Gossip Girl, love it, but it was pretty problematic

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Hey Upper East Siders. 

It’s been almost fourteen years since teen drama Gossip Girl first graced our television. The iconic show aired for six seasons, where we were introduced to beloved characters such as Serena van der Woodsen, Blair Waldorf, Dan Humphrey, Nate Archibald and Chuck Bass. And thanks to streaming services like Netflix and HBO Max, even after it ended in 2012, a whole new generation got to enjoy the experience of the Upper East Side.

I’ll also admit that I love Gossip Girl. I ran across it a couple years ago on Netflix, and binged all six seasons within a month. Never have I ever wanted to eat froyo on the steps of the Met Museum as much as I did when I watched that show. And you best believe I was all for the twisted friendship between Blair and Serena, the messy love triangles, the fall of Jenny Humphrey and had a major appreciation for all the designer clothes that I wanted but will never be able to afford. Bottom line is, I love me some Gossip Girl. But no matter how much that show has a place in my heart, even I have to admit that it was problematic AF.

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Hands down the biggest problem of the series was Chuck Bass. Billionaire playboy, Chuck Bass, was a hot mess for the whole first half of the series. In fact, to be completely honest, he was more of a sexual predator than a playboy. Namely because it appeared he couldn’t have consentual sex even if his life depended on it. Within the first episode our first introduction to the infamous Chuck Bass is him preying on an obviously intoxicated Serena Van Der Woodsen. The first big red flag was his conversation with his best friend, Nate Archibald, talking about his opinion on Serena’s beauty.

“There’s something wrong with that level of perfection,” Bass said. “It needs to be violated.” Yes, he actually used the word violated.  Now, in 2021, that would scream “lawsuit.” But of course back in 2007, that whole scene was barely even addressed. To make matters worse, his words were met with action where we saw him trying to force himself on Serena even though she very clearly did not want it. 

His behavior doesn’t get any better after he shifts his focus to 15-year-old Jenny Humphrey. He holds down her wrist and once again tries to force himself on her, even though she verbally and nonverbally said no. When Jenny’s brother, Dan Humphrey, stopped him and asked Chuck why he would do this, Chuck’s response was “it’s a party. Things happen.” I think it’s pretty clear why this whole situation is problematic, but we’re going to address it anyway.

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What we saw from Chuck Bass’s attempted rape scenes is another privileged white boy, sexually violating innocent girls and not ever being held accountable. The closest thing he faced to accountability was being sued for sexual harassment by a female employees at his hotel. But even then, the narrative was more focused on Chuck’s situation than the women, as if he was the one to be sympathized over. Chuck is the embodiment of the entitled and predatorial male in society that all parents warn their daughters to steer clear of. Yet he somehow ended up as the one of the favorited characters in the series?

Rather than address him as the predator that he is, his image was overshadowed by his complicated love life with Blair, and his struggling relationship with his father. Basically, as the series moved forward, he was uplifted as the rich and tragic hero who had to fight his way towards love and happiness. He was no longer the sexual predator to stay away from, but the sympathetic character that everyone was rooting for. He was put up on this pedestal and his hardcomings ended up negating his wrongdoings. 

Unfortunately, this whole situation is an accurate representation of reality. It’s pretty common to see men, especially men of higher class, have their problematic actions overlooked by other facets of their life. If the premise of Gossip Girl was based on realistic situations, then Chuck Bass’s storyline would be scarily on point. But it’s not based on reality. There lies the problem with Gossip Girl. The whole series is so unbelievably fiction, and so to use a real life problem such as sexual assault, and to not even address it is not okay. Not once was his aggressive behavior with Serena ever mentioned again. Beyond Jenny’s short period of discomfort around him, you never would have known he attempted to rape her had you not watched the episode.

In the age full of female empowerment, more women are stepping forward about their true experiences with harassment and sexual assault. When these situations are televised on camera, women need to be fully aware of what a dangerous situation looks like and the proper actions that need to be taken. While Gossip Girl’s depiction of sexual assault was realistic, it simaltaneously supported rape culture. When teen dramas incorporate these serious issues, the writers and producers have a responsibility to properly address said issues. Considering most of the viewers are teens and young adults, what we watch on television may have a bigger impression on us. While romanticizing characters like Chuck Bass may have been convenient for the story line, it was a morally irresponsible thing to do.

When we see characters like Chuck Bass not face any repercussions for what he did, not get told what he did wrong by his peers and not seem to face much regret towards Jenny and Serena, it tells the wrong message to all the young men that may aspire to be like Chuck Bass. Chuck Bass was loved by his friends, schemed with the same two women he attempted to assault and was even accepted into the family by Jenny’s father. If Gossip Girl wasn’t going to have Chuck face his actions, they had an amazing opportunity to explain why this accurate depiction of the lack of consequence men of high status face regarding sexual assault is problematic. But they didn’t do that either. It was very obvious that the Gossip Girl writers chose to convey a situation they were not properly prepared to take on. 

Image Source: Wiki Commons

While the lack of addressing Chuck Bass’s sexual assault attempts was the biggest problem of the series, there are a few other honorable mentions. Firstly, Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf was the biggest trainwreck of a relationship if I’ve ever seen one. To this day I see posts calling them “couple goals” but they absolutely don’t deserve that title and were totally toxic towards one another. Secondly, there was a big problem with the lack of diversity in the cast. Believe it not, there are other races, religions and ethnicities that are part of the top 1%. Lastly, they did their LGBTQ+ characters, or should I say character, so dirty. Number one, their was only one main gay character in the series, and of course he was depicted as a depressed gay teen where his homosexuality was an obstacle in life. (Why do television series love to depict gay charcaters are depressed and suicidal?) Number two, Eric van der Woodsen was wrongly outed without his consent and, once again, there weren’t any scenes that addressed why that wasn’t okay.

Fortunately, a reboot is in the making where hopefully the writers have learned their lesson. In 2021, most of the problems the OG Gossip Girl had, won’t cut it for today’s generation. As the digital world becomes more impressionable on the youth of today, the reboot has a chance to address real life issues while providing the proper ways they should be addressed. They also have an opportunity to show that relationships among the rich can also be healthy and non problematic. Everyone and everything doesn’t always have to be so manipulative and toxic. Let’s cross our fingers and hope that this version learned from the problematic ways of the OG.


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Janelle Sessoms

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