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Revisiting ‘Gossip Girl,’ 15 Years Later

Culture

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When I first laid eyes on a copy of Cecily von Ziegesar’s debut Gossip Girl novel I was 14 years old, in braces, and on the perilous cusp of young adulthood, just a couple years younger than the book’s characters, but living in a completely different world. 

I was standing in the aisle between the YA and psychology sections inside Barnes & Noble, the closest thing I had to a cool kid hangout in my small Southern town. I was probably clutching a sugar-laden Frappuccino from the in-store Starbucks when I caught sight of a cover featuring three glossy, mystery teens. Their faces were obscured, they had razor-straight hair, bare decolletages, and skin that seemed to glow from within. They were laughing, heads tucked in toward each other conspiratorially, and wearing party clothes the likes of which didn’t exist within a hundred-mile radius of my local mall. A small stack of delicate gold bangles hung just-so from one of their wrists. I slurped my melting Frappuccino. I wanted to know these bitches. 

As the type of girl who was painfully aware of what everyone thought of me—especially bookstore sales associates—I grabbed a copy of the paperback and supplemented it with fresh copies of The New Yorker and The Economist. “I am a budding intellectual whose taste only occasionally veers into the sordid, and only under the guise of an ironic ‘beach read,’” my purchases said. (The B&N sales associate didn’t even make eye contact ringing up my purchases.) Upon getting home, I retreated into the collage-plastered hidey-hole of my bedroom and read it, well, like a teen: voraciously and in one sitting. 

Looking back on it now, the novel has proven to be a perfect time capsule of New York City at the turn of the 21st century. The rich teens of the Upper East Side are introduced as not only having huge apartments and unlimited access to money and booze but also their own phone lines. Blair has a schedule so laden with extracurriculars that “her Palm Pilot was always running out of memory,” and sweetly burns a special CD for the first time she has sex with Nate. (Said CD includes seminal J.Lo hit, “My Love Don’t Cost a Thing.”) One of Blair’s hapless henchmen, Kati, is caught returning a pink camo handbag at Barneys after cohort Isabel deems “all those animal prints and military shit” to be out of vogue. Out at one of the many bars in which bartenders apparently serve teenagers without batting an eye, Serena orders a Cosmo and a bartender lights her cigarette. Her cigarette, which she smokes inside a cocktail bar in New York City. Time capsule, indeed. 

Other parts of the book, however, are timeless—for better or worse. In one passage, von Ziegesar’s deliciously catty narrator (the titular Gossip Girl) describes what sounds like a pretty accurate prototype of the modern fuckboy, whom she calls “the Waspoid.” He has money, he’s handsome, and maybe he knows how to sail, but the Waspoid doesn’t invest himself in anything or anyone. “He isn’t a go-getter and he never says what’s on his mind. He doesn’t take risks, which is what makes it so risky to fall in love with him.” Speaking of fuckboys, there’s also Dan, who sulks on park benches with cigarettes, coffee, and French translation of Camus. He’s “rockstar-thin,” because—as our omniscient narrator explains—“existentialism has a way of killing your appetite.” 

And, like many enduring YA novels, Gossip Girl touches on subjects that transcend social caste, though sometimes clumsily so: Blair struggles with a form of eating disorder that apparently others know about but no one acknowledges. Lovably awkward Jenny struggles with her changing body, though, in retrospect, I have to roll my eyes at how absurdly unfairly her poor boobs are treated throughout the book. (A 34D bra size isn’t obscene, you guys!). Perhaps most notably, the novel concludes with Jenny being rescued from Chuck’s predatorial groping—a scene that was “gross” when I first read it as a teen, but, upon revisiting as an adult, now reads as “literal sexual assault.” Truth is, amidst the hierarchies, nastiness, and, yes, gossip, being a teen is tough—even for the cashmere-clad kids who intern with Oscar de la Renta. 

For someone growing up in a small-ish Southern city where wealth was mostly displayed via head-to-toe Lilly Pulitzer, this book represented a portal to a whole new world. A bitchy, kitschy, shamelessly campy world, but a new and exciting one nonetheless. (And any restless, sulky, hometown-resenting tween knows the value of a good portal.) Sprinkled between the dramatic hijinks and over-the-top dialogue of Blair, Serena, and company, was a florid, exhilarating new lexicon: Cartier cuff bracelets! Long-sleeved Pucci dresses! The mysterious allure of starring in a Drakkar Noir commercial overseas! (The latter is mentioned among the credentials of the notoriously horny, “aftershave-commercial handsome” Chuck, to whom we’re introduced in the first chapter.) Up until reading, I’d never heard of Barneys in my life; in this book, it’s cited no fewer than 14 times. 

