Watching Gossip Girl Makes Me Feel Bad About Myself.

gossip girl serena crying

This article was originally published on Birdee on 23rd October, 2013. 

In preparation for an upcoming trip to New York City, I decided to immerse myself in pop culture related to the Big Apple, one morsel of which was Gossip Girl.

I was a fan of the show before it went off the air this time last year, but upon rewatching it, GG just wasn’t the same. Maybe it’s because I binge-watched and therefore didn’t have the distance of weeks between episodes and months between seasons; or just because I’m older, wiser and more in tune with my feminism; but GG ain’t like it used to be. In fact, Serena et al. and the swanky and “scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite” actually made me feel bad about myself.

Now, I have pretty high self-esteem and positive body image for someone who went through adolescence in the internet age – when porn became ubiquitous, texting and social media reigned supreme and magazine cover girls were increasingly airbrushed to within an inch of their lives – so I can only imagine how it affects other young people.

When the first season premiered in 2007, I was still a teen and finding my place in the world. Initially, I aspired to have Serena’s luscious locks (albeit in brunette) and designer duds and gallivant around the big city. But as the series grew more debauched and increasingly focused on materialism and status, I unknowingly became susceptible to GG making me feel inadequate – it even contributed to the early stages of a quarter life crisis (from which I’m still not sure I’ve recovered)!

The enviable wardrobes and statement jewellery of Blair and Serena, the glamorous New York parties and cunning schemes were juxtaposed against my mundane existence working at Coles and studying in a country town. I’d never have Serena’s gravity-defying breasts or even Georgina’s slightly more attainable eye makeup; forget invitations to hobnob with celebrities at Upper East Side events.

I don’t think the manifestation of these feelings of inadequacy is accidental. We all know the purpose of advertising is to make us feel like we won’t be good enough until we’ve purchased this item, after which all of your worries (and wrinkles!) will be magically erased. GG is a show renowned for its product placement: VitaminWater, Android smart phones, Bing’s search engine, not to mention the legion of celebrities and fashion designers hawking their latest projects.

It goes beyond this, though, with the showrunners punishing certain (female) characters for their transgressions: Jenny was banished from New York for questionably consenting to first-time sex with reprehensible Chuck, who’d tried to date rape her in the first episode. Blair was slut shamed and ostracised for deigning to sleep with someone who wasn’t her boyfriend, is denied love from Chuck for seasons, is equated to a commodity to be traded for a hotel, loses a pregnancy because she can’t chose between two men, and even her own mother questions her sexuality. Serena’s character is dismissed as eye candy and lacks any defining personality traits – apart from being an ‘It girl’ about town. Gossip Girl’s characters and plotline, while dramatic, are not inspiring or empowering.

Sure, it’s just fiction. Often the TV medium is about escapism, and after a hard day at work, school or just a weekend veg-out session, not everyone wants to turn on the TV or open their laptops and be confronted with more intellectualism. Sometimes we just want to lose ourselves in the fantasy.

But it can only be a good thing that some new TV shows have made an effort to better represent the general population and depict women with interests, issues and body types that real people can relate to – think Girls, Orange is the New Black etc.

From now on, I’ll be spending more of my TV time on content that makes me feel good.

Image source unknown.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Women-hosted podcasts are the next big thing. Glad I’m on the bandwagon then, as I just hosted my first podcast for Outback Championship Wrestling, interviewing TNA star and Amazing Race contestant, Robbie E. I’ll post it here when it’s available. [Bitch Magazine]

And I also recapped last weekend’s Outback Championship Wrestling show featuring Robbie E.

I wrote about Cristina Yang’s radical unlikeability and feminism. [Bitch Flicks]

Also, the unlikeability of Hannah Horvath and Girls. [Kill Your Darlings]

An interview with Caitlin Stasey about her website, Herself. [Jezebel]

My third roundup of links for feminaust is now live.

In defence of Blair Waldorf. [Bitch Flicks]

And Kim Kardashian. [The Hairpin]

Ross Gellar is a men’s rights activist. [The Frisky]

Katy Perry’s religiosity. [Buzzfeed]

What it means for men’s masculinity to not “hit below the belt”. [Sociological Images]

“She’s just so… Black!” The politics of Blackness. [Salon]

ICYMI: 50 Shades of Grey is 50 shades of boring, and am I a Bad Feminist?

