Every Monday, I grab my popcorn and excitedly turn on ABC Family for a new episode of the teen thriller series “Pretty Little Liars.” The show trails the adventures of four suburban high school students who desperately desire to solve the mystery of their beautiful Queen Bee friend Alison's murder. They receive mysterious texts from a malicious and violent person, “A,” who appears to stalk the girls and know their every move. Despite the several plot holes, mediocre acting skills, and the fact that the show is actually aimed towards a high school audience, I absolutely adore the show. Confession: I am in fact officially obsessed with “Pretty Little Liars.”
The show also features several romantic entanglements that have filled countless message boards and inspired many Tumblr accounts with fans rooting for certain couples. Although they are cute, most of these high school affairs are characterized by banal, common place dramatics that are typical of adolescent girls. However, Aria's romance with her intellectual and attractive English teacher, Mr. Ezra Fitz, is not only obviously different from those of the other girls, but is incredibly problematic and controversial. Aria actualizes the awkward fantasies that many girls have most likely nursed while enrolled in a class with a young, charismatic teacher or professor. Aria and Ezra's pedagogical romance is the realization of the “schoolgirl crush.” Countless message boards and fan clubs dispute the nature of their love. Some girls envy Aria for carrying out their fantasies. After all, she has found someone who is not only mature and adorable, but also shares her interests and provides intellectual stimulation. Other girls believe that they are “gross,” “perverted,” or “indecent” and that ABC Family is setting a bad example for its younger viewers. Countless schoolgirls hope to find an Ezra of their own.
I believe a crush on a teacher or professor is a passage of rite for many girls. Yet, I also believe the media and popular culture encourage and glamorize a “hot for teacher” plot that should only remain a fantasy. Another confession: I've been rooting for the star-crossed lovers Ezra and Aria for quite some time. However, one of the lastest episodes of the series has led to my sudden realization that “Pretty Little Liars” provides a rather skewed and over-romanticized portrait of a relationship that is essentially wrong and illegal. Mr. Fitz, now a college professor of English literature, finally comes clean with Aria's parents. He tells them that he ”is in love with their daughter.” As you can imagine, the scene ends terribly. Aria's father kicks Ezra out of the house right after he is punched in the face by her brother. Moreover, Aria's mother raises an excellent point: Ezra should have known better. Ezra is in his early twenties. Aria is sixteen and still enrolled in high school. I was so engrossed in the romantic gesture of the literary love birds exchanging books and hallway kisses that I nearly forgot that Ezra was committing a crime and that Aria was underage! ABC Family is virtually glamorizing statutory rape.
Honestly, I am torn between denouncing this illegal, illicit affair or indulging in the Lolita-esque fantasy of forbidden love. Ezra and Aria did meet before he became her teacher. Aria simply stumbled upon a fellow literary nerd at a café whom she believed to be a kindred spirit. Cruel Fate decided to punish her by having Mr. Fitz walk into her class on the first day of school, announcing that he is actually her AP English teacher. Also, Mr. Fitz and Aria do seem to care about each other. The romance lacks sexual undertones and is founded upon the couple's intellectual and emotional bonds. Despite these rather convincing facts, I can no longer “ship” Aria and Ezra or reblog photos of them snuggling on Tumblr. In reality, the student-teacher relationship dynamic is incredibly complicated. First of all, it is against school regulations and could cost the reputation and career of the teacher involved. Additionally, the power imbalance can emotionally and mentally harm the student. Sara Shepard, the author of the “Pretty Little Liars” book series, and ABC Family are guilty of perpetuating this false image of romance and depicting that this affair is not only acceptable, but desirable and romantic to impressionable teenage girls. No matter how cute or romantic Ezra and Aria appear to be, their relationship is fundamentally illegal and wrong.
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