editorials / television

Gossip Girl Post-Mortem: The Message It Sent and Why It Matters

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.

Annex - Hepburn, Katharine (Philadelphia Story, The)_07

Stewart and Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story

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.

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22 thoughts on “Gossip Girl Post-Mortem: The Message It Sent and Why It Matters

  1. I agree with pretty much everything you’ve written, haven’t made myself watch the last season yet, but from what I hear… *cringe*

  2. The show has really been bothering me since the whole “Chuck sells Blair for a hotel” thing, and then even more so since the unfortunate incident where he, ya know, punches her. Or punches near her, and then her face gets cut, since some people on the Interwebz like to quibble about that as if punching and missing is somehow OK. But anyway. I’ve admittedly always fallen more on the side of making allowances for TV and such because it’s fiction and fake and not real blah blah blah. But then, on the other shows I watch, the Blair and Chuck relationship would not be true love endgame, it’d be a very special episode with a PSA at the end about dating violence and the hotline you can call if you’re in that kind of relationship. I watched the show last night and the pre-show behind-the-scenes crap in which Stephanie Savage basically bragged about how influential the show was and how if you want to know what songs you should be listening to or what clothes you should be wearing, you didn’t have to read a magazine because you could watch Gossip Girl. Well, show, you can’t pride yourself on being so influential with teen girls and then go and put that kind of relationship on a pedestal. Not when you’ve got girls on Twitter during the Grammys saying they’d let Chris Brown beat them anytime, and anonymous married fathers on Reddit sharing their college exploits as date rapists. It’s so unbelievably irresponsible. …Sorry, I just had to get that out. Like I said, it’s been bugging me.

    • Thanks so much for your post, you can vent here anytime! As you can see, I definitely needed to get my frustrations out too. And I very much agree with you. I used to love the Chuck and Blair relationship, but found it lacking steam in season 3. I actually thought the hotel plotline would cause some interesting drama for them. Little did I know how terrible they would go about. I’ve been a staunch social critic of Gossip Girl ever since Chuck refused to apologize to Blair and the big epic finale centered around daring Blair to be brave enough to love him. I was so appalled. He traded you for a hotel. He should be fighting for you, not giving you ultimatums while I sit back and continue to sleep with concubines….

      I failed to see anything but disgust after that. And then it just spiraled to this madness that aired last night. I just had to write this post because so many people argue that it’s just a dumb, guilty pleasure show so what does it matter? And I’m like of course it matters! Even, yes, Gossip Girl, the worst show on earth, lol.

      Anyway thank you for reading and commenting! I very much appreciate it.

  3. ERIN. This is so weird, we went to Emerson together for like a hot second, freshman year? My name is Megan, you probably don’t even remember me. But we used to chat about Gossip Girl and whatnot, and I was so surprised to stumble across this article on tumblr! It’s really very well written and I couldn’t agree with the sentiments more.

    • Megaaaaaan, of course I remember you! (in fact I’ve totally bragged to people in the internet that I knew in real life since you’re like the supreme Dair fandom writer there is – and yes I have read them all!) I’m so glad we bumped into each other via Gossip Girl again – and ringing it’s death knell. Kinda poetic. How our sentiments have changed, right? What’s your Tumblr name I’d love to follow you!

  4. I didn’t really watch GG. I think I watched the first half of the first season. I saw a lot of online acquaintances loving Dan/Blair, so I have seen them in various clips and music videos, the same I have of Chuck/Blair. I was just interested enough to follow the link posted on my dash. But what really caught my attention was your comparison to Mike/Tracy in Philadelphia Story. I don’t really know a lot of people that have seen Philadelphia Story but of the few I’ve talked to, they just didn’t see things the way I did. I like Dexter and enjoy the dynamic between Dexter and Tracy well enough but it is the Mike/Tracy scenes that I fall in love with every time I watch it. And while it seemed to make sense that Dexter/Tracy ended up together (they clearly loved each other throughout) it was somehow disappointing to me. The Mike/Tracey relationship is far more passionate, romantic and interesting. The scene in the garden is one of my favorite cinematic scenes ever.

    I did read your full paper. Thank you for the link. It was a very insightful read and you put into words what I always felt about the movie but didn’t quite know how to explain. You almost make me want to watch the Dan/Blair relationship in full, but I think I will have to pass given the atrocious ending to the show.

