So 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?