'Gossip Girl': A few things it gets totally wrong

Gossipg_lSo much to write about! Last night’s episode of Gossip Girl had movement, homosexual parents, sexy school uniforms, and that golden moment when Blair finally gets busted at her own game. That crumbling look on her face when she realizes she’s the biggest bitch to walk this side east of Manhattan since Ru Paul? Precious. And S. and B. may be friends again! Let’s bond over our dysfunctional families and mascara-tinged cheeks. But for lack of space, I’m going to be focusing on two major gripes I had with the show: the subjects of college admissions and race.

It’s Monday and back to school for the kids. Confronted with Ivy Week, the juniors face the daunting prospect of courting representatives from their top-choice colleges. "For those of you that dream of attending an Ivy League school, this mixer is the most important event of your life," declares the school headmistress. Of course there’s a catch: no mere plebeian is allowed to attend — no, you must interview for an usher position, which is chosen strictly by a last-name basis, class rank and extracurriculars notwithstanding.

I went to a competitive preparatory school growing up, and let me tell you, the college admissions process was nothing like that — at least, not now. Sure, there was some whispering and resentment, a lot of "so-and-so’s father owns this…" and "she only got in because…". But GG‘s representation of an Ivy Week is archaic. Rumor has it that representatives from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton visited the boys division of my school and passed around a paper to sign up for whatever school they pleased. But that was in the early 1900s! A century later, at a time when second-tier schools are now top-tier, even a five-word last name, quadruple legacy, and a stadium can’t get the class idiot in. And they didn’t. And the smartest, not richest, kids in my class ended up going to Ivys. But what do I know? This was all in Baltimore, eons away from the UES.

In the meantime, Dan’s father Rufus adopts a ludicrousself-deprecating attitude. "Nothing — not my last name, not my bankaccount — will keep you from what you’re capable of," he swears to aheartbroken Dan, who was denied Dartmouth’s usher position. Rufus, oncethe armpiece of Mrs. Van der Woodson, stoically sends his children toprivate school even if it banishes him to a Brooklyn apartment by thebridge (and one that I would do, um, anything to live in). Buthe lacks an infuriating amount of common sense regarding class systems. Rufus pries his children about their feelings on their lower socialstatus, getting Jenny to admit embarrassment and ostracization, butthen humbly accepts it while promising to struggle through it together.Oof. All this feels strangely manipulative, as if we’re supposed tosympathize with the family for having a sweet apartment, in a sweetneighborhood, leading an educated and privileged life better than 90percent of the city.

As for my minority-girl update? Every week, my coworker Fredapproaches me to discuss the show’s blatant "Frejudice," his coinedterm for anything regarding sexuality and race. And GG offers alot of ammunition for fire. Practically mute, ostentatiously-dressedand subservient, the Asian and black sidekicks are seen massagingBlair’s legs as she bosses them around, snarling at them like peskyanimals when they no longer are of use. In fact, they’re only worthbothering with when Blair is afraid of being alone. And it’s risiblewhen the duo slip on black-rimmed glasses at the Ivy party, suddenlysmart and spilling academic verbiage. Their passivity renders themtwins, hardly worth noting when standing apart. Lacking an identity,the girls must latch onto a third person — Chuck, Blair, or a collegerepresentative, intermittently — to give them life, not unlike a fungus.

What could the producers be thinking? Are these bit parts originallycolor-cast in the books, or was this executive producer Josh Schwartz’sattempt at integrating some diversity? Had they cast white actresses inthese roles, would they be as easy to dismiss? I know that every aspectof the show plays on clichés, but to slap on tired stereotypes tosupporting characters is painfully out-of-touch and downrightoffensive. (An interesting fact: actress Nan Zhang, one of the minoritytwins in GG, studies neuroscience in the meantime at JohnsHopkins, so her three-second mumble-jumble at the Ivy Party in thebeginning may be, like, for reals.)

Popwatchers, what do you think?

