Books: Book-Shaming.

New York Times’ “Bookends” columnists, Anna Holmes and Dana Stevens, were asked “What Were the First Books You Felt You ‘Should’ Read?” and responded thusly:

Dana Stevens: “I started shaping my reading list around the recommendations of people I wanted to be friends with, to get close to, to emulate, to be.”

Anna Holmes: “… Books one ‘should’ read are fine for high school English curriculums or collegiate surveys of American and British literature, but beyond that, figurative or literal checklists of published texts can suck the joy out of reading and should be avoided at all costs.”

Holmes goes on to say:

“… The holes in my ongoing literary syllabus are not so much intellectual failings as symptoms of a larger affliction—namely, a stubbornness against culturally mandated consumption and a lifelong disdain for authority, legal or literary. In short, my ambivalence about any number of what are commonly held to be great or important books is a direct result of the fact that they are held to be great or important books, especially when it comes to more contemporary works, whose agreed-upon influence may have as much to do with an author’s social capital—and publicity-machine marketing dollars—as the quality of the prose or the contours of the story.”

I can certainly relate to the shunning of particular popular fiction (though I have read so-called “low-brow” “literature” as Twilight, The Hunger Games and Dan Brown. And I’d rather forget 50 Shades of Grey!)

Taking a look at some of the books I’ve read produces a wide spectrum of literature. My bookshelf houses a healthy contingent of American authors you’d be hard pressed to find in the average Aussie bookstore, such as Dominick Dunne and Armistead Maupin; every book Mia Freedman has published; wrestling autobiographies; and some bestsellers, like Stephen King, To Kill a Mockingbird and Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman. My to-read list includes sure-fire Stella Prize winner, Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites (I’m aiming to get to that over Easter); Changed for Good, a book about feminism on Broadway that takes its title from the Wicked soundtrack; and the illustrated history of the East Coast/West Coast rivalry between rappers 2Pac and Biggie Smalls.

In a nutshell, if I had to describe the kind of writing I enjoy reading in book form, it’d be post-1950s American historical fiction. The problem with this generalisation, though, is that it excludes so much of the other books I love and make time to read: some of the Aussie work that’s out now, like Christos Tsiolkas’ Barracuda (I still haven’t read The Slap!), the aforementioned Kent and the rest of the Stella Prize shortlist, and Benjamin Law on the non-fiction side of things; and feminist theory.

Recently I was book-shamed by a colleague to whom I begrudgingly revealed I was applying for a literary-leaning job. When she asked what kind of books I liked to read, I mentioned the above examples, adding that I’m not a fan of the classics. She thought that maybe I should have some knowledge of the classics if I wanted to progress to the next round. She’s not wrong, but she’s also not exactly the most literary- or culturally-minded person I know (she has bemoaned the loss of Desperate Housewives from our TV screens) and, most importantly, I did not ask for her advice. I believe it’s better to have a passion for and knowledge of a certain genre that you’re able to wax confidently about than an obligation to consume books some arbitrary body says you should. Reading is primarily about enjoyment, for me at least.

So I may not have read Harry Potter or Shakespeare, but narrow prescriptions of what one “should” read, as Holmes further dissects in her response in The New York Times and that Gawker also picked up, only stifle inquiry and creativity; if we want to encourage our increasingly digital and short attention-spanned society to read more, shaming them for their book choices is probably not the way to go. Except if it’s Twilight.

Related:  The Hunger Games Review.

50 Shades of Grey Review.

Armistead Maupin In Conversation with Noni Hazlehurst.

MamaMia: A Memoir of Mistakes, Magazines & Motherhood by Mia Freedman Review.

Mia Culpa: Confessions from the Watercooler of Life by Mia Freedman Review.

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran Review.

Stella: A Prize of One’s Own at The Wheeler Centre.

Adoption, Men’s Rights & Desperate Housewives.

Elsewhere: [New York Times] What Were the First Books You Felt You “Should” Read?

[Gawker] What Books Do You Really “Have” to Read?

On the (Rest of the) Net.

After some technical difficulties that saw this here blog down for a few days while I made the switch from being an Early Bird to a new and improved Scarlett Woman, you’ll notice some changes around the place. Obviously to the layout and name, but there’ll be more to come, which I’ll be tweeting about.

Why do you hate porn stars? [The Stranger]

In defence of Kim Kardashian. [Batty Mamzelle]

Meet Terry Richardson’s right-hand-woman and partner in crime. [Vocativ]

At the intersection of being a fat, gay woman. [The King's Tribune]

Natalie Barr wants you to know she doesn’t hate men, okay? [Daily Telegraph]

I wrote about Gossip GIRLS: Hannah Horvath VS. Dan Humphrey. I also wrote about Dan Humphrey as GG a few weeks ago here. [Junkee]

Birdee published a named first-hand account of a medical abortion. We need more of this in our teen magazines. 