Reading Gossip Girl certainly didn’t turn me into a designer-wearing Constance Billard would-be, but it did introduce me to the concept of blatantly conspicuous consumption; luxury fashion is practically its own character in the book, and I was transfixed by the power one could attain simply by spending money. There was nary a stitch of Pucci in my closet, but I do distinctly recall dialing up the internet on a school library computer to peruse a selection of pink logo-plastered Christian Dior Girly bags on eBay, just to see whether I could maybe one day afford one. It could be, I imagined, my future entree into holding court in my designer cocktail hour finery with those shiny-legged girls on the cover, talking shit, with my thin gold bracelets dangling ever so slightly off my wrist.   

Of course, that long ago dream faded fast enough. It was replaced by my reality of living in a big city, which would prove not to be very much like Gossip Girl at all. And that’s okay, because, looking back now, I can now see that these Girly bags were absolutely heinous. I guess some luxuries just don’t age well. 

Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images

Sounds fake, but okay

In a new interview for Australian Vogue, Kendall Jenner makes the claim that being associated with the Kardashian name was a setback in her modeling career. Hmmm, that's funny, because power and influence usually works in their holder's favor.

In the interview, Jenner addresses skeptics who doubted that she would make it as a professional model. "A lot of people assumed that because I came from a 'name' that it was a lot easier for me to get to where I got, but actually it's the completely opposite," she says.

"I've always been the person to prove [critics] wrong, even when I was younger," she says. "I've always been a hard worker: that's in my blood. My parents raised me and my little sister to be that way and the rest of my sisters, too." In the profile, it's revealed that Jenner used to attend castings "simply as 'K' or 'Kendall' to distinguish herself from her famous family."

But keeping her name off her portfolio wasn't going to fool anyone, really. Her face has been on television for years, and it seems unlikely that a casting agent wouldn't know who she was even if Kendall didn't come out and say it. Perhaps Jenner was more closely examined and more readily criticized by people who doubted her, but I'm not sure I believe that she had a harder time gaining a modeling platform or booking big jobs, even if she didn't use her last name.

After all, Jenner was likely able to get into those big casting rooms right away because of her family's connections, and she was able to devote her time to pursuing that career because of the wealth they have. She would've had a much harder time making a name for herself if she didn't come from an influential family. She probably wouldn't get to be so selective about which shows she walks, and she definitely wouldn't be the highest paid model in the world.

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Screenshot via Hulu

Introspection is not a bad thing

In Look Back at It, we revisit pop culture gems of the past and see if they're still relevant and worthy of their designated icon status in our now wildly different world.

"It just seems like you agree to have a certain personality or something, for no reason. Just to make things easier for everyone. But when you think about it, I mean, how do you know it's even you?"

Iconic '90s show My So-Called Life is filled with existential questions and observations like this, with many, if not all of them, voiced by high school sophomore Angela Chase (Claire Danes). They're delivered with a familiarly annoyed tone, as if Angela can't believe things are the way they are, and that they're unlikely to change.

Angela lives with her parents and sister in a comfortable home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and spends her time navigating the social scene of Liberty High School. She's undergoing a big change, having switched friend groups and fallen in with a cooler crew, namely Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer) and Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz). Thanks to them, Angela dyed her hair from blonde to a "Crimson Glow," and is encouraged to indulge in her obsession with Jordan Catalano (a pre-Gucci Jared Leto), the kind of guy who's constantly applying Visine and has a limited chance of actively graduating.

From the first moment of the first episode, Angela's voice is pure, unadulterated teen angst. The melodrama can, when watching as an adult, feel like it's too much. And then there's other times, like when Angela talks about the agony of Sunday evenings, that it feels unnerving to relate so much to a 15-year-old:

"There's something about Sunday night that really makes you want to kill yourself, especially if you've just been totally made a fool of by the only person you'll ever love, and you have a geometry midterm on Monday, which you still haven't studied for because you can't, because Brian Krakow has your textbook, and you're too embarrassed to even deal with it. And your little sister's completely finished with her homework, which is just, like, so simple and mindless a child could do it. And that creepy 60 Minutes watch that sounds like your whole life ticking away."

Angela is nothing if not an over-thinker, preoccupied with very teenage problems like zits and gossip and who to talk to at parties; her thoughts on the most simple of relationships are extreme, like when she thinks about how she felt before she became friends with Rayanne and Rickie: "it seemed like if I didn't, I would die or something."

Sometimes, her melodrama feels suffocating—particularly when related to Jordan Catalano (it's imperative to say both his names). Angela wonders: "Huge events take place on this earth every day. Earthquakes, hurricanes... even glaciers move. So why couldn't he just look at me?"

As an adult, it's easy to think that, of course, Jordan should look at her: She's smart, witty, open-hearted, pretty, has good taste in music. But then, there's no way to make sense of how crushes work. As a sophomore in high school, I also pined after guys who I felt were out of my league, and after the only girls who were out... but who were dating each other. My thoughts probably (definitely) sounded a lot like Angela's, and I was similarly dissatisfied with my life.

