Watch It for the Clothes: The Class and Gender Warfare of 'Gossip Girl'
The past few seasons of Gossip Girl have sent a consistent message to the series' largely female audience: women who attempt to climb the social ladder won't get a happy ending. Even ladies born wearing Prada diapers can expect their share of misery.
Nate Archibald is Editor-in-Chief of a gossip blog and heads up a major multi-media conglomerate.
Serena Van Der Woodsen has become head of her own gossip website -- after having wrapped up a short stint as a Public Relations assistant and before that, a Senatorial campaign coordinator.
Chuck Bass is a captain of industry who owns several high-profile New York City luxury hotels.
Dan Humphrey is a New York Times best-selling author.
Blair Waldorf is forgoing a college education and giving up her career goal as a fashion magazine editor to become a princess.
This is standard fodder for nighttime drama in the tradition of Dallas and Knot's Landing.
However, the difference between the prime time soaps of yore and Gossip Girl is that the aforementioned characters are roughly 21 years of age, and have arrived at such positions of power without so much as obtaining an undergraduate degree.
In its first two seasons, Gossip Girl could be watched with a grain of salt. It was understood that there was a soap-y, tongue-in-cheek element at play. At Gossip Girl's outset, its protagonists swilling martinis at the tender age of 16 was good, campy fun. Their dialogue was witty and culturally astute beyond their years. Their NYC prep school politicking and hijinx seemed almost cute. Teens behaving like adults in an age-appropriate setting made for an interesting parallel to adult society and "the real world". Social commentary and classism could be played out on a stage without being too preachy.
Fast forward to 2012 and the show has lost its charm. In fact, in this tumultuous economy and even more tumultuous political landscape that encompasses class and gender warfare, Gossip Girl is borderline insulting to 99 percent of its viewers.
At the show's inception in 2007, Gossip Girl averaged 2.5 million viewers with the average viewer's age at 22.8 years old. That year, Gossip Girl was ranked as one of the top shows in the 12-17 age bracket. Currently, the show's 2011-2012 season is pulling in an average of 1.7 million viewers with a 1.9 rating among women in the 18-34 age bracket.
The past few seasons of the show have sent a consistent message to the series' largely female audience that women who attempt to climb the social ladder should not count on a happy ending. Even ladies born wearing a Prada diaper (such as Gossip Girl's two main female characters) are not exempt from their share of misery.
A chunk of the show's fifth and current season has revolved around scheming socialite Blair Waldorf's unplanned pregnancy and engagement to fictional Prince Louis of Monaco.
It's a stretch to believe that an intelligent, educated, and wealthy young woman who once concocted countless, intricate schemes before attaining voting age would lack the sense to use birth control. Even more ridiculous is the implication of unsafe sex with multiple partners. Before Blair confirmed Prince Louis was the father of her unborn child, she suspected the child's father was her long-time love (and fellow Gossip Girl anti-hero) Chuck Bass.
Blair (conveniently) miscarried after an auto accident in a car with her aforementioned lover Chuck Bass. While Blair's pregnancy seemed like a ham-fisted plot point to add to the tension of the Blair/Chuck/Louis love triangle, her miscarriage had potential to lend more depth to the character. Instead, it was nearly glossed over.
Since the show's first two seasons, Blair has undergone a de-evolution. Blair had a stronger sense of identity in her teens than she exhibits as a young adult woman. She has been reduced from smart and spirited to a simpering coquette desperately seeking a (metaphorical or literal) prince to save her. Blair's miscarriage became a footnote as she shifted into full-throttle wedding mode -- but not before adding the character of Dan Humphrey to her list of potential Prince Charmings.
Ironically, the cuckolded Prince Louis is painted as the villain of the piece. His reaction to Blair's infidelity and uncertainty of the identity of her child's father, is a natural one. Not only is he hurt and betrayed, but as a public figure and monarch, Louis is disgraced by the situation. He tells Blair that their marriage will be in name only, purely for princely public relations purposes. Adding to Louis's indignity, Blair's admission of infidelity and misgivings about the marriage are broadcast via web blasts by the show's unseen-yet-overarching presence known as "Gossip Girl".
By some hackneyed writing act of deus ex machine, Blair's marriage is annulled and she escapes the bonds of a draconian agreement which would have forfeited her family's fashion house fortune as a dowry if she were to seek a divorce.
By writing Louis' character as a Prince Charming who morphs into a cold fish that rains on Blair's princess parade, Gossip Girl only serves to enhance the image of the "ugly American" who is outraged that wealth does not put them on similar footing as European royalty. Regardless of how many rules they break, the characters of Gossip Girl not only get their way in the end, but are fashioned into sympathetic "Poor Little Rich Kids" in the hands of the writers.
While outlaw motorcycle gangs have long held the distinction as "one-percenters" – the one percent of the population that disobeys the law; Gossip Girl's Upper East Siders exemplify "one percenters" of a slightly different variety.
Following the swift disintegration of her royal marriage, Blair found solace in the arms of Dan Humphrey -- the great love of Blair's best friend, Serena Van Der Woodsen. Considering Serena once slept with Blair's former beau Nate Archibald, turnabout is fair play. Granted, Serena did the deed in a drunken fit of madness, the guilt from which sent her into a year-long exile from Upper East Side Society. Yet once again, the show forgives infidelity in some cases.
Before confessing his love for her, Dan and Blair could barely be considered friends. They were just two people barely tolerated each other because they happened to float in the same social circle due to their mutual acquaintance, Serena.
Apart from Serena, Dan and Blair had little in common. Blair believed Dan to be beneath her in the social stratosphere since his family lived in – gasp! – Brooklyn and viewed the Humphreys as nouveau riche.
While (barely) 20-something moguls Chuck Bass and Nate Archibald were handed the keys to their money-making kingdoms by a dead father or scheming, elderly grandfather, respectively; Dan Humphrey is a self-made man. He positively reeks of Horatio Alger once you get past the fact that Dan's father was a former alternative rocker who is now married to one of the richest women on New York's Upper East Side.
Gossip Girl's male characters are all firmly entrenched in specialized, upwardly mobile careers as they hover around legal drinking age without the benefit of a college education. Adding (fictional) insult to (equally fictional) injury, these characters preside over a staff that is likely older and more seasoned in their careers than they are.
Statistically, unemployment for college graduates ranks lower than those without a degree. Factor in the dismal real-life employment options for lower-to-middle class young adults in the 18-24 age bracket and Gossip Girl continues to paint an inaccurate portrait of life as a young adult. Then again, Gossip Girl is not about life as a young adult for 99 percent of the population.
Although the show's female characters have also forgone completing their college education, they lack the direction and job security of their male counterparts. Like Blair, Serena is floundering for an identity and attempting to find her place in the world. She flits from cushy job to even cushier job which requires specialized training she does not possess, seeking the perfect fit. Her sense of self is further decimated when she realizes that Dan Humphrey has chosen a relationship with Blair over one with her. It's hard to tell whether Serena's life is in turmoil because she does not know what her future holds – or what her future without Dan holds.