How one Melbourne freelancer changed the course of hip hop history. [Junkee]

Women hiding away to heal from cosmetic surgery (NSFW). [Jezebel]

 

On the (Rest of the) Net.

the hills teen vogue

Gender politics and the cautionary tale of not leaning in on The Hills. [Vulture]

The fault in sick-lit. [Kill Your Darlings]

Lupita Nyong’o and the fetishisation of black women’s bodies. [Black Feminists]

Too much Kim, not enough Kendall. [The Style Con]

In praise of Lisa Simpson, Harriet M. Welsch and Scout Finch. [The New Yorker]

ICYMI: Gossip Girl—Hell Hath No Fury Like a Lonely Boy Scorned.

Image via Cosmopolitan.

TV: Gossip Girl — “Hell Hath No Fury Like a Lonely Boy Scorned”*.

dan humphrey gossip girl

It’s been a year and a half since Dan Humphrey was revealed as the titular character of Gossip Girl, a show that began as a poignant guilty pleasure but that culminated in convoluted trash. I recently went back and rewatched the show’s six seasons in an effort to dissect the clues as to who Gossip Girl was all along.

*

The Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz-produced effort based on the book series of the same name by Cecily von Ziegesar debuted just prior to the financial crisis of ’08. Fancying itself a commentary on the decadence and debauchery of “Manhattan’s elite”, the show may be narrated by a Kristen Bell-voiced bitchy blogger behind a computer screen (or, more likely, a smart phone), but it is told through the eyes of Brooklyn social pariah, Dan Humphrey.  In his stop-at-nothing quest to get “inside” the society scene of the Upper East Side, Dan becomes the exact thing he despised. Let me count the ways…

In season one Serena Van der Woodsen is a wide-eyed ingénue back from boarding school who wants to “take a year off… to teach English in South Asia” and Dan is her sensitive but invisible admirer. “Lonely Boy”, he is not so affectionately known as. Season one establishes Dan as the “ultimate insider”, embodying “a likable everyman” whose “pursuit of his dream girl begins his descent into the bowels of hell.” His family often comments on how judgmental Dan can be, and he makes Serena feel like shit in “Roman Holiday” when she eagerly buys him a watch for Christmas, which he asks her to return due to its conspicuity. By the same token, Serena effectively emasculates** Dan when she pays the cheque at a fancy restaurant on their first date and constantly ditches him for someone or something more important, like Blair’s crises or a society shindig.

While it’s been suggested that the writers only started plotting the big reveal of Dan-as-Gossip Girl in the final season when it was evident it would be the shows last, keen-eyed and -eared viewers can unearth some early scenes where Lonely Boy as the undercover chronicler of “the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite” seems plain as day. For example, in season two’s “Gone With the Will”, Gossip Girl describes Dan as “brown-bagging it for lunch”, a reference to the receptacle in which he brings his tuna sandwich to school that day. However, as the footage clearly shows, the only people who saw Dan’s brown paper bag were Dan, Serena and Blair. Of course, Serena has her dalliance as Gossip Girl in season five, but combined with the fact that Dan “loses” his phone the very same day that a GG blast*** is sent about Dan and Serena’s shared sibling—about which only Dan, his father Rufus and Serena’s mother Lily know—the evidence mounts in favour of Dan-as-Gossip Girl. Furthermore, in season five, it is revealed that Dan “sent” a video to GG of Blair telling Chuck she still loves him on her wedding day to Louis. What becomes apparent is that he didn’t so much send the video file to Gossip Girl as he uploaded it directly to the site that he is webmaster of, Gossip Girl.

In the season two finale, “The Goodbye Gossip Girl”, when Dan, Serena et al. graduate high school, Gossip Girl has a graduation ceremony of sorts of her own, and crowns Dan “the ultimate insider”, as we come to know him throughout the show’s trajectory. Gossip Girl has always been famed for only writing about high school, specifically Constance Billard and St. Judes, the girls and boys schools the GG cast attend respectively. But, it’s only fitting that if GG is a student at one of those schools that she follows in their footsteps to college, right? Serena, for one, was so happy not to have her digital nemesis tarnish her foray into tertiary education, but no such luck: Gossip Girl now covers college.

