Wow, so, OK, my weekly post on Gossip Girl is almost a week late. Since Belinkie and I are watching tonight’s episode together, which will probably provide fodder for any number of posts (especially considering the day’s financial meltdown), I should probably push this out, huh? For those just now catching up on this series, last week I saw a problem with Gossip Girl. To recap and summarize:
Gossip Girl‘s unique claim on our attention — allowing us vicariously to enjoy stratospheric displays of wealth (leaving aside the scantily clad nubile young things, which are on offer elsewhere) — is inherently at odds with its status as a teen soap opera.
The attraction of great wealth is that, at least in theory, it elevates one above the striving, disappointments, and compromises which the non-wealthy must endure. This is why, as F. Scott Fitzgerald points out, wealth changes the wealthy, replacing one kind of toughness, born of character-building deprivation, with another, a contempt for those who have not enjoyed similar advantages.
But this substitute toughness is at odds with the dramatic necessities of soap opera, which demands that everyone act like an adolescent. (With all the musical beds, copious drinking, and absent parents, we can be forgiven for forgetting that the characters are, in fact, nominally adolescents.) You can’t be hardened by life in the upper crust and still pout and sigh like a petulant child when your boyfriend doesn’t call you.
This is all complicated by our relationship to television, over which we exert a kind of sadomasochistic intimate mastery. The point of the wealth represented on Gossip Girl is that you don’t have it. But the point of television is that you do have it, and with TiVo you have it whenever you want it.
This week, I am taking up that other influence, besides riches beyond the dreams of avarice, on our poor little rich girls and boys: their parents. Needless to say, the outlook is bleak. Spoilers after the jump.
I am astonished — even compared to last season — at the almost total absence of parents on the show. They are alluded to, but they barely show up on screen. They don’t even fulfill the dramatic function parents are supposed to fill in teen soaps — providing arbitