Screening Prompt: Gossip Girl

Drawing from your Blogging book, how does Gossip Girl envision the power of the blogger? The reader? The cultural participant? How do digital technologies translate into power struggles, and between whom?

What audience do you feel Gossip Girl is addressing, and in what way? What forms of invitiation for teleparticipation does Gossip Girl use? Do you think its invitational strategies are effective?

How might we read Gossip Girl as addressing/hailing a millennial audience? How might we read it as a representation of the millennial generation as contemporary (digital) media audience and/or author?

Building on our conversation on Monday, do you feel aspiration, nostalgia, generational recognition, or othering at play in your engagement with Gossip Girl?

11 thoughts on “Screening Prompt: Gossip Girl

  1. Mary-Caitlin Hentz

    It is said, and frequently proven, that audiences “watch up” – meaning that no one in college watches shows about college, and no one in high school watches shows about high school. Gossip Girl is no exception, the majority of it’s fan base is under 17, maintaining the series as a nexus of American yearning, not only in the nature of its demographic, but in it’s content and narrative structure as well.

    Gossip Girl is a program kept alive through aspiration; its very life-blood relies on the vicarious living out of wealth, social status, beauty, sex, adventure and ultimately, high school. The nature of this aspiration is do contingent on its “hip-ness,” its insatiable quest for cool, that it must be diligently monitored for up to the minute currency. Everything from pop-cultural references to fashion, from music to technology, evolves in a way that is meant to grow with the needs of its audience. The hyper-prevalence of cell phones and the internet as a means for instant communication speaks to a generation plagued by text gossip and drunk dialing fiascos, we can relate on many levels, to the world Blair Waldorf lives in, even if we can’t afford the Louboutins, the scene is similar.

    Furthermore it invites its viewers to connect on multiple platforms and trans-media levels with the perpetuate of webisodes, the book series that preceded the television show, fashion blogs following the styles showcased on the program and more.

    Yet something is inherently missing in my reception of Gossip Girl, and it’s not the cattiness, I went to an all girls private school on the east coast, chock full of over-privileged drama causing, boy stealing, silver spooned ladies – what alienated me the most was the lack of personal cultural-historical nostalgia; Gossip Girl seems to have very little respect for the past, its obsession with being current draws too much attention to its one-dimensional hip-ness. Call me old-fashioned, but Gossip Girl tries way too hard.

  2. Mark Whelan

    As far back as I can remember teenage, high school, melodrama television programming has existed. And whether it be watching reruns of Saved By the Bell, or guiltily watching The O.C. on DVD with kids who live on my hall, it is impossible to watch these shows without noticing the way in which cultures are represented in certain time periods. Watching, Gossip Girl for our class was the first time I had seen the show, but I was taken aback (although I probably shouldn’t have been considering the class) but how much the show was projecting a culture of “millenials” and the way in which technology is infused in their lives. To define them as millenials may be to broad, as the characters in the show do not represent all millenials but rather a sub-category of “teen-mill-enials.” The reason I make this distinction is because I would be remiss to lump early-thirty-year-old computer programmers and bloggers into the same category has the catty high school gossip texters that were depicted in the show. But I digress…

    The point I am trying to make is not how to define these characters, but rather what they are depicting on the show. Audiences watch a body of youth who are deeply attached to their mobile devices so as to stay in touch with up-to-the-minute information. As a community they are learning important (at least to them) information together at the same time. While this is a representation of a society and an audience that we live in now where everyone can receive real-time info at any given moment, I still think this is not the most important takeaways from the show.

    The first issue illustrated by our screening that I think is significant is the idea of power and the weight of what is posted on the world wide web. In one episode we are witness to gossip being posted online that results in student expulsion, parent uproar, and eventually faculty termination. In this way the episode really gives evidence to the power of the blogger in society. As simple as it is to post something on the internet (in this case it was done via text with no factual evidence given), the ramifications of that information being as public as it is are massive. This represents a time in our culture when there really is a struggle for power amongst many parties including, the press, the authorities, institutions, bloggers, and readers. We are in a transitional period where the rules are changing, and while the situation in Gossip Girl may be kind of insignificant and melodramatic the idea that is behind is much deeper and still unclear.