  5. I just had so many dreams for Blair. I wanted her to graduate magna cum laude, get work experience at the world’s best magazines, not just in America – spend some time working in Europe and Asia or at least two other continents. I wanted her to succeed Anna Wintour at Vogue and change the tall skinny blonde ideal that Wintour propagates to be more inclusive, considering how much she suffered because of the existence of that ideal. I wanted her to achieve all these things in an arc in which she slowly gave up scheming and plotting and realized how talented and smart she is and realize her self-worth and grew to respect herself too much to resort to underhandedness. I wanted her to grow up. I wanted her to get married somewhere between 25 and 30 years old, or maybe older, after she grew up, not when she was 21/22 and still had the world to see. And also because boys only become truly mature and reliable after 25. She shouldn’t have a 4 year old child at 26/27 for Christ’s sake. She shouldn’t have become a trophy wife running a clothes line when she associated designing with her mother and not herself. She shouldn’t be glorifying who she was at 16, because she was miserable at 16. She should have had her growth into seeing herself as a swan in her own right, from the ‘ugly duckling’ she kept complaining she was next to Serena. She should have realized that herself, not because Chuck Bass said he loved her, and so that must be enough. I wanted her to grow out of her insecurity and let down her barriers, and have friends other than Serena, who weren’t minions. I wanted her relationship with Serena to evolve and heal, so that they really could be best friends again, and not just SerenaandBlair, supporting each other’s bad decisions out of habit. I wanted her to grow into realizing and acknowledging that she had been in an abusive relationship, and leave it behind and heal, and be shown doing so as encouragement to so many young women who’re in similar situations. But none of it happened and I seriously feel like I lost a child, that’s how much I loved this character, and that’s how thoroughly she was ruined for the less than a million Chuck fans.

  6. I am so glad to hear that you wrote a paper about Dan and Blair and received an A on it. Isn’t it great when you can write college papers about things you love? I remember having the best time writing a paper on gender roles on Seinfeld for my sociology class.

    I love The Philadelphia Story and I enjoyed seeing the Dan and Blair and Tracy and Mike parallels, but as for the film, I always knew Tracy was going to end up with Dexter (and I wanted that to happen). You really can’t beat the Hepburn-Grant chemistry, even if you are as charming as James Stewart. But that was because Dexter was no Chuck Bass.

    Gossip Girl lost its moral credibility a long time ago. It was silly for any of us to ever think that they were going to right all their wrongs. I don’t think they cared that most of its fans are teenagers. I mean, this is a show where Blair kept going back to her abuser and Serena ended up married to the very person she claimed to have destroyed her and her friends’ lives. Screw the 13 year old girls who watch this show, they said, we are going to do everything for the sake of drama and endgame. This show lost all its heart the moment it decided to annihilate Dair.

    Gossip Girl screw Dair fans over in season six. Not only do the two characters get know closure, Blair pretty much treats Dan like crap for the entirety of season six and doesn’t even seem to remember how he was actually one of her closest friends only a year ago.

    I sometimes wonder if I am just being butthurt about Gossip Girl because Dair is not endgame, but then I realize that everything in the show is also awful, so I don’t feel as biased.

  7. AAAAAAAH thank you! This is so well-thought out and I couldn’t agree more with everything you’re saying. I watched the final episode and just had to laugh at the absurdity of the whole thing, but it also makes me angry for all the points you just made. And what irks me even more is that the writers take no responsibility, not just for how they handle all these issues like attempted rape and abuse (which, clearly, they’ve just glossed over), but even within the show’s OWN timeline. Nothing makes any sense, but to the GG writers everything’s tied up in a bow. It’s one of the most ignorantly handled shows on television in recent history, and that’s very disturbing.

  8. I love Gossip Girl. Even as it went downhill during season 3. I stop watching the show for 2 years because it got boring for me, and there were many shows that took my attention like Prison Break, Dr. House, Lost and a LOT of Kdrama.

    I was a very avid Chair fan before, but when Dan started pinning for Blair and I saw how he listen to her whine for days about her lovelife while he’s in love with her bought me to his cause. He was selflessly putting Blair’s needs first, something that Chuck might have done in the past, but the thing is, there is always repercussion when he extend his help to Blair, he either betrays those he cares about or he pulls away from Blair and end up hurting her.

    With Dan though Blair didnt get hurt. In fact, I’ve never seen Blair so confident with her own capability and so empowered with herself after she befriends Dan.

    One of the sweetest things he had done was bridging Blair and her mom.

