A few weeks ago, I got a lovely email from Amanda, 15, from Ottawa, who told me about how she turned her mad love for Gossip Girl into an essay for school. The assignment was to write about something she considered a masterpiece — so naturally she chose Gossip Girl! She sent me her awesome paper (A+ from me!) and said it was cool for me to post some of it. I loved her argument, and not just because I was super excited to see Spotted: Your One and Only Unofficial Guide to Gossip Girl in a list of works cited. So read on for Amanda’s argument as to why Gossip Girl is worthy of the attention we give it. Thanks for sharing this, Amanda!
“Along with the fabulous usage of the New York City backdrop, Gossip Girl is, as New York magazine called it in April 2008, the “most awesomely awesome show ever,” due to its engaging ensemble of talented young actors. The cast is beyond incredible. They all began acting for the show at around twenty years old, and had never worked together prior to the show’s debut. In addition, none of the six main characters are native New Yorkers. Ed Westwick, who plays the known-to-be villainous character of Chuck Bass, is in fact British! (I watched the entire first season not knowing this minute detail, and was dazzled by how well he masked his accent.) The majority of the cast had never acted on television before, and the youngest of the group was just fourteen years of age! This group of rookies may have instilled doubt in some critics’ minds, yet when the Pilot episode was launched, none of these possible setbacks were even remotely apparent. As a viewer, I earnestly felt that these persons were in fact raised and culturally shaped by the city and the lifestyle that they were born into. The on-screen chemistry generated between these astonishingly youthful individuals was overwhelmingly impressive. I can still recall the spine-tingling sensation that I felt when the end credits filled the screen. It struck me then that this show was more than just a drama forcefully inflated with beautiful people of unfortunate, mediocre acting. Gossip Girl truly “transcends the limitations of its genre” (Calhoun). And it is the sensational acting abilities of the cast that makes this show attain such a predominant level of teen television.
At this point, you’re probably questioning yourselves as to who these actor individuals play on the silver screen. What is it about the characters on Gossip Girl that makes the show so incomparably distinctive? The answer: their well-defined, expansively developed personalities. Each character brings this underlying sense of relatable normalcy to the screen, despite the lavish life they live, which illustrates how far from superficial Gossip Girl actually is. In every episode, the viewer can feel the raw emotions of the characters traverse the television screen, infiltrating the room with air thick enough to be cut with a blade. The relationships and interactions are so intricately intertwined, that numerous websites have designed interactive, colour coordinated flow charts to clarify any misconceptions that people may have. This shows how electrifying and quick paced the character development is. This progression in character can be analysed to the bare bones.
Take Dan Humphrey, the show’s entrance to Brooklyn, for instance. Dan is quite the judgemental outsider. He attends the same private school as the elitist in Manhattan, as his parents value strong education. He is introduced as dealing with the divorce of his parents, by channelling his feelings into a fiery passion for writing and literature. Dan is smart, sarcastic and rather witty, but is blind to the difficulties that exist in the seemingly perfect world of his classmates. His narrow opinion of his upper class peers changes as he becomes involved with society girl Serena Van der Woodsen, and realizes how complex her world really is. Dan matures enormously over the course of the show’s three seasons, and he and the Humphrey name provide as the show’s moral backbone.
Next up, we have “it-girl” Serena Van der Woodsen. Serena is the character that developed the most over the course of the show. Serena’s past is quite dark and troubled, as she took for granted the riches that her life contained, and had no role model to guide her away from temptation. When the show commences, she is given a rude awakening with her brother’s suicide attempt. She begins the emotionally gruelling process of reinventing herself through her actions and life choices. The viewer comes to learn that her social climbing, billionaire grabbing mother was not often present during her childhood, and her father left when she was only four years old. She was raised by a hired nanny, surrounded by luxury, but never experienced the concept of family or a mother daughter bond. Serena is stunning with her mane of blonde locks, but is blissfully naïve and tightly reserved when it comes to sharing her feelings and trusting others. She struggles by with the help of her best friend, Blair Waldorf, who understands the ropes of living the high life. Blair is the Upper East Side distilled into a porcelain doll image of a young woman. She appears to be perfect, but is one of the most complex, versatile personages on the show. Underneath this portrait, is a girl so vulnerable it makes one’s heart ache. Her mother often critiques her figure, pointing out miniscule flaws in her appearance. She suffers from bulimia. Her father recently left her and her mother, and from now on she tries to control and manipulate every situation to her standards. Blair is catty, a perfectionist, an unrealistic dreamer, and a brilliant schemer. Over the course of the series, Blair grows into a very strong willed, determined young woman who claims the heart of Chuck Bass. Chuck is one of the most interesting characters seen on television. He carries the facade of a promiscuous womanizer who has the tendency to turn to alcohol to treat his unhappiness. His signature line, “I’m Chuck Bass,” is used to justify his self-destructive nature. Chuck can in fact be inspirationally innovative, determined, and caring. He has made many wrong decisions in his life, but his upbringing did not help in guiding him to his fullest potential. Chuck’s father was a highly regarded billionaire: a business man, devoid of warmth or emotion, who acted resentful towards Chuck. (Chuck was told that his mother lost her life giving birth to him). Chuck’s father doesn’t care enough to deal with his son’s behaviour, and often expects the worst of him. When Chuck’s father dies in an unexpected car accident, Chuck is devastated as he never had the opportunity to connect with his father. From this point onwards, he fights to overcome his inner feelings of emptiness and worthlessness.