At the time, that dissatisfaction felt oppressive—and I wouldn't want to relive it entirely. But that introspection was also what saved me. By questioning what was around me and interrogating how I really felt, I was able to reject the trappings of my conservative town, figure out my own politics, and accept my own queerness. My teenage dissatisfaction with the way things actually are made me grow as a person, and it shaped me into who I am. Thinking about Angela now, and how her angst fueled her, reminds me that I should also let myself indulge in some teen angst—even as an adult.

In one of the show's final episodes, Angela pauses to reflect on the value of her overthinking. She's ringing in the New Year with her friends and decides her resolution could be "to stop getting so caught up in my own thoughts, because I'm like way too introspective… I think." But she decides against that idea, because "what if not thinking turns me into this really shallow person?" Same, Angela. Same.

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Courtesy of HBO

Thanks, I hate it

In an interview today with The Cut, Vanderpump Rules star Stassi Schroeder blessed readers with some of her thoughts on HBO's Game of Thrones, and since we can't get enough GoT talk, we were excited to see what Schroeder had to say.

And, in case you're wondering if Schroeder is a fan of GoT, don't: She's actually such a massive fan that she refers to her fans Khaleesis, and they call her Khaleesi right back. So!

Anyway, after the wide range of responses to Daenerys' fiery mayhem in the show's penultimate episode, The Cut wanted to check in to see how Schroeder was faring, and ask what she thought of it all. While Schroeder's opinion on Dany is mixed (she found the Dragon Queen's "crazy" actions to be relatable, but she didn't think it followed Dany's character arc), it wasn't, like, a bad opinion, just a bit muddled, if not so different than those of the majority of viewers.

Schroeder's real hot take, though—what we feel comfortable calling the worst GoT opinion we've heard—is about another character altogether: Arya Stark. Here's what Schroeder had to say about our favorite blacksmith-banging, Night King-killing, proposal-denying assassin in all the Seven Kingdoms: "Arya, I feel like she probably should have just married whats-his-name [Ed. note: Gendry! His name is Gendry!!]. What's wrong with being a lady and a badass at the same time? You don't have to choose just one."

And, like, sure, you don't have to choose just one, but Arya would never choose to be a lady. That's not her! So, if we're still talking about characters behaving inconsistently, Arya saying yes to a proposal (a rushed one at that) would have been absolutely bonkers. Arya's not about to change her entire personality just because some dude drops down on one knee and proposes, and to want her to do so would be like wanting Dany to act like a sheep, instead of a dragon.

All to say, you know nothing, Stassi Schroeder.

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hoto by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for Civic Entertainment Group

Our favorite grouchy girl died today

Today is a sad day, because it is the day Grumpy Cat died. Also known as my personal favorite feline celebrity, Grumpy Cat died from complications following a urinary tract infection. The super relatable cat—real name, Tardar Sauce—was only seven years old.

Grumpy Cat was first introduced to the world in 2011, back when LOLcats were everywhere. Grumpy Cat's downturned face (the result of feline dwarfism, according to her owners) was the subject of a huge amount of memes—she was even the 2013 Meme of the Year at the Webby Awards—and was the subject of her own Lifetime movie, in which she was voiced by the Grumpy Cat of actresses, Aubrey Plaza. But, though we loved her for the memes, we loved her even more because we related to her mood.

Grumpy Cat was so relatable because, like us, she was completely over everyone's bullshit. Unlike us, Grumpy Cat didn't hide her feelings with a smile. And while that was because Grumpy Cat literally couldn't do that, we like to think that she also just didn't want to do the emotional labor. Which is why, in honor of Grumpy Cat, have the courage to roll your eyes at someone today, instead of forcing a fake grin. And just think about how Grumpy Cat's probably frowning at us from some sort of kitty afterlife, utterly annoyed that everyone is mourning her death.

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Screenshot via YouTube

And I need to see the rest ASAP

As excited as we already are for Olivia Wilde's directorial debut, Booksmart, to hit theaters next week, we just got even more desperate to see it. Why? Well, the first six minutes of the film were just released, and every minute is incredible.

The film opens on Molly (Beanie Feldstein) meditating and listening to a motivational tape telling her she's better than everyone else, and to "fuck those losers." Her room is decorated with pictures of Michelle Obama and RBG, so we know her head is in the right place. We learn she's the class president when she arrives at school with her best friend, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever).

It's there that we get a glimpse of the social hierarchy in which Molly and Amy exist—but somewhere down near the bottom, way below the popular kids, the theater nerds, the stoners, and even the annoying class clown.

The film officially hits theaters on May 23, but Annapurna Pictures is holding advanced screenings across the country today, May 17—we're actually holding two of them! So, if you're in L.A. or New York, check them out.

But also, you can watch the first six minutes of the film, below, and prepare yourself to watch the whole movie in a week.

BOOKSMART | Uncut First 6 Minutes www.youtube.com

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