And guess what? It’s still brilliant.
The first time I watched Gossip Girl, my life changed. I’d gotten home from a trip. I was exhausted and tired. My favourite Supre t-shirt was in the wash and I didn’t want to do my Geography homework on gradients that night.
But my sister was home from boarding school, and boarding school at that time was like the hub of movie piracy, so she had some illegal disks with her from a chick called Sally or something. We sat down on the couch with her laptop, Mum brought us some chocolate ricotta tart – I will get the recipe and I will laminate it and put it on my wall so I can have indoor water-fights without it getting ruined – and the first scene brought us celluloid brilliance. We have Serena, returning to New York from her brief sojourn into boarding school living. Her long blonde locks swirl languidly around her tanned face. Her leather jacket looks like it could be a Rick Owens. Because it is. Veronica Mars whispers to us about where she has been and who she has been with. There is mystery. And it is rich. Blair schemes and wears things with bows on them. She does not have a conscience. She loses her virginity in the back of a limo with a billionaire’s son while “With Me” by Sum 41 pounds in the background. This is good.
Because the thing is, with Gossip Girl, it’s immoral. It screams excess. Characters do things that they shouldn’t and everyone is ridiculously attractive. When the male leads run out of hot friends to sleep with, they sleep with their friend’s fifteen-year-old sisters.
Teenagers don’t want to be lectured. The OC, Josh Schwartz’s first foray into privileged white people teen drama, was such a great show because it avoided just that. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was obsessed with Seth. It gave young people some witty banter to hold onto, it dealt with problems like drugs and alcoholic surgery-obsessed mothers. But most of all, it didn’t talk down to us. Every episode didn’t end with some ‘life lesson’ to take home. Schwartz gave us a pile of morally ambiguous relationships and let us decide what we thought of them by ourselves. Young people are not stupid. We can see that people don’t feel good when others treat them like shit. When Anna gets with Seth on New Years despite knowing that Summer is into him, we feel a bit of queasiness. We know that it’s not right. We don’t need a condescending coda to tell us that going behind our friend’s back is not okay.
Gossip Girl is better because it is the OC times a hundred. It takes the wide-eyed ingénues of the Orange County and turns them into street-smart, cynical, bitchy teenagers in Manhattan. They act like adults, they go to art auctions at Sotheby’s and they wear better clothes. It’s absolute escapism. It allows us to enter into another world where dollar bills are toilet paper. And yet at the same time, Blair and Chuck and Dan are just as clueless as any teenagers. It’s comforting because we learn that even rich people can fuck up. But it also allows us to dream of a bigger world. Perhaps one not as morally shit, but one where we can imagine ourselves doing and achieving things that are spectacular. Dan doesn’t just write for his school paper, he writes for the Paris Review. Blair doesn’t just want to go to any University, she wants to go to Yale. And when she doesn’t get in, she goes to Columbia. It’s how she rolls.
The show is a reckless indulgence. But watching it here under my doona on the couch with a tub of hummus, I am reminded of the first time I saw it. And since that day I have been inspired. Yes, the last few seasons became worse than the Young and the Restless, and if there wasn’t an attempted murder every episode then we had to assume that one of the scriptwriters had died. But it taught me to dream big, as clichéd as that sounds. I want a penthouse built on stories written for the New Yorker; it would be nice. Not that I think twenty cents a word would ever equate to such a luxury, but a girl can dream. Thank you, Josh Schwartz, for giving me aspirations that will probably never come to fruition. But they might, and I’ll keep writing for that slim hope.