Gossip Girl: All’s Fair on the Upper East Side

October 19, 2007

Dear Gossip Girl,

In the first episode of this admittedly fascinating show, Chuck attempts to rape Jenny on a rooftop. He’s mildly punished by the valiant brother Dan, but faces no consequences from his own social group. In almost every episode, he pays fleets of women to service him and his friends, not to mention making sexist and classist remarks at any moment—-but his friends seem to brush it off. “That’s Chuck,” they justify, or, more likely, “That’s what this world is like.” As Chuck says himself that first night: “It’s a party–things happen.”

On the other hand, we have Serena. We’re told she used to be a bad girl. Right now, she seems okay and she ended the last episode sweetly kissing her new beau in the streets. Nonetheless, the first couple episodes were taken up with Serena’s reputation and her integrity. Her all-time humiliation occurs at a fancy brunch when she’s outed to the world for having slept with her best friend Blair’s boyfriend. (The viewer, too, is treated to a hazy scene of bar sex between, what, sixteen-year-olds?) Surrounded by a circle of critics—her former best friend, the boy she slept with, the boy she likes, and the sinister rapist-boy—her own poor choices are thrown in her face: she’s shamed. No one blames it on their world at this point; rather it’s Serena’s own immorality. In order for the show to move forward, she’ll have to prove she’s a reformed, repentant woman.

Meanwhile, the wooden box of a boyfriend, Nate, takes absolutely no flack for having cheated on his very affectionate girlfriend. (Blair gets my pity for those early scenes in which she’s into her boyfriend Nate, she loves him, she wants to have sex with him, and his distraction amounts to nothing less than rejection. Top that off with his father’s financial coercion, and it turns out that Blair, the queen bee, is the one being used.)

As for Dan, we loved him at first for his manly defense of his sister from the evil rapist, whom no one else was going to hold accountable. But it seems that every episode he has to prove his sweet, poor kid status (‘I only live in WILLIAMSBURG, after all’) with an overheated defense of a woman’s honor and an attempt to beat up an Alpha Male. Is that the only way to be a nice guy in this town?

This show offers what may or may not be a realistic portrayal of Upper East Side wealth and it does so by flaunting all manner of risky behavior. Girls sleep with their boyfriends while their parents socialize downstairs, fourteen-year-olds down martinis (gin), and everyone is dressed much better than I can afford. Next time someone writes an article about a decline in our teenagers’ moral values, I’m sure they can look to Gossip Girl for material. The thing is, the show confronts a lot of taboos, mostly for shock value, and it’s probably pretty harmless. What I do mind is what it ends up saying about sex.

I put it to you, Gossip Girl. What’s the point of being brazen and daring if not also to be radical and progressive? Why go to the trouble of breaking boundaries if only to reinforce conservative cultural norms?

XOXO,

Sex Like Men

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