I have always been obsessed with the CW’s hit TV show, Gossip Girl. The lifestyle of those living in Manhattans Upper East Side seemed so intriguing and allowed me to escape from my own mundane life. The drama, the overabundance of money, the media-centric world of glamour, and the popularity that followed always appealed to my tastes, and from the first episode I was hooked. Although the series ended in 2012, I constantly re-watch it. After I re-watched the series for the fourth time, I gave myself a challenge. I was going to re-watch it for a fifth time (obviously), but I was going to analyze Gossip Girl as a reflection of Generation Y.
Why on Earth would I do this?
I took a course last semester and my professor sparked my interest in Millennial’s, or Generation Y, and their constant use of technology, social media, and how it is an integral part of their lives. Since taking that course I continued my own research, reading countless articles online and checking out numerous books from my college’s library. I wanted to know more. I had to know more. After reading those articles and books, I started observing, others and myself. Now my project was Gossip Girl.
Overview of Social Critiques
Gossip Girl offers a social critique of Millennial’s social media driven lifestyle. From their obsession with gossip, the importance of celebrity culture in society, their frequent use of social media, their inability to live in the moment and the media’s ability to create micro-celebrities. The show critiques viewers superficial fantasies and provides them with an escape into the lives of the Upper East Side elite. At the same time, the show reflects on modern social issues and accurately depicts the consequences of living in a world where technology has firmly planted its roots in society and unwillingly influences Millennial’s narcissistic behavior. Gossip Girl also critiques Millennial’s use of the Internet, social media, and gossip sites as a reliable, and cumulative source of information. This information is considered reliable because it adds up over time, and once something gets posted on the Internet, it stays there forever. Throughout the series, Gossip Girl also demonstrates the power behind the Internet and social media. In Gossip Girl’s case, the media is so influential that it has the power to create the micro-celebrities of the Upper East Side. It also contributes to their drama-filled, social media driven lives, and even wreaks havoc as they attempt to transition into the professional world. Though Gossip Girl offers an escape to viewers, and the blog itself offers an escape for teenagers of the Upper East Side, there is no escape for this elite group. As long as “Gossip Girl”* exists, their actions will always be monitored, and the drama will continue.
*To differentiate between the television show, the blog on the show, and the blogger, the title of the show will be italicized (Gossip Girl), the title of the blog will be in quotes (“Gossip Girl”), and the blogger will now be known as GG.
Social Critique #1: Constant Internet and Social Media Use
In Gossip Girl, one of the social critiques is on Millennial’s constant Internet and social media use, their interest in gossip and inability to live in the moment. Gossip Girl is a reflection on how Millennial’s are often concerned with the lives of others, especially the lives of celebrities. Just as the blog is only important because readers give it importance, tabloids are only important because readers continuously purchase them. Just as Millennial’s do today, the main characters in Gossip Girl turn to a gossip blog as their main source of information. The show is mocking those who are fascinated with celebrity lifestyle, and anyone who instantly picks up “People” magazine rather than the “Wall Street Journal”.
In today’s society, due to technological advances, and the rise of new social media such as Instagram and Snapchat, people are so focused on capturing what they see and broadcasting it for others. It is difficult to not be tempted to take a #selfie at a concert, record your favorite song on your iPhone and not tweet about what an amazing performance it was. Today’s social media makes it so easy for individuals to think of themselves as mini-celebrities who feel as though other people care about what they are doing every moment of every day, and that they need to share information about their lives. The struggle of not living in the present and self-documentation is critiqued in Gossip Girl. Bystanders who witness gossip worthy events don’t just sit back and enjoy their impromptu first row seats. They feel obliged to capture the performance and send them to “Gossip Girl” to give others a chance to witness it as well.
Social Critique #2: Ability to Create Micro-Celebrities
The show also critiques how media has the power to create its own micro-celebrities. If it were not for that blog, the main characters in Gossip Girl would not be as important, or think they’re as important, as they are made out to be. Just as celebrities are created by the media, the celebrities of the Upper East Side are created by “Gossip Girl”. Readers interest were only sparked because the blogger wrote about them. Then readers sent in tips, and those got posted. Since more people started sending in tips, GG had a wide availability of information so more posts were written about this particular group. This cyclical cycle established the ‘It Crew’s’ important in the Upper East Side. “Gossip Girl” also mastered the art of the blogosphere by following the most basic rule: give readers what they want and they will keep coming back for more. Readers wanted more gossip about this group, and that is what she gave them.
Social Critique #3: Social Media as a News Outlet
Just as the blog can be compared to a tabloid magazine, the blasts that GG sent out are similar to the front page of a newspaper and the ‘Breaking News’ segment of a news broadcast. The front page of newspapers and the ‘Breaking News’ segment determine what readers and viewers consider the most important news. GG carefully crafts the blasts to highlight what she considers to be the hottest and most relevant gossip of the moment. Unlike newspapers or news broadcasts, the information released does not relate to the government, economics, or politics. “Gossip Girl” is a source for information about socialites and micro-celebrities. GG herself says in the title sequence of every episode, “Gossip Girl” is “your one and only source into the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s Elite”. She knows how important her blog is to her readers as a news outlet.