    The second message I took away from the Gossip Girl episodes screened for class is much less subtle. In the season finale we watched, where students try to expose who the Gossip Girl actually is, the episodes ends with Gossip Girl saying something along the lines of “you are all the Gossip Girl because without you this would not exist” (a bad paraphrasing perhaps). This addresses another idea that we have been examining which is the necessity of audience participation and read/write culture. The only reason why wikipedia, or heavily followed blogs, or transmedia practices work is because the community exists to fuel it. Unlike TV programming in previous generations Gossip Girl is addressing this need for audience participation, both in a large sense for our culture and also specifically for itself.

  3. Sofia Zinger

    Before watching my first episode of Gossip Girl when it was first airing, I had heard of the show and was interested in seeing what it was like. I am from New York and, though I did not go to private school and lived a completely different lifestyle, I was friends with a lot of kids who DID go to private school. I knew about the private school experience in New York and was interested in finding the parallels in this new show. After watching the episode, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. Not only did I not feel any nostalgia or mirroring of reality, but I felt that the show stereotyped New Yorkers and my generation as callous and extremely shallow.
    The characters portrayed in the show are not unintelligent; they just use their intelligence for very catty and underhanded means. I do experience some recognition in having known a few catty girls in my middle school years, but the show takes those girls and brings them to new extremes that turn them into caricatures. I feel a strange distance and surrealism to the show that I don’t think I should feel watching a show about NYC life. I have never encountered such malice in my life, and, as a New Yorker, I do not appreciate the image that is being perpetuated of us as cold and heartless.
    The only thing I could relate to is the attachment to cell phones that was in one of the episodes. I have been told that I have an unusually strong attachment to cell phones. An ex boyfriend told me I text too much, and I am constantly checking ESPN on my phone to see scores of football, soccer, basketball and other sports. I remember in high school, before I was even into sports and before I got a smart phone, I was just as attached and my school passed a rule saying cell phones weren’t allowed in school. There was a huge uproar from the student body and parents, but for different reasons. Students did not think it was fair that we were not allowed to use phones during our breaks in school and that they would be confiscated. Parents, on the other hand, looked at it from the point of view of safety issues. My school was three blocks from Ground Zero, and parents were afraid that they would not be able to communicate with their kids should there be another emergency situation.
    This attachment to available forms of communication was very clearly shown in the episode of Gossip Girl, which gave me a certain generational recognition. The only problem was that it still showed this issue and somehow turned it into an excuse for another malicious act. There is a clear formula for all of the episodes of Gossip Girl I have seen: Blair does something bitchy which could ultimately hurt Serena, who is supposed to be her best friend, drama ensues, Blair feels little to no remorse because she is so used to getting what she wants, and the cycle starts again. It has become predictable and, despite the fact that it is well written, it is hard for me to believe that the world is full of such selfish people. This is why I find it so hard to relate to the show, despite some qualities that I would normally be able to relate to.

  4. James Stepney

    Like my blog post, it’s rather intriguing and nostalgic watching a really blatant teenager show as Gossip Girl. For me, the show is a modern day hybrid that combines the old fashion drama of teenage classics, such as: 21 Jump Street, Melrose Place, and Beverly Hills, 90210 with episodic techniques and writing as many soap operas. The most compelling and significant method used with shows like Gossip Girl and Veronica Mars is its emphasis on the relationship with technology and the person. In fact, the considerable highlighting of cell-phones and computer access to the internet as essential elements comments on the culture referred to as the millennial generation. This generation is very tech savvy and is very ambitious in investigating platforms of information. In the show, the resemblance of many teenagers of the generation who dramatically depend upon the internet for accessing information that matters significantly to their culture becomes alluring. In effect an audience will eventually follow whatever simultaneously represents them as an individual and as a connected group. Thus, the mixture of representational “fictional” characters alongside soap opera-like content allows for authorship of the culture being represented.

