Gossip Girl is evil.
I’m not kidding. Gossip Girl thankfully ended it’s six year run last night and solidified itself as one of the top 10 things that epitomize everything wrong with the world. Some will think me hyperbolic, some irrational or silly because it’s just a silly guilty pleasure teen show, right?
Here’s why it matters. I started this blog because I don’t believe that any form of media exists simply for brainless consumption. Even if that is the intention of the creators, once it exists in society, if it is popular at all, it is influential. Gossip Girl became a pop-culture phenomenon right off the bat and even as it plummeted in popularity and quality, its stamp on media culture has been prominent and therefore cannot be swept under the rug nor taken lightly.
Not to mention the fact that as I’ve gotten older (23, ahh!) I’ve become much more aware of the messages a particular piece of media sends and whom it affects. Having studied various areas of film and media history and theory, I’m also acutely aware of what place a new television show or film may have in a certain timeline or discourse.
Gossip Girl had the opportunity to play an important role in the twilight of its life. It may have well gone unnoticed by many, but it could have been a significant statement in today’s media culture and its comment on society. Especially as its target audience are impressionable young girls. Never a huge upholder of morals, standards or wholesome values–we aren’t talking 7th Heaven here–the show surprisingly found a brightness, a small sliver of magic in its 4th season when it began to explore the Dan and Blair friendship. What occurred, by accident or by the hand of former show-runner Josh Safran, was a modern age example of a screwball romance that gave much more depth, meaning, and growth to a show that had been recycling the same “scandalous” storylines for years.
I became so invested in this relationship that I started watching the show again, having quit after a disastrous season 3 finale. I became so invested that I wrote my final college paper in a Screwball Comedy class on Dan and Blair as the new Mike and Tracy (from The Philadelphia Story). Yes, I really did. And I got an A, just in case you were wondering.
I didn’t watch the series finale last night. Nor did I watch any of season 6, but I know what happened and I felt compelled to read through my paper for some peace of mind. And being the opposite of an introvert, I felt I had to share an excerpt that I think explains why I’m so up in arms about this whole mess (almost more than I was at the end of Lost. Though I expected this one).
I don’t think anyone really knew it. The writers certainly did know it, most casual viewers didn’t know it–but Gossip Girl faced a social media mandate to send a more positive message to their young viewers and to break a long running screwball media trope for the better. Feminism, yay! And in April of last year when I was writing this paper, it really seemed poised to do so.
Denby writes about one kind of screwball couple that fits Tracy and Mike perfectly:
“The man is serious about his work (and no one says he shouldn’t be), but he’s confused about women, and his confusion has neutered him. He thinks he wants a conventional marriage with a compliant wife, but what he really wants is to be overwhelmed by the female life force” (3).
This type is similar to the relationship in Bringing Up Baby, which at the time brought Hepburn’s career to a dismal low point, ensuring that in no future roles could her love interest be overwhelmed by her life force, but rather, that her life force needed to be tamed. Thus Tracy could never have ended up with Mike, who allowed himself to be so enamored of her. It is a sad testament to the times and the beginning of a trend as the genre barreled into the forties, that the screwball heroine’s tremendous spirit had to be contained.
Is it now, then, up to Dan and Blair to carry the torch in a new era and perhaps become a testament to the success of a Tracy and Mike kind of romance? They have their own societal struggle to overcome, the Chuck and Blair cycle, a relationship, which at its core boasts the idea of “one true love” above all else; above equality, right and wrong, happiness, shared interests and stimulating conversation.
Dan and Blair do not just unravel and expand upon the Tracy and Mike relationship had they been allotted more time as a television show allows, but they prove that a Tracy and Mike relationship can indeed exist, flourish, and perhaps even triumph in today’s media market. Screwball, at its very best, is a proponent for equality, happiness, mutual self-discovery and freedom. In today’s society, when passive, unequal and unhealthy relationships like those from The Twilight Saga, sell misery and co-dependence as the course of great love to impressionable young girls, or the romantic comedy formula depicts a glorified slacker man and an uptight woman who needs to let loose, the hope is that the old values of the screwball romance can still have a place.
Denby’s article is a great nostalgia piece for the old world screwball couple. He writes of these films:
“The screwball movies, at their peak, defined certain ideal qualities of insouciance, a fineness of romantic temper in which men and women could be aggressive but not coarse, angry but not rancorous, silly but not shamed, melancholy but not ravaged. It was the temper of American happiness” (4).
But this romantic temper is not entirely dead, as the writers of Gossip Girl have resurrected it in the Dan and Blair romance. And while their happy ending is uncertain as of now, they are currently enjoying their Nick and Nora time as a couple, proving that the values, characters, and their dynamics of old Hollywood classics are not just a relic of a past, and that they are relevant and have a place in media today. And perhaps they can bring back to the present the temper of American happiness that Denby so wistfully recalls from the past.
That was from last April and Dan and Blair had just become a couple. He had just taken her to the MET steps in a froufrou prom dress and adorned her with a plastic tiara in order to make her feel like a princess one last time. It was the epitome of happiness for them and for the show, really. Here’s a quick quote from elsewhere in my paper, “They have arrived on the steps of the MET, where five years ago she was cruel to him and he snide to her, changed for good and for the better and having arrived at this place together.”
Let’s fast forward to last night’s series finale. I’ll just rattle off some details of what went down. Chuck let his father fall to his death. Agreed to finally marry Blair only after that so she couldn’t testify as a witness (omg romance!). Dan was revealed as Gossip Girl (lolz forever) and the ultimate evil outsider of all things. Blair got mad but Serena defended him even though he hated on her as Dan and as Gossip Girl a lot. Serena brought up Chuck’s spotty record. Blair said it was okay because “Chuck is one of us.” YAY classism! Serena didn’t curr and married Dan anywayz. Nate ran for mayor. – xoxo Dan Humphrey.
So. Gossip Girl had its chance to take the high road. To choose quality. To choose equality. To choose storytelling over fan pandering. To choose something new. To choose something right.
Instead they said it’s okay to forever be who you were in high school. It’s okay to make nothing of yourself other than a wife. It’s okay to endure cruelty, abuse, despair and being treated like dirt because one day he might agree to marry you and it’s true love! It’s okay to insult the intelligence of your viewers by rewriting your own show. It’s okay to make it up as you go along. It’s okay to destroy one of your only main characters with growth and a positive arc into a sociopathic villain. It’s okay to propagate inequality and classism because outsiders should and will never belong! It’s okay to be an overall deplorable person. As long as baby Bass wears a bow-tie, it’s definitely all okay.
Like I said, Gossip Girl is representative of pretty much everything I find to be evil in the world of media and society.
But here’s the thing. This is not about me being bitter over a couple. This is about a show glorifying emotional, verbal and sometimes physical abuse. It’s about insulting everyone’s intelligence by re-writing someone’s character and the entire show when it clearly makes no sense. It’s about zero character development and making nothing of its female leads except becoming wives to men who repeatedly ruined their lives. It’s about forgiving evil because you have a higher social status and making the argument that social mobility is impossible and everyone should support their warped idea of a caste system. And yes, all of it matters because this show is targeted towards impressionable young girls who are going to buy into all of this and not understand the countless insults to their existences that this show propagated.
So yeah, it matters. But hopefully not for long.
(Pssst…If you dig it, you can find my complete paper uploaded here.
The formatting was ruined in the upload and is an eyesore, I apologize.)
I also reference this awesome article called A Fine Romance: the new comedy of the sexes by David Denby from 2007, just fyi. It’s a great read about Knocked Up of all things.