This insight into four of the main characters is a prime example of how prodigious the character development on Gossip Girl truly is. These characters are not New York socialites, Hollywood superheroes, or fairytale figurines. These are people with a story that construes them. These are vulnerable, relatable human beings.
With Gossip Girl, there is this recurring sense of subtle commonness that many disparage. Under the glitz and the glam, Gossip Girl is like a perpetually open wound, gushing with themes so painstakingly normal that they tend to be overlooked. “[T]he best aspect of Gossip Girl is that the delectable tangle of jealousy, loyalty, confusion, and general teen angst coils and recoils at such a frenetic pace. [The show provides range:] a pregnancy scare, a marriage proposal, an attempted rape, a lost virginity, a near-deadly accident, a divorce, a suicide attempt, multiple thefts, blackmail, a drug addiction, and an eating disorder” (Pressler and Rovzar). That’s quite the mix. In each episode, the everyday obstacles of adolescence are thoroughly displayed. For adults, this show is an ode to the blur of high school years; with far more advanced technology and jaw dropping style. For teens, Gossip Girl is a reality. The show sports topics such as betrayal, friendship, revenge, secrets, lying, rumours, love conquering all, and the need for acceptance/belonging on a regular basis. Considering that the show was established on the basis of a figure who takes pride in spreading rumours, I can see how some parents may find it a concern. But Gossip Girl does an impeccable job at delivering the consequences and repercussions of every negative action. When rumours are spread, reputations are threatened and demolished. Lies and secrets are detrimental to the human conscience. Abusing certain substances can lead to decisions that you can never take back and redo.
Gossip Girl also incorporates how the yearning to be well liked and part of a group remains at the core of being a teenager. An excellent example of this on Gossip Girl is Jenny Humphrey. Young Jenny wishes for Blair Waldorf to only know her name. When she finally succeeds in joining the clique of the school’s elite, she finds herself in an entirely different setting than she had envisioned. The need to keep up a strict reputation, and follow strict social graces causes Jenny to turn her back on her family and transform her personality to please others. Eventually, Jenny fights the mould that was shaped for her and evolves into her own person, but not before voyaging through sporadic phases of rebellion and self destruction. The theme of coming of age is extensively explored, and every character matures considerably. Through Chuck, Serena and Blair, the theme of reinventing oneself is also seen. At one point, each character has, what I would call, an epiphany of sorts which forces them to learn (or run at lightning speed) from their past mistakes. Obviously, Gossip Girl has an abundance of exemplary themes, but there are two which bestride the rest: the search for a parent and the disillusionment of high society. In terms of family hardships, every character faces them. Jenny and Dan wish for their mother’s comfort, who resides in Hudson, when times are difficult. Nate Archibald figuratively searches for his father’s presence in his life as his father is charged with drug possession, fraud and embezzlement, and flees the country. Blair also deals with the absence of her father whom she was dearly attached to, and yearns for any form of approval from her mother. Serena and Chuck both embark on actual quests to find their parents; Serena spends her summers travelling to find her father, and defers from her first year at college to search for him, whereas Chuck is lead to believe that his mother may actually be alive. This notion of torn families adds groundbreaking emotional elements to the show. The theme of disillusionment of the Upper East Side conveys my opinion of the show with perfection. Gossip Girl is viewed as showcasing the superficial lifestyles of the rich and the famous. But in reality, it shows how imperfect their world really is. On the surface, these characters are privileged: attending galas, eating Sunday brunch, wearing fancy clothes, and riding in limos left, right and centre. But their families are wrecks, they can’t handle stress or emotion, the stakes are high, and they prove to themselves that money cannot solve everything. And now I dare the Parents Television Council to attempt to not find a redeeming quality in Gossip Girl.
Not only does Gossip Girl cover a vast plane of valuable themes, the show can proudly boast about its sharp script. “Gossip Girl… makes the viewers figure out the subtleties of character interactions and catch the rapid-fire references, allusions, and in-jokes as the plot quickly weaves and thickens all in a New York minute” (Calhoun). There isn’t a single episode that I can name where I did not have the urge to laugh out loud (or where I actually did, and received some quizzical glances). The script is cheekily humorous, but also ingenious in its overflowing references to literary and film classics. Gossip Girl scripts contain an infinite number of allusions. The show refers, in rapid succession, to celebrities, magazines, designers, artists, musicians, restaurants, institutions, current events, world history, books and movies. Titles including: Jane Austen, Anna Karenina, The Da Vinci Code, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Star Wars, Sonic Youth, No Doubt, Dirty Dancing, Flash dance, Guitar Hero, the New Yorker, a Fashion’s Night Out (just to name a select few) have all been creatively referred to in the script. One of the best examples used so far on the show, at least according to myself, was the episode The Wrath of Con. This episode was based purely on Bernie Madoff and his famous Ponzi scheme (which I researched to gain a semi decent understanding of the topic), and was written phenomenally. What many people do not know is that every Gossip Girl episode title is named after a film or literary work with some punning added to it, and that episode resembles situations that occurred in the work itself. A few witty examples are: The Dark Night based on The Dark Knight; It’s a Wonderful Lie referring to It’s a Wonderful Life; The Age of Dissonance in relation to The Age of Innocence; and The Empire Strikes Jack referencing to The Empire Strikes Back. There’s nothing like a show that makes you think and do a little research when the end credits roll. Gossip Girl has a knack for making its viewers do their homework.”