I was 10 years late to Gossip Girl, and it’s basically a (very addictive) show about trust funds, waist coats and rapists. Here, we revisit some of the most ridiculous things about Gossip Girl, with a decade of hindsight. By Lizzi Sandell.
It’s been an entire decade since Season 1 of Gossip Girl graced our screens. When it first aired, I was a contrary 14-year-old who shunned the show for its obvious popular appeal. Now, with the magic of Netflix and insomnia, it took me only 24 hours to rectify my error. And to that promiscuous, unnecessarily angry teenager of yore, I now say: thank you. Thank you for this belated but transformative gift, stretching out before me over 6 seasons, which time has bestowed with the quaint quality of a period drama. 2007 was another world entirely. They drink vitaminwater there.
Gossip Girl is a show about class warfare and, being British, I know all about class. Honestly, these bitches are all new money to me, so I don’t really get what all the fuss is about. That said, since my life as a New Yorker has been lived pretty much entirely below 1st street, I have been left ignorant of any IRL Gossip Girls, and ignorance is not bliss when plaid skirts, gin martinis and people constantly being interrupted by their cell phones is involved. So, Upper East Siders (and Brooklynites- ugh!), let’s revisit Gossip Girl from a new enlightened era—where UGG boots are banned by law.
First, let’s talk about the divine being that is Gossip Girl itself. I’m leaving myself open on the gender issue. I don’t actually know who They is yet, although I’m assuming you do eventually find out… and that it probably leaves huge narrative holes and basically makes no sense when you do. I have a big problem with premature Googling as it has ruined many a special televisual moment in the past, so I refuse to find out this time. What I do know is that this ambiguous, all-seeing eye has narrative framing and wordplay that would put Carrie Bradshaw to shame— and gratefully, fewer rhetorical questions.
In the first episode, Chuck Bass attempts to rape two different people but everyone sort of laughs it off and calls him a jerk. LOL! Chuck’s family own the Palace Hotel, where much of our action takes place, and he regularly crashes in the penthouse post-party, with his BFF, Nate Archibald. Chuck and Nate are basically the same person except with slightly different eyebrows, and Nate looks like a sad emoji whereas Chuck looks like an angry one. Also Chuck dresses like the Great Gatsby and, as previously mentioned, is a rapist.
Serena “S” van der Woodsen (yes, van der Woodsen), has mysteriously returned to New York, and arrives at Grand Central station, where a handful of the other characters are fortuitously lurking—totally inexplicably, actually, because nobody takes public transport for the rest of the season. Serena wears too many boho headscarves and chews her words like a young Jodie Foster, but everybody loves her anyway. Except, of course, for ex-best friend Blair “B” Waldorf, who is an angry virgin with impossibly shiny hair. Blair and Chuck like scheming more than life itself, and they eventually form an unholy alliance which could rival Team Rocket from Pokémon.
The girls go to “Constance Billard” and the boys go to ”St. Jude’s,” which are, confusingly, the same school but with two different names. Everyone at school dresses like a Parisian lunatic, with 12 different pastel-colored berets fighting for head space among GHD curls and more unnecessary headscarves (FYI, Serena shuns this look entirely and goes full Avril, with a loose tie flapping around on her chill T-shirt/waistcoat combo.) We learn that Blair rules the school, with two token ethnic minority slaves by her side, who exist intermittently throughout the series but nary make a sound. She also has a new white slave called Jenny Humphrey, who wanders Alice in Wonderland-like into a world where she soon finds out that her cultural capital—obvious from her huge Williamsburg loft apartment and her artist parents- means exactly diddlysquat. Jenny turns out to be the spawn of satan and her hairstyle gets gradually more annoying.
Later, we meet the moral judicator (and elder brother of Jenny the white slave/baby Lucifer), Dan, who constantly reasserts his intellectual superiority by wearing brown suits and tweed waistcoats (more waistcoats). He’s upset that he has a shelf full of precariously-stacked books but no trust fund, and continuously puts Serena on a pedestal despite meeting her at least twice before when she was in her White Girl Wasted period. Dan likes reading, writing and punching people in the face, has a cabbage patch doll named Cedric, and knows that he’s Different from the others, despite his well-bred cheekbones suggesting otherwise. Little does he know, he’s sitting on prime BK real estate, so he should just hold on tight.
The Humphreys’ father is aging rocker, Rufus, who owns a Brooklyn art gallery that soon becomes a black hole for Uptown MILFs, despite it being all the way in Brooklyn and everybody in the show pretending that they never go to Brooklyn. Rufus continues his son’s moral integrity trip with the help of lots of breakfast waffles and some cheap leather necklaces. Family friend Vanessa Abrams suddenly reappears—through the window, a la Clarissa Explains it All (or Bowie in Labyrinth?)—and pulls the ultimate power move by secretly submitting Dan’s dumb story to the New Yorker for his birthday. Vanessa is Different too because she likes lesbian punk bands and mentions lesbians a lot without actually being one, or doing much of anything else.
At first you think Serena’s mother, Lily, is a total bitch for keeping her Aaron Carter lookalike of a son locked up in rehab, until you find out she used to be a coked-up groupie to Rufus’ flailing rock band (and something else about spending hours on a Turnpike in Ohio with Jane’s Addiction, which was a reference I didn’t really understand.) One thing you’ll notice about Lily is that she literally doesn’t go ANYWHERE without an expensive bottle of red wine in her hand, which makes her my personal hero. Fellow maternal nightmare and Blair’s mother, Eleanor Waldorf, designs clothes fit for a bougie Wednesday Addams and tries to get them stocked at Bendel’s, which is the cultural epicenter of the show.
On the Upper East Side, there are a lot of silky nightdresses, pajamas and gown sets, which are worn at basically every indoor social gathering except the ones where lingerie might actually be appropriate. This tendency is just one of the elements that compel you to stop and maniacally scream, HOW OLD ARE THESE PEOPLE?? and guffaw every time they mention their 17th birthdays. Having said this, I totally admire the amount of Real Trouble these man-children get themselves into. These baby giants go hard- as opposed to something like Gilmore Girls, where trag teenagers drink soda at parties. Blair would probably murder Rory and wear her as a purse, so I hope they don’t meet at Yale.
And the nostalgia is real. Almost every song on the soundtrack made me smell phantom Clearasil in my pores; there’s a four-part harmony version of “Glamorous” by Fergie and even one plot beat that involves torturing someone with the songs of Flo Rida. There are, I counted, THREE then-contemporary Britney references- Britney at the VMAs (loitering onstage to Gimme More), Britney and the umbrella (obvs), and Britney and Madonna… And by Britney and Madonna, I am referring specifically to their weird performative make-out session, rather than the Me Against The Music video where they wear suits and slide their vaginas along bare bed-frames. That’s all for now, Upper East Siders.
Gossip Girl, we need to talk. xoxo “L”
* Writer’s note: While writing this piece I think I accidentally found out who Gossip Girl is, and I’m livid about it.
Lizzi Sandell is a writer and film student living in London and NewYork.