  5. Ralph Acevedo

    I feel that Gossip Girl is clearly addressing the female millennial generation audience. Obviously, the story of the show tracks the lives of young tech savvy teenagers in terms of interpersonal melodrama and romance, which are themes and genres associated with feminine interests. Added to that, the narrative takes place in an upwardly mobile upper class environment: a private high school in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. In this way, Gossip Girl resembles the feminine fantasy world presented by many soap operas, where aspirational viewing works not only in terms of age but also in terms of class. Also, being a show about gossiping in the digital age, the show’s producers have clearly taken advantage of its success on the internet by leaking insider information about the show to its viewers, as indicated in the New York Magazine article, “The Genius of Gossip Girl.” I thought the episodes we watched were particularly interesting in terms of masculine representation. As a male watching a show that was overtly geared toward a female audience, I sensed that the male characters on the show felt off in some way. Perhaps it was because the male gaze, which I may or may not have been conditioned to in terms of consuming media narratives, was transformed into a female gaze for this show. Here, males rather than females were the objects of desire and love. Also, males appeared to be more concerned with interpersonal drama (fitting in with the genre format of the show) than is usually the case in most representations of masculinity, where men are people of action and not emotion.

  6. Toren Hardee

    This nature of the relationship between Millennial generation and the media made to target it (or should I say, us) is fascinating to me. It had never occurred to me that the complex, semi-ironic, semi-detached stance that permeates so much contemporary culture had made its way even into something as basic as the relationship between a demographic and the culture being sold to it.

    Watching Gossip Girl, I was certainly not aspiring towards the lifestyle of the characters on that show – the melodrama and absurd wealth – so I guess there was some degree of othering, of me distancing myself from the characters, going on. Though there probably was some element of me imagining, if not in an aspirational way, what my high school years would’ve been like if they were more like those of the characters on Gossip Girl, instead of the stable, undramatic times that they were.

    I doubt this sort of audience reception is unique to the Millenial generation, though; what seems more salient is an audience’s perception of their use of and interaction with technology, especially their relationship with the titular blog. I think part of the appeal of it is the fact that it’s reporting on their actual lives; it serves as a direct reflection, so even though it most says negative things about them, they keep coming back to it for the thrill of seeing themselves become spectacle. In a more indirect way, Gossip Girl as a series probably functions like this for Millenials; it certainly does not portray our relationship with technology as positive (it seems more addictive than anything, with constant texting and the mid-graduation ceremony blog update), but our generation sees some truth in that portrayal, which may keep some coming back to the show. However, an important thing to note is that the people who created both the book and TV series are much older than both the characters being portrayed and the audience it is marketed towards. Typically, the most true documents of the nature of a generation come from members of that generation itself, so this makes it clear that the goal is for it to sell well, and not really to try to capture the essence of a generation.

  7. Kenneth Grinde

    Since Gossip Girl came on the air, it seems like guys can’t talk about it without smirking. Indeed, as a 21-year-old male fan, my friends were none too keen to hear that I had started watching a show so clearly built for tweeny bopper girls giggling over the latest in millennial soap dramas.

    But is that really who this is made for? After reading New York Magazine’s article on the show, I can’t help but think the target market isn’t stereotyped giggling tweens, but in fact, Americans.

    I recently watched an interview with Ricky Gervais, where he addressed the differences between the British and American versions of “The Office.” He pointed out that for Americans, capitalism has always been a spectator sport, and we unequivocally glorify the winners. England and the rest of the world more often see economic success as something to be suspicious of, thus we have a few narrative conventions that can only be exploited within our national borders.

    Gossip Girl has figured these conventions out, and employs them to the nth degree. The fundamentals of the show address themes of social competition, wealth, and individualism. In other words, American archetypes in the archetypical American city. All the myths of the melting pot are contained: Dan and Sarena’s cross-class love, the usurping of royal power in Blair and Chuck’s inner circles, and of course the Humphreys’ embodiment of the American Dream – coming from nothing (Brooklyn, oddly enough) to the top of the social ladder via hard work, moral righteousness, and individual initiative.

    Thus it succeeds more than anything as an American show, and has only, in my opinion, been pegged as a tweeny bopper melodrama because of teen male characters as spectacle (something of an anomaly in modern TV) and the use of the word “Girl” in the title.

    As I see it, the tabloid aspects of the show vetted by Pressier and Rovzar do not point out the core draw of the story, but in fact act as a commentary to the greater theme of social structure and wealth. The show isn’t based entirely off of tabloid literature surrounding the characters and actors, it is also about the greater idea of life at the top – of the particular experience that comes with being famous in America. This is not simply voyeurism, but a deeper look at the psychology of success: the interest that comes from seeing someone dehumanized and humanized at the same time.

