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.