If these links weren’t enough weekend reading for you, check out the 82nd Down Under Feminists Carnival. [A Life Unexamined]

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.

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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.

TV: Gossip Girl Returns to Form as it Takes Inspiration from its First Season.

Finally, Gossip Girl is slowly but surely returning to its so-bad-its-good dramatic roots, taking inspiration from its first season as the show did in its fifth season finale: Blair struggling to stay on top, Rufus and Lily at loggerheads, and Dan and Serena rekindling their flame on a Vespa!

Nelly Yuki is finally getting the last laugh against her high school nemesis Blair who, try as she might, can’t seem to find a way to revive her mother’s struggling clothing line. Eleanor Waldorf returns to make sense of the mess Blair has left, what with Sage Spence’s penchant for stripping off Blair’s designs, and shames her daughter for being a sexual deviant. While I’m not a fan of the slut-shaming, Eleanor makes a good point when brings up that the plotting and scheming that we all know and love Blair for is so high school, and urges Blair to embrace her “Grace Kelly side”, not her “Grace Jones side” in order to save Waldorf designs.

Enter Nelly, who is now a Women’s Wear Daily reporter, much to Blair’s chagrin. Reverting to their high school selves, Nelly finds Blair contemplating her navel on the Met steps, a location GG die hards will know from the early days of the show that Blair and her minions frequented. When Nelly insinuates that Blair—wearing a headband to boot—is essentially still stuck in high school, she has an epiphany: Blair needs to embrace her striking-fear-in-the-hearts-of-teens attitude in order to be a tastemaker for the 12-25 set of young fashionistas. Ahh, the Met steps: inspiring people everywhere.

Just like in the inaugural episode of the show, Lily and Rufus are fighting in an art gallery. Rufus’ gallery opening is all set, but when Ivy checks the RSVPs, it turns out everyone’s going to a charity art benefit that Lily’s hosting. Ivy, using CeCe’s money gifted to her by Lola, buys all of Lily’s art and replaces it with the artwork from Rufus’ gallery. Meanwhile, Chuck is trying to prevent the sale of one of the works Lily has donated as he thinks Bart has hidden evidence of his illegal oil dealings in it. He has, but Ivy buys the painting off Lily and intercepts Bart’s documents before Chuck can get a hold of them. Phew! Got that?

Finally, it seems the love between former step-siblings Dan and Serena has reignited, after Serena offers to take Dan apartment hunting. Conveniently, Dan has bought a Vespa after his summer in Italy, and, his and Serena’s first date five long years ago. From the photos leaked from the set of the final episode (wedding!), it looks like this time around their relationship is for keeps…

Related: Gossip Girl Season 5 Finale—What Goes Around Comes Around…

Alexa Chung, It Girls & Gossip Girl.

Images via Sockshare, Hello Giggles, Gossip Girl Screencaps, Internet Movie Cars Database.

TV: Alexa Chung, It Girls & Gossip Girl.

It was just last week that I admonished Gossip Girl for losing its relevance, but last night’s episode sure proved me wrong when it featured newsworthy It girl-of-the-moment, Alexa Chung.

Chung’s been in the news recently with her comments on her fashion icon and thinspiration status:

“… You can appreciate my style without having to appreciate my weight. It’s not actually mutually exclusive. I just get frustrated because just because I exist in this shape doesn’t mean that I’m like advocating it…

“I’ve been dragging my ass around castings for years without anyone saying, oh you’ve got unique style. I think it was very much a case of being in the right place in the right time. I’ve really just been ripping off Jane Birkin. Sorry, has no one else seen a picture of Françoise Hardy? Look it up. I’m just the middle man.”

It’s an interesting discourse which I’m not going to go into here but is discussed at length by Rachel Hills, both at Musings of an Inappropriate Woman and Daily Life.

Interestingly, at Blair’s debut fashion show in which Chung models as herself, a lot of her collection is clothes Chung would wear in real life. Okay, maybe just the straw hats that all of Blair’s models accessorise with… And come to think of it, newbie Sage has a certain Alexa-air about her…

Related: Gossip Girl Becomes Even More Irrelevant in its Final Season.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] Alexa Chung Doesn’t Want To Be Your Thinspo: “Just Because I Exist in This Shape Doesn’t Mean I’m Advocating It.”