    And God! I cant even begin to gush about Dan’s line “Blair, you’re an evil dictator of taste” How, in those simple words Dan was able to turn around 20 years of Blair’s irrational fear towards becoming her mom. Gosh. I’m still reeling over these thoughts. Its why Dair should end up together! Chuck hasn’t invested himself in Blair’s affairs as much as Dan did, seriously, Dan is good for Blair. Period.

    His bond with Blair became the most important relationship in GG in my opinion, his support and endless loyalty for her just moves me.

    I rarely, very very rarely change ship, I’m extremely loyal when it comes to my preferred pairings, but I wouldn’t have change my mind if there wasn’t a logical reason behind it.

    Dair simply moved me in ways that Chair hasnt for the last 3 years.
    I honestly think Dair is an ideal love story.

    I really thought they are going to end up together, but I was shock to see the episode 5×24 when Blair just suddenly ran to Chuck again, after she just rejected him and choose Dan previously.

    So then I went into the net to research why, then I learn terms like “endgame” and “Chair” and “Dair” and how rating driven were the people behind GG and how there’s an extremist behind Chair, LOL. I only saw epi 1 of s6 but stop watching after they made Chuck and Bart’s feud a centerpiece in their story again, such a dull plot to explore, it doesn’t even come close to the enigmatic circumstance of Darth Vader and Luke’s story, which i guess is where they are trying to go. And the falling down the building, duh, its like a poor rip off of Anakin’s eventual demise.

    For me, S5 was really magical. Im re watching previous episodes that has Dair now, and it always leaves me wondering how I could miss something so exciting like them before. But still I was thankful Blair happen, even if they didn’t end up together. One of the disappointing things to happen in TV, really.

  9. So glad you uploaded your paper…I was reading this review and thinking I’ll have to leave a comment asking her to upload the paper! It’s a good read by the way..

  10. Well , I’m speechless and at the same time eager to talk about this. I started watching the show when I was 14 and I’ve been complaining about the Chuck/Blair pairing since then. Not because I don’t ship or because I hate Chuck or any of those inmature things but because I wouldn’t want a relationship like that.
    A relationship that the only things that brought me are abuse,drama and insecurity for myself, being with someone who doesn’t aprecciate me and who rather sell me for a hotel is not at all what I would want.
    I became a Dair fan after reading some fanfics about the pairing and I was totally overwhelmed about the things that I read about them how they complemented each other how Dan made Blair more confident , more happy without any need of scheme or ultimatum.
    For two years I also stopped watching the show mostly for I coudn’t stand watching Blair always returning to Chuck’s side .
    But when in the season 5 Dan & Blair were hanging out and having real conversations ,showing interest for theirs likes and they were looking like a couple of friends who were falling in love.The were so good together . But when I saw them breaking apart beacuse of Chuck’s and Serena’s fault . I quit the show again until I read that Dan was GOSSIP GIRL and all those things about the finale.
    I was like Good Bye to all the good things this show could have ever had. All the growing as characters that they should have had ,because Dan and Serena have nothing in commun besides a brother. How could she fulfill his life , with what talks about shoes and galas?And the way Chuck and Blair got married ? Seriously iIdon’t anyone would wnat that kind of proposition.
    Anyways I love the way you have explained everything that was in my mind about gossip girl.

  11. GG sure is evil by first destroying characters they spent 5 seasons building who were Dan and Blair and then pretending they never excisted and then saying that Dan is GG just to say that he had more power then Blair did and to protect that GG is really Blair&Dorota.

  12. Girl, you took the words right out of my mouth!!! Wonderful post. How can I subscribe to your posts? I love your writing!

    • Thanks so much! I know if you have a wordpress you can follow the blog, but if not you’re totally welcome to follow me on twitter, I link all of my posts on there. 😀 So glad you came for the Gossip Girl hate and are staying for the writing. I hope not to disappoint.

      • I agree with you all to an extent, but I don’t think this show ever claimed to be moral. In fact, there aren’t that many shows on the WB that can claim that honour. In fact there really aren’t that many shows within current television even depicting a fully ‘healthy’ relationship. I am just curious as to why people expected morality out of a show that marketed itself as being something that should have a parental warnings attached to by writings you state that they do not like writing “healthy relationships”. This is a show that branded it self in creating shock value, the OMG moments.

