I admitted in my last vlog that I’ve recently taken a fancy to Gossip Girl, and there’s been this weird feeling in my gut ever since… I think it might be shame? Even though I fully believe that I’m entitled to like whatever I want to like, there’s part of me that feels like I need to justify my feelings of admiration for this show. I wish I could just say that it’s a guilty pleasure or that it’s like a car crash that I can’t look away from (which is how I justify my sporadic viewings of Keeping Up With The Kardashians to others), but I actually harbor genuine admiration for this show. Let me tell you why.
I find myself often comparing Gossip Girl to another of my favorite high school melodramas, The O.C., which isn’t entirely uncalled for since both shows were created by the same mastermind, Josh Schwartz. Where I think the two shows differ the most is in their portrayals of what I’ll call “the teenager condition.” In The O.C., there are four core characters and a handful of peripheral characters, and there’s always a very clear delineation between which characters are “good” and which are “bad.” Ryan, Marissa, Seth and Summer? All good. Julie Cooper and Caleb Nichol? So bad. One of the things that I find most refreshing about Gossip Girl is that all of the characters toe the line between “good” and “bad” constantly to the point that everyone is both a hero and a villain. There isn’t a single character on the show that hasn’t done something morally reprehensible, like exact revenge on their best friend or lie to them for their own gain when they know full well that their friend will suffer. And that makes sense to me because these are not rational and compassionate adults we’re dealing with: these are high schoolers (at least for the first two seasons), who are not known for their selflessness or their ability to use critical reasoning skills and not react emotionally. These characters lie and manipulate and scheme, and as off-putting as that can be, that feels like a much more real interpretation of a teenager than someone who always thinks of others and sacrifices for their friends rather than looking out for number one. But maybe that’s just cynicism talking.
Gossip Girl is really dramatic and sometimes incredibly far-fetched, with storylines that are so implausible as to be laughable, but I think the show captures the essence of the “Everything means everything” mentality of most high schoolers. And this is why Blair Waldorf is my favorite character: she’s the embodiment of that sentiment. I think it would be easy for someone to see her as a villian because she holds the title of Queen and wields the power of social superiority like Death’s scythe, mercilessly cutting down wide-eyed social climbers who dare to approach her throne. But I think that Blair is less a villian than she is simply and strictly adherent to the rules of social engagement in the world of high school. She understands that social hierarchy, whether it’s valid or not, exists, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to uphold it, including being scary mean and alienating people, because she sees that if the structure crumbles, chaos will ensue. Image is everything, and while Blair is not necessarily a mean person, that’s the image she has to maintain to hold onto her power, and it’s almost like she just considers that part of the job. When she graduates high school, she tells Jenny, the social climber who is poised to become the new Queen, very candidly:
“That’s the thing: you need to be cold to be Queen. Anne Boleyn thought only with her heart and she got her head chopped off, so her daughter Elizabeth made a vow never to marry a man; she married her country… you can’t make people love you, but you can make them fear you.”
I think the social dynamics of the show are reason enough to watch it: there’s so much importance placed on money and what part of the city you live in and your family’s social status, and those are the things that give you power. Blair is able to psychologically torture Jenny for sport, simply because Jenny doesn’t come from money and lives in Brooklyn (like, ew) and is trying to assimilate into the in crowd, and everything she wants, Blair has. And because Jenny wants popularity and status so badly, all she can do is endure it. Similarly, Serena van der Woodsen is like the It Girl from a creme de la creme Manhattan family, and when she starts dating Jenny’s brother Dan, all hell breaks loose from both sides because they’re from “two different worlds” (even though a mere bridge is all that separates Brooklyn and Manhattan) and it “just isn’t meant to work.” And even though Dan becomes friends, or frienemies at least, with Serena’s circle of friends, he’s always thought of as an outsider, even five seasons in. Is it too bold to suggest that social mobility is more difficult in high school than it is in adulthood? Because that’s been my experience, and Gossip Girl definitely supports that idea.
Maybe that’s more information about Gossip Girl than you could ever be interested in, but I do think it’s a really fascinating show on a sociological level, if not on a melodramatic-self-indulgence level as well. Gossip Girl‘s 100th episode is airing tomorrow night, and you can bet I’ll be watching to see if Chuck survived that nasty car crash and if Blair will end up marrying the prince of Monaco after all. Yeah… don’t judge me.