Comments (44 total) Add your comment
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  • Nicole

    Okay first of all the dad’s name is Rufus. Second of all the characters of Katie and Isabel are just like that in the books but thier race is undefined.I never thought of the show in the way that you have put it. I do agree with the fact that the Humpherys are rather privlaged and that they are trying to make it seem that they aren’t. I don’t see many working class girls wearing what Jenny did in the first 2 episodes. In the books they seem much poorer. I think that they made their lifestyle seem much more glamorous for the show. And the fact that the choir was singing Glamorous by fergie told you something off the back about the class diferences.

  • Pam

    Correct me if I am wrong but…..isn’t Dan and Jenny’s father’s name Rufus not Lucas????

  • maya

    I have to say, the minority sidekicks (essentially Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls) really got to me last night. I have to think it’s a (bad) parody of minority sidekicks in TV and pop culture (see Gwen Stefani, above) and that the producers have thought long and hard about this. Right? Right??? Regardless, it’s dumb and annoying and offensive. They were even shown getting ready together for the big event. They live together??? Are they adopted sisters?? It’s so bizarre. I want to love the show as cotton candy, but the race thing is a chicken bone getting stuck in my craw.

  • whimsey

    I’d be irked about the sidekicks except for one reality check: If I’m bothered by them, producers will just write them off and replace them with someone they can identify better with and write for. More vanilla cast. If this is how the characters are in the book, then ye gads! Speaks volumes about fans of the tripe.

  • Jen

    Wow, I don’t even watch this show but somehow I got sucked into this article. Good writing!

  • cabingurl

    I personally love the show. And I do see where in some aspects the show is not realistic. But if I wanted reality I would turn off the TV. And the characters of Katie and Isabel are just like that in the books. Though I don’t think that their race is ever defined. But I don’t think that the show is trying to sterotype their characters. I think it is trying to show that Blair is the Queen Bee of the school and to be part of that “in-crowd” you have to suck up to the Queen.

  • Libertine

    Anyhow at least there some diversity in the show, Take the OC I don’t even think they cast one minority figure for a main role. Josh Schwartz a true crusader for diversity!

  • Justin

    I mean, I didn’t go to school on the UES, but I went to an expensive NYC private school, and this Ivy Week nonsense seems to have been created out of whole cloth, whether it’s in the books or the show (of which I know only what I’ve read).
    That said, I must quibble with one thing: maybe the smartest kids in your school get into the best places, but I graduated from Princeton a few months ago, and if those are the smartest kids we have to offer, we are screwed…

  • Rose Tyler

    I watch this show to escape. Of course it’s not realistic but it sure is juicy and fun too watch. Besides all that I could turn the sound off and look at the clothes. I think if ya want a show with something more to say or a social conscience you’re going to have to look elsewhere. It’s just great trash and I’m ok with that.

  • Carrie

    I like where the show is going. Granted, it’s a poor O.C. knock off, but it makes everyone look normal by comparison.

  • Vivian

    As a freshman at an Ivy League school, I have no doubt that legacy still matters. Not as much, but admissions counselors all admit that with two equally qualified candidates during early action/decision, legacy will give one an inherent advantage, and the population at schools reflect that. Others get advantages from sports or affirmative action but it would be “middle class” white kids like Dan that would fall through.
    also, this kind of portrayal of minority sidekicks is kind of current throughout pop culture. I don’t think it bothers me because i think the characters would be as shallowly developed even if they were white, and it adds some minute diversity to a network that tends to have teen shows filled with only white characters.

  • seattlebob

    Justin–were you an athlete? Because everyone I knew at Princeton was a friggin genius (including myself). So maybe you were just with the wrong crowd…

  • kate

    I noticed the race stuff right off the bat with this show, especially with these two Blair underlings, but also in that episode where Chuck had to basically kick out two non-white hotel employees from his bed. Aside from them and the non-white twinsies who kiss Blair’s ass, it’s a lily-white pond. Nice!

  • nunya

    what does UES stand for?

  • nunya

    what does UES stand for?

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