[Musings of an Inappropriate Woman] When “Style Icons” Speak: My Response to Alexa Chung on Body Image.

[Daily Life] Skinny Privilege.

Image via Ch131.

TV: Gossip Girl Season 5 Final—What Goes Around Comes Around…

 

When Gossip Girl debuted five years ago, Dan was a Lonely Boy outsider, Serena and Blair were at war and Jenny Humphrey was around.

The latter might not be true but, for everyone else, the more things change the more they stay the same on the Upper East Side.

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I enjoyed comparing the very first episode of Gossip Girl to its most recent, the season five finale. While it was hard to get used to seeing the fresh faced and über-thin Blair and Serena at first, by the end of the exercise I’m not sure which incarnation of the show I like better! The first season had so much promise, but it also had Chuck as a date rapist. The current season has the abominations that are Lola and Ivy, but is veering back towards that so-bad-it’s-good soap opera quality of yore.

Anyway, back to the task at hand: fairly early on the final, Serena and Blair call it quits on their roommate arrangement and friendship, with Blair finding Serena’s leakage of her diary to Gossip Girl unforgivable. I dare say Blair’s right: Serena has always been a selfish bitch, and Blair was as accurately harsh on her for spilling her secrets as she was for sleeping with her boyfriend six years ago.

Speaking of the wedding at which Serena slept with Nate, six years on and the marriage didn’t seem to last, with the couple hosting a divorce party at the same venue. Cue Serena’s inappropriate sex life and substitute step-brother and Blair’s current squeeze Dan for Nate and you’ve got Serena screwing over (pun intended) her bestie again.

After Dan realises Blair’s rebuffed him for yet another shot at love with Chuck, and Serena’s the shallow vixen she’s so often proved herself to be, he seeks revenge on the Upper East Side, enlisting Georgina to “help me write the book I should have written from the beginning,” you know, because his status as a bestselling author is nothing without Georgina’s “photographic memory and passion for social upheaval”.

Now that Dan’s been burned by both Blair and Serena, Chuck opts out of Blair’s tour de indecision, telling her he’s done with her because all she does is ruin his business prospects and “bet against him”. In a casino, in case you didn’t grasp the metaphor of gambling on love before, Blair accosts Chuck and puts her chips “all in” in her quest to win back his love.

Meanwhile, it seems Bart Bass’ return has left Rufus and Lily’s marriage up in the air, as she’s technically married to both of them! As in the first episode, Lily’s snooty and antagonistic treatment of Rufus leads her to choose to stay with Bart.

This flashback to perhaps better times (Gossip Girl has been renewed for a final season later this year; rumour is that the season will only have ten episodes) is not accidental: the writers make reference to it often in the characters’ dialogue. For example, Blair knifes Serena with the revelation that, “The best time I ever had was when you were gone six years ago!” Just watching the first episode again you can tell that Leighton Meester was playing wounded soul well, as Blair looks miserable in it. Talk about growth as a character. Blair goes on to tell Serena that she didn’t “steal” Dan, and that she “would know that if you’d grown up at all since high school”.

When Chuck has his pride and joy, the Hotel Empire, ripped from his hands by his zombie father, he’s told it’s because he’s “never grown up”. That may be true, but it could also be said of the writers of Gossip Girl. Do-over?

Images via Serena Van Der Woodsen Sucks, Sockshare, Gossip Girl Screencaps.

TV: Gossip Girl—Dair: It’s On!

 

When sparks began to fly between Dan and Blair last season, I wasn’t too keen on the prospect of them getting together.

But, as Dan became her confidante during her pregnancy loss and aftermath of the wedding from hell, I warmed to the idea. I thought I’d forever be a Chair (Chuck & Blair) girl, but suddenly, I’m batting for Team Dair (Dan & Blair).

I’m not sure what turned me, exactly, but I think it might have had something to do with Blair finally succumbing to her feelings for Dan, and addressing him by his first name, as opposed to the disdainful “Humphrey”. Also, Dan insisting she keep saying his name as they kiss in his doorway didn’t hurt!

Related: Gossip Girl: Blair Channels the Tragic Life of Princess Di & Gossip Culture is to Blame.

Gossip Girl Takes Inspiration from Yet More Royals. This Time It’s the Grimaldis.

Image via Fan Pop.