Social Critique #4: Social Media as a Source for Reliable Information
When trying to get information about another person, in Gossip Girl’s pilot episode Chuck asks his friends, “Anything about her on “Gossip Girl”?” In the Upper East Side, you are a nobody unless you are on this blog, and to become a somebody you need to be a member of this elite group. The same can be said about tabloids and the celebrities they include in their magazines. Are you really a celebrity if you haven’t made it onto the “Stars They’re just like us!” section of “US Weekly”? Instead of asking his friends, “Do you know anything about her?” Chuck is diminishing the value human knowledge, because he knows the Internet and social media will have more information than his friends. If you think about it, both do know more. Currently, on Facebook, users post their political views, their religious views, who their siblings are, where they were born, where they currently live, where they work, and how long they have worked there. Personally, no matter how long I have known someone, I cannot tell anyone all of that information about any of my friends. But on Facebook, that information is just one click away.
Social media is not only a source of information, but also a source of reliable information. The better technology becomes, the less human effort is needed to remember things. Instead of having to remember something, individuals can save the information online or in their smart phone and have it at their disposal whenever they need it. Humans will never forget what they were supposed to remember because they never had to remember it in the first place. Technology is replacing human memory, which is already unreliable since people can remember things that never occurred. AsJohn Locke explains,
“it is not [his] memory of an experience that makes it mine; rather, [he] remembers it only because it’s already [his]. So while memory can reveal [his] identity with some past experiencer, it does not make that experiencer [him]”.
There are real memories, which are the memories of an event that was experienced by the individual who remembers it, and then there are apparent memories, which are memories of an event that did not happen by the individual who remembers it. By asking his friends if there is any information about the mystery girl on “Gossip Girl”, although Chuck is asking about information from a gossip site, that gossip is considered more useful and reliable than any information he can get from than his friends. Both sources are biased anyway. This mocks today’s society where people easily do a Facebook or Google search to find out more information about someone else.
Social Critique #5: Surveillance
For there to even be information about someone, that individual must be under surveillance. This constant surveillance by “Gossip Girl’s” readers lead to the main characters being able to maintain a degree of performative control. They know that there is always someone watching them, and this knowledge allows them to deliberately stage their appearances. During pseudo-events when they purposely make an appearance in hopes of being blogged about, the main characters embody French poet Charles Baudelair’s flâneurs. They becomes the “individuals who come to the streets not to go anywhere in particular but in order to see and be seen… the flâneuris neither fully an exhibitionist nor fully a voyeur at any moment, but a little of both all the time.” There is calculated unintentionally with these characters; they put effort into coming off as effortless when they know they are being watched. Those in Gossip Girlhave brought Baudelaire’s flâneurs into the digital realm. Not only are they out to see and be seen, but their outing is reported online.
(and) Social Critique #6: Social Media as a Powerful Entity
The blogger behind “Gossip Girl” knows everything and due to her knowledge, she is the most powerful entity in the show. The mysterious blogger is always one step ahead of anyone else. She has all of their information, plus the information constantly being sent in by her readers. In the final season, “Gossip Girl” is not as important to the plot because the main characters are now out of college and are trying to make it in the professional world. Presumably, the blogger behind “Gossip Girl” no longer has enough free time to stir petty highschool drama like she used to. “Gossip Girl” also has competition, Nate’s daily newspaper “The Spectator” is slowly becoming a major news provider. “The Spectator” targets a more mature and young professional audience. By having “The Spectator” compete against the blog, “Gossip Girl” is mocking the importance of gossip is in today’s society. We never outgrow it, instead gossip finds a way to grow with us; the triviality hidden underneath the more mature source the information comes from. It’s one thing to get your celebrity gossip from “US Weekly”, and another to get it from the “New York Times”. In comparison to the “New York Times”, “US Weekly” is childish and immature. Correspondingly, “Gossip Girl” blasts are for immature high school teenagers, and “The Spectator” is for young professionals and adults.
Rewatching Gossip Girl through this lens made me feel giddy inside. It’s nice when you can make connections about society from television shows, and even nicer when you can relate something you learn in a classroom setting to something outside of the classroom. That’s what I hope to do with my life. I want to make connections and find a common theme between completely different subjects, and piece two and two together. After analyzing Gossip Girl, I probably won’t be rewatching it again anytime soon, but I’m still curious about Millennial’s and plan on continuing my research. I may have lost one of my favorite shows, but my passion for and interest in another topic has deepened… At least one good thing came out of this project.