episode. However, she also tells Lewisham Lad that her father owns Lewisham--not as impressive as the guy I knew whose parents own Wiltshire but [plus 5] nonetheless.
* Valley Girl, the socially inept if well-meaning Welsh lass who never knows what to say, do or wear in any given Trinity situation, reminds me of a number of people I knew. [Plus 2]
* Before the matriculation lunch starts in hall, the porter beats a ginormous gong. Although the gong was a little smaller at my college, it still made a very loud bang and caused me to spill my wine over the don sitting me at my first dinner in hall. [Plus 1]
* Lewisham Lad embarrasses himself at the matriculation lunch because he didn't learn the college's grace and it is, apparently, a college tradition for random people throughout the room to recite one line at a time, and he didn't learn it, leading to everyone laughing at him (what larks!). My college doesn't have such a tradition but the grace is in two parts and n00bs often make the mistake of sitting down and/or talking loudly at the end of the first part, leading to much laughter among the students and glaring among the fellows. I got around the problem of not knowing which knives and forks to use by avoiding my food in favour of the free-flowing wine. [Plus 1]

Total: 30

Faker than the Warden Allowing DebaucheryFest (AKA the Feast of Fools) Provided that the Jesters "Volunteered" to Be Hazed All Year
* I'm sorry but even the Dandelions wouldn't have served Champagne to the "peasants" at their party. Given that the average student ent exclusively serves a weak vodka and fruit juice "cocktail," the Dandelions could have settled for a few bottles of Sainsbury's second cheapest wine to keep the masses happy. [Minus 5]
* Also, what's with the tickets for the Dandelions' Feast of Fools? Haven't they heard about Facebook invites? [Minus 10]
* Drinking societies often do adorn themselves with various stash to show their in-group membership but the Dandelions wouldn't wear their blazers and ties all the time (apart from Lord Snooty, who spent half of the episode flashing his arse to the cameras as he strolled naked around his rooms, getting it on first with his cousin and then with Earnest Christian). [Minus 2]
* Yes, all of the rooms I had in college were pretty large by student standards and the second and third year rooms were also pretty nicely done up but the corridors were always as stark as a hospital--no fancy artwork or Louis XVI furniture. [Minus 2]
* It's unlikely that the lowly freshers would be housed on the same staircase as Lord Snooty (who seems to be able to make up his own rules)--second and third years always get nicer rooms than freshers, who usually get stuck with whatever's left over (or shoved into the award-winning concrete wasteland that was the first-year accommodation in my college). Unless, of course, Earnest Christian was intentionally placed next to Lord Snooty by the Powers That Be... [Minus 5]
* The hoods worn by the Trinity fellows weren't accurate if they were supposed to be Cambridge hoods. The new (lady) warden did her PhD at Trinity and so should be wearing a red hood rather than the royal blue MPhil hood she was seen in. (OK, they could have taken the hood colours from Oxford instead, or made them up.) [Minus 1]

Total: 25

So, shockingly, Trinity ended up with five points on the real side, although to be fair, I spent the first 20 minutes staring at the screen, paralysed by the comically jaw-dropping awfulness I was watching and so I don't remember much from that half of the episode. The scene between Lord Snooty and his cousin Rosalind was the worst ever copy of the scene between Kathryn Merteuil and Sebastian Valmont in Cruel Intentions--the one where Kathryn is happy to rub up against her step-brother for a little while but then leaves him in the lurch (though Sebastian expresses his annoyance at this a little less crudely than Lord Snooty). Similarly, Lord Snooty's "seduction" of Earnest Christian was pathetically reminiscent of Sebastian and Annette in Cruel Intentions (itself, of course, hugely derivative of the film Dangerous Liaisons (not to mention de Laclos's epistolary novel...)), although Sebastian would never have accepted the challenge of seducing a girl who was willing to dump Jesus for him and jump into bed after a 30-second embrace in which he consoled her over the death of her father. The title of this post is also unfair because trashy as Cruel Intentions is, it's a lot classier than Trinity.

I think I'm going to go and read some Pynchon now to clear my head...


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