        We currently live in a culture where, I hate to say it, soap operas (which this is) has been watched and often targeted at younger teen viewers. And while there will still be viewers who will chase after the “bad boy” figure, that is not a product of Chuck Bass (even if that is the attraction) but of a culture of anti-heroes long past. I asked many young girls how they felt about the actions of Chuck Bass, and interesting enough, unanimously girls as young as 12 will state that it was morally wrong and simply echo this general statement “but you know the show just did it to add drama and it doesn’t really make sense”. It will be interesting if studies can be conducted to see what teens feel when they watch this show and how they view different characters vs. how people interpret that they feel and the message it sends. Honestly, to take Gossip Girl seriously and want to have a relationship exactly like either pairing just seems ridiculous. Gossip Girl (much like Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars) never tried to be a beacon of morality (and while I dislike many actions of Chuck Bass and others on the show, I am able to realize that GG stopped following the format of a teen drama after season 2, and started following a soap opera format (so I expect vile and trite characterization). In truth many girls watch Sex and the City and love Mr. Big and C, but I don’t think they would want to completely live play by play that relationship.

        No young girl should use the couples depicted on Gossip Girl as role-models for their ideal or real life relationship. It is okay to be attracted to an aspect of a pairing. For instance many people I talk to like the Dan-Blair relationship that seems very “When Harry Met Sally” (love love this movie). The love the story-line of two individuals who didn’t like each other (perhaps from two different worlds), who later become best friends then eventually fall in love. I love that story line as well and understand the Dan-Blair appeal. SO one corner likes Mike and Tracy. Then others I talk to like Chuck-Blair (based largely on seasons 1 & 2 from my understanding an not really the other seasons) because they like the idea of two friends, who seem to understand each other better than anyone else, and who have explosive chemistry coming together, somewhat “Gone with the Wind.” The other corner likes that Tracy and CK Dextor-Haven relationship. I wish people could just say, “you know what I just feel more emotionally tied to or just like this pairing better,” than trying to claim that either pairing is healthy. Or say that one relationship is just simply more appealing, less convoluted or perhaps boring. You decide. But stay on track with the fact that the portrayals are not often consistent and that this is a show where drama is needed to drive story arcs. DO not try to tie and sensationalized teen drama to what should occur in real life. I think both couples have their appeal and their attraction to viewers, but neither are healthy and Blair was both confident and insecure in both relationships. But alas when you love certain things the blinders come on and I however liked both Blair and Dan and Chuck and Blair with the understanding that these are fictionalized characters, whose characterization may be skewed based on ratings, the need for a villain and a need for a hero. Since season 3, characters lacked true substance and were often archetypes. Neither are essentially good.

        In truth there was not even one healthy couple in the whole show- Dan publicly humiliates Blair on several occasions and treats Serena and Vanessa rather horribly on many occasions. Nate cheats on Blair with Serena (and although kind, is no beacon of morality either). As was aptly pointed out above, Chuck manipulates Blair to agree to be traded for a hotel deed and also humiliates her on other occasions. None of these men should be put on a pedestal of a healthy relationship.

        So I legitimately understand the concern that parents and other feminists have that girls will simply let guys get away with treating them like crap because of this notion of true love or depiction. It is a legitimate concern. The fact is with or with out GG, this will always remain an issue parents face.

        The concern I have is now telling girls that Dan and Blair is a healthy relationship when it isn’t. A) Dan constantly humiliates Blair risking her reputation with her chosen career in the fashion industry. First by embarrassing her in front of fashion leaders at her birthday, then by putting Waldorf designs at risk by leaking that video, and then lastly by writing a hate piece further putting her career at risk. I mean these things are swept under a tidy rug (which is often the case in soap operas), but in real life, a woman who is so ambitious and power hungry would look at these acts as dismantling her career and not being supportive or “in love.”

        Either way, condemn gossip girl for targeting teen girls and creating a character that does atrocious acts (condemn Chuck Bass), but as a writer do it equally, and perhaps don’t condemn Dan but don’t view him as a beacon of morality.

        So to ask Gossip Girl to be moral, showing realistic and healthy pairings is like asking Vampire Diaries to do the same (another show that is well loved among a teen audience and where the relationships are not healthy). Say that you are outraged by their duplicity and I will agree with you (no one should be treated like property no matter the show or intended audience), but then again no one should be cheated on or be utilized as a means of furthering one’s career. Let’s be honest there are very few shows geared at teens that offer more healthy relationships and have that moral message (gone are the days of TGIF).

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