    Thus I question the assumption that Gossip Girl is purely televised tabloids, built for the traditionally young female tabloid consumer, because I think it draws on much larger themes to invoke aspirations of the American Dream, and presents ideas that a diverse audience could engage if it looked past assumptions about the show and saw the deeper structures at play.

    XOXO, Ken.

  8. Rajwinder Kaur

    There is no question that Gossip Girls is addressing a millennial audience through its fashion sense, teenage issues of sex love and drugs, and finally its constant use of the same technology this audience has grown up with. If you have not seen the series, just watch the final episode of the last season. At the Constance Billard graduation, Serena, the show’s lead, makes a bold fashion choice of wearing her tassel on her hair, losing the graduation cap entirely. In this same scene, a gossip girl update causes the phones of the entire graduating class to ring. Too entranced with the update, the students do not even stand at the end of the ceremony. Of course the texts are related to the personal lives of the shows leads, which are, lives full of secret relationships and affairs. This romanticized lifestyle is the show’s appeal that cuts across audience types. The presence of technology is what situates the show into reality.
    Naturally, everyone does not live in the same ritzy world of Blair, Serena, Chuck and Nate. Instead, I would argue that the millennial audience can be best seen through the eyes of Jenny Humphrey. The daughter of a retired Brooklyn musician, Jenny is the underclassman whose only desire is to be part of the wealthy inner circle. However, by the final episode, she wants to penetrate this circle only to topple the social hierarchy. Jenny, like the millennial audience, is attracted to this lifestyle, but sees the contradictions within it.
    More generally, there is continuity amongst all the characters on the show across episodes, and that is the technological savvy of all millennials. The characters on the show use (abuse?) texting and the internet to such a large degree that we must see these as invitational strategies. The CW has launched text-to-win contests and advertisements with text message abbreviations such as “OMG” and “WTF” (Harnick). These on and off screen strategies hail the millennial audience by not only depicting an aspect of reality they are familiar with, but also asking them to engage with it. The invitation lies in speaking the language of the audience through the devices they too utilize.

  9. Brendan Mahoney

    Gossip Girl, one of The CW’s flagship programs, is based off of the popular young adult lit series of the same name. Though it background may suggest one audicence, and on the surface, may seem to be targeted toward young girls in a conventional manner, it’s relationship with its audience is much more nuanced. It does not merely address its audience through characters of a similar age, but through invitations to teleparticipate and cross-generational appeal.

    Blogging and technology are central themes to Gossip Girl. Every character owns a cell phone and every time Gossip Girl writes a new post, everyone is instantly notified. In many ways their lives revolve around their online reputation. The show’s dependence on the technologies of today may not lend itself to timelessness, but it does add to its appeal to today’s interconnected youth (and adults for that matter.) While Gossip Girl reflects aspects of teenage adolescence, the aspirational phenomenon of teenage media consumption ensures that the show has an influential power as well. By portraying constant connectivity, it encourages this type of behavior. The creators of Gossip Girl have harnessed their audiences technological savvy through teleparticipation portals through blogs, Second Life, and online forums. The CW actually runs a blog that functions similarly to the titular blog in the show’s universe. Viewers are encouraged to use technological means to connect with the show and each other.

    Much of the show’s appeal (and money-generation) comes from escapist enjoyment. While the lives of the characters on Gossip Girl are filled with drama, gossip and heartbreak, they wear the trendiest clothes, live in Manhattan and go to the most exclusive parties. The lives the lead are unobtainable for the vast majority of teenage girls, yet for one hour each week, they are able to cavort with Manhattan’s elite. And it’s not just escapism for teenage girls. Jessica Pressler and Chris Rovzar of New York Magazine and senior editors of “The Daily Intel,” a blog on They frequently write recaps and news concerning the show, but they also write about their own involvement. They describe the show as a “a wealth-eye view of the city, but because it is a cartoon we can laugh along with the conspicuousness of the consumption. … The show mocks our superficial fantasies while satisfying them, allowing us to partake in the over-the-top pleasures of the irresponsible superrich without anxiety or guilt or moralizing.” This type of entertainment is appealing to all ages, even if it’s satirical edge is lost on some.

  10. Patricia

    The narrative structure of Gossip Girl mimics the structure of a blog–in the beginning, there is a voiceover of a girl telling the story of the characters in the show. She is anonymous–we the audience do not know who she is. Bloggers on the internet can choose to remain anonymous by either not posting an author or publishing under an alias. The alias in the show for the anonymous narrator is also the title of the show–gossip girl. Because the show’s narrator is anonymous it makes one wonder if everything is either completely honest or somewhat biased because of who the narrator might be. Because we are watching from the audience’s perspective and things are being revealed to us that are not made known to the characters of the show, we are granted a strange admittance into this world. Gossip girl is a show that is very tailored toward our generation due to the contemporary issues that are addressed and the manner in which they come up. Texting, e-mails, and other forms of new communication play a big role, as many of the characters interact with each other in that way. The social hierarchy within high schools is especially highlighted–Gossip Girl is no Saved by the Bell or even One Tree Hill. Gossip Girl addresses teens in high school; however, I am not comfortable guessing the way in which the characters are promoted. They are either portrayed in a negative light or in a negative light that some teens still wish to aspire to, if that makes sense. Having come from a New York City prep school and living in an environment comparable to that of Gossip Girl, watching the television series frustrates me on various levels. The most pertinent of these is that although I do personally know a select few that are similar to the character of the show, Gossip Girl creates a stereotype that everyone who is a part of that particular scene is like the characters of the show, and that is not the case. On my arrival to Middlebury, the show’s popularity was just taking off and many people were very interested in the dynamics of private school life in New York City–dynamics that I was not particularly interested in discussing as my goal was to distance myself from whatever skewed views they held.

  11. Joshua Aichenbaum

    Gossip Girl’s Paradox

    Gossip Girl can encourage its viewer to aspire to be like the show’s characters, but more likely causes its fans to enjoy and, at the same time, disdain and embody the delight the characters take in manipulating social hierarchies. In the show’s pilot there are two central storylines that play off these themes. The first of the two is about solitary Daniel Humphrey finally taking the popular sweetheart of his dreams out on a date. The second is about his sister Jenny, a freshman, who is invited to an exclusive high school dance. What is interesting about these two parallel storylines is that both are about normal, although abnormally beautiful, teens being promoted from their former lowly social position. Daniel rises from melancholic loner to refreshingly charming boyfriend. Meanwhile, Jenny wins an invitation to the party by creating and distributing the rest of the invitations. She not only gains access but also decides who else gains access. At first glance, these two characters serve the narrative due to their identifiableness. The viewer sympathizes with them and experiences their pleasures vicariously. They encourage the viewer’s aspirations, for their initiation into the in-group is ostensibly painless. But their initiation soon sours. Consequences emerge. Chuck Bass, a womanizing teen with an outlandish fashion sense, attempts to rape Jenny at the party. Daniel must curtail his date’s planned activities to come to his sister’s rescue. Thus, their initiation into the in-group is made ugly by the group’s less than attractive character. The group’s makeup, composed of wealthy, self-righteous prep-schoolers, begs the viewer to reconsider his or her former aspirations. The viewer asks, “Do I actually want to be part of this group or do I just want to superficially observe, gossip and condemn their actions from the safety of my couch?” The final result is a catch-22. If the viewer watches in hopes of aspiring to be like the show’s protagonists, the result is that the viewer is left out of the inner circle and is forced to be an observer. The viewer becomes the equivalent of the former Daniel, watching his desired object from behind a glass, or pixilated, barrier. If the viewer desires the opposite and chooses to bask in the beauty of derisive criticism, the viewer ends up reenacting the characters’ foibles. The viewer becomes a gossip girl, regardless of his gender. By becoming so, the viewer perpetuates rumor. He or she inadvertently rises into the show’s inner circle and increases the life of the gossip-making Gossip Girl machine; the show becomes more popular. In sum, although the characters’ wealth, attractiveness, and identifiableness causes many viewers to aspire to be like the show’s protagonists, those who aspire earnestly and solely earnestly forever remain outside of the popular clique. Only those who are willing to have a hate-love relationship with the show and its characters on a regular basis are able to become what those others oh-so-dearly aspire to.

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