Gossip Girl, here. Your one and only source into the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite.
And boy was it ever. Even prior to the debut of the television series in 2007, I was what you’d call a fangirl. My middle school friends and I would each buy a copy of the series, share it and immediately discuss how we wish we could rendezvous in St. Barths with our own real-life Nate Archibald, thus creating an infantile version of a book club.
My love for young adult series extended to The Clique, The A-List and The Au Pairs, each stories about privileged teenagers romping around at summer camp, Beverly Hills and The Hamptons, respectively, with largely absent parents and seemingly endless bank accounts. But Gossip Girl always took the cake. For a sixth grader living in the suburbs of Orlando, it was mesmerizing. Our bikinis were Target, theirs Missoni. They went to the Hamptons, we went to Cocoa Beach.
“What are the ‘three B’s’?” I asked my mom, referencing Blair’s penchant for Bergdorfs, Barneys and Henri Bendel. A New York native, my mom helped to complement my introduction into the world of Manhattan, however weary about the content of what I was reading.
It was like a drug. Restlessly waiting for my friends to finish the next book, I would beg her for my next fix, a trip to Barnes and Noble to purchase the next copy, which I would devour in less than a day. Spanning ten books that retailed at ten dollars a piece, my addiction was not cheap.
“Can’t you read a real book?” my mom would plead, begging to put me on to something with genuine literary merits.
“At least I’m reading,” I snapped back.
And then the television series came along and changed the game. While the first episode attempted to stay true to the book, there were major inconsistencies. Jenny Humphrey, supposedly a short, double D cup brunette, appears as Taylor Momsen, a skinny, flat-chested blonde. But it proved not to matter. Blake Lively, Leighton Meester and the entire cast became style icons in their own right, tourists flooded the now-infamous Met steps and people asked anyone they knew at Nightingale Bamford, the Upper East Side day school and alma matter of author Cecily von Ziegesar and of which the series was loosely based, if their “world” was truly like that.
Gossip Girl fever took the world, at least the teenage sect of it, by storm. Cleve House hosted live viewing parties –a boys dorm at my East Coast boarding school, which housed its fair share of boys who could have fit the bill for the “elite” Gossip Girl attempted to portray: they lived in the Upper East Side, vacationed in the Hamptons and proudly sported their L.L. Bean Boots and Barbour jackets. Real-life “gossip girls” emerged on Facebook, eager to function as “omniscient stand-ins for our voyeuristic selves” by publishing the latest hearsay with thinly veiled initials, bringing the over-the-top escapism of the show to reality.
As I reminisce on the heyday of Gossip Girl, which has most recently manifested itself in binge watching a few seasons, I begin to ask myself about its appeal. Unlike gossip magazines, which leave me feeling sort of dirty and a dumber version of myself (“Celebrities, they’re just like you!” with photos of Jennifer Aniston grocery shopping or “Celebrities without makeup” featuring images of a bare-faced Kim Kardashian), I leave feeling astonished and amused because despite all its showiness and insistence upon exclusivity, Gossip Girl is effective social satire, producing caricatures of New York archetypes: the hipster Brooklyn father, the Wall Street embezzler and the poor little rich kids searching for a place in the social hierarchy.