As Gossip Girl graduates from high school and into the more grown up university scene, so does Dan, who moves on from Serena to date movie star Olivia Burke, played by Hilary Duff. This is mirrored by GG’s growing penchant for chronicling celebrities and events outside of her previous jurisdiction. This will later be exemplified by Dan’s book, Inside, and his Dominick Dunne-esque society serial in Vanity Fair.

Speaking of, Dan’s fictionalised memoir (which Dunne was also oh-so-fond of) is about his quest to get “inside” “the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite” but its publication in “Memoirs of an Invisible Dan” ends up ostracising him from his friendship (I use that term loosely) group. Serena is upset that she’s painted as a vapid socialite to whom everything comes easy, while Nate expresses disdain that Dan sees him as half a person, so much so that his character is amalgamated with Eric’s. While Dan may have offended pretty much everyone close—and not so close—to him, he makes sure to emphasise his own character’s status as “a judgmental dick who can’t even look at himself in the mirror. My character comes off the worst of all of them.”

As Serena find out in season five’s “Raiders of the Lost Art” during her foray into gossip serialising, getting “inside” actually cuts you off from the rest of the world and makes you post hateful things about your friends and family in an effort to stay relevant and get the most hits. Serena, like Dan, becomes drunk with power. After all, “the more readers I have, the more power I have,” he opines in the final seasons’ “Dirty Rotten Scandals”.

By the series’ end, Dan has become just as bad as the conniving and scheming Blair and Chuck and their cohort. As Gossip Girl, Dan is implicated in the car accident that put Chuck in a coma and induced Blair’s miscarriage, Jenny’s banishment from New York and the general unhappiness of his “friends” and family, yet the gang still welcomes Dan back into the fold, and Serena even ends up marrying him! Why are they so quick to forgive him? Because just as Chuck raped Blair and Jenny, prostituted Blair out to his uncle in exchange for real estate and exposed her to intimate partner violence; Blair had an affair with Chuck’s uncle, sabotaged Serena’s college application to Yale and her catwalk debut, and ran Jenny and Georgina, amongst others, out of town; the supposed moral compass of Gossip Girl, Vanessa, and good girl gone bad Jenny help Juliet drug and abduct Serena in one of the series’ best story arcs in season four; Lily framed an innocent man for statutory rape in order to protect Serena’s image and didn’t tell her one true love Rufus about their baby she gave up for adoption way back when; not to mention the myriad transgressions I haven’t listed here, “you and all your other friends would gave done the exact same thing”. They forgave each other for their seemingly weekly betrayals, so what’s one more?

Related: Is Serena Our Generation’s Dominick Dunne?

The Problem with Serena van der Woodsen.

Elsewhere: [Remind Me of The] Gossip Girl, Jenny Humphrey & Rape Culture.

*Blanket spoiler alert.

**I don’t really believe in emasculation, ideologically speaking. If anything, society drums into us that men have to behave a certain way—in Dan’s case, providing for Serena—and when someone or something challenges that, it’s easy to cry “emasculation” without really examining the root of that notion.

***Another term for a Gossip Girl “post” or “status”. Which begs the question: if everyone hates GG so much and wants her taken down, why do they subscribe to her notifications?

Image via Wet Paint.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

jennifer-lawrence-middle-finger

Jennifer Lawrence and the “Cool Girl” phenomenon. [Buzzfeed]

I’m Lip Magazine‘s Feminist of the Week.

Reading while female. [In These Times]

PETA: Cutting off their feminist nose to spite their animal rights face. [A Room of Our Own]

The history of Cosmo‘s most infamous sex tip: a donut around the penis. [Slate]

In defence of Barbie: encouraging children to engage in safe, imaginative play about sex, sexuality and sexualisation. (Also this.) [The Cut]

Image via Splice Today.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Charmed kitchen spells

I wrote about the power of work/life balance in Charmed. [Bitch Flicks]

Yet another piece in defence of Sex & the City. [Daily Life]

What happens when feminism becomes trendy. [Jezebel]

The unsexy reality of centrefolds: behind the scenes of Playboy (NSFW). [Beautiful Decay]

Elite feminism. [The Nation]

On-screen abortion is portrayed as more dangerous than it actually is. [Bitch]

“Interview with a Pregnant Porn Star.” (SFW) [The Hairpin]

Image via Bitch Flicks.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Barbie Sports Illustrated

Barbie is #unapologetic about her Sports Illustrated swimsuit photo shoot. [Barbie Collector]

On behalf of child molestation survivors, Cate Blanchett, don’t accept the Best Actress Oscar. [Thought Catalog]

Modernising the Bechdel Test. [Daily Life]

Fractured friendships on Girls. [Musings of an Inappropriate Woman]

From lady to ladette: media portrayals of female drunkeness. [Sociological Images]