Entertainment

Gossip Girl Was Never Just for Girls

A Reflection from an Unlikely Fan on the Occasion of the Show's Tenth Anniversary

By Sam Eichner ·
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Photo: TheCW

I studied abroad in France for six months my junior year of college, sharing a dingy one-bedroom apartment with an American friend in the middle of the maze of streets that shape Aix-en-Provence, a university town 30 minutes north of Marseille. Studying journalism, but mostly toiling with works of pretentious short fiction, I was still negotiating the idea of what a writer waswho he should be, how he should act, what he should wear and drink and read and watch. France, with its nostalgia-driven literary history (Midnight in Paris, I believe, had just come out), only served to further romanticize these lofty notions. I worked through a collection of Hemingway’s short stories. I began smoking cigarettes. I drank cheap red cooking wine. I took walks but thought of them as strolls. I wrote in parks. I sipped espressos at cafés, contenting myself with vaguely poetic observations about the stylish people marching by. And I binge-watched Gossip Girl, seasons one through four, at an alarming rate.

The show, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this month, was the ur-series of the social media age. It centered around the extraordinary goings-on of uber-rich Upper East Side high-schoolersin particular, best frenemies Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) and Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester)and the anonymous "Gossip Girl," a renegade paparazzo in the mold of TMZ who would publish their every misstep and scandal online. Looking back, it seems to have presaged the world teens occupy now, where an arsenal of tools (Snapchat, Instagram, the like) threaten to transform everyone’s friend group into a reality show produced for public consumption. At the time, however, Gossip Girl was perceived as mere junk food for teenage girls, who obsessed over the protagonists high-end clothing, lavish homes and hunky male love interests.

What, then, was a straight, college-aged male such as myself doing wasting numerous hours he could’ve been out exploring a European city cooped up in an apartment eating convenience store tortellini and illegally streaming The CW?

The fan base doesn’t reflect this, of course, but as much as Gossip Girl (and, similarly, The O.C.) was about a cadre of uber-rich socialite fashionistas, it was also about a writerly outsider trying to sleep with the popular chick. Dan Humphrey, nicknamed "Lonely Boy," embodied by Penn Badgley, was more or less the platonic ideal of an aughts-era white male heterosexual scribe: naturally fit, lazily stylish, sardonically witty, charmingly neurotic and, most of all, undeniably talented (not to mention, a social media-savvy Brooklynite). Like the supposed male viewer of Gossip Girl, he was both complicit and once-removed, abrasively critical of the circle of which he was to become more and more a part. Dan was, in my mind, the portrait of the writer as a postmodern young man.

It’s a wonder more guys like me"lonely boys," let’s call us, before collectively retiring as humansnever caught on. While I would never suggest that the goal of creating art is to get laid, Humphrey offered living testimony that nice-guy wit and sensitivity, not muscles or wealth or swagger, could win over even the most materialistic of girls. This is an old trope, to be sure. But it held a fresh appeal for me, then, particularly because it hit me at a time in my life when I alternately romanticized writing and questioned doing it at all. Truth be told, I struggled to find kinship with those canonical male literary titans, like Hemingway or Fitzgerald; they were associated with a bygone era. Yet here was an image of a relatively normal (albeit fictional) teenager living in the present day, who was not only unabashed about his ambitions as a writer, but had received legitimate affirmation of his talent, both personally and professionally. It was weirdly, embarrassingly inspiring.

That Dan would later turn out to be (spoiler alert) Gossip Girl, thereby undermining some of the character traits that made him so likable, is besides the point; those first few seasons, watching from France, Dan Humphrey was for me what Entourage’s Vincent Chase was for frat bros. In the first season alone, he goes from being the most unpopular kid at school to dating Serena van der Woodsen (the Serena van der Woodsen), partly due to the fact that his short story, which he wrote about her, gets published in The New Yorker. I will say this right now, without even the slightest hint of irony: to an aspiring fiction writer such as myself, there was no greater prospect than getting the story you wrote about some gorgeous, unattainable dreamgirl published in a major periodical, only to have her read it and fall madly in love with you. (In my heart of hearts, no matter how insufferable it sounds, I’m still foolishly hoping this event will come to pass.)

So, ten years after its initial release, I’m offering this as an extremely low-stakes confession. May we, the silent male majority of Gossip Girl viewersproudly wear our love for GG on our Netflix queues. Let us revel in the glory of Rufus’s waffles. Let us rewatch this supercut of Chuck Bass saying "I’m Chuck Bass." Let us be lonely boys, together.

Sam Eichner likes literature, reality television and his twin cats equally. He has consistently been told he needs a shave since he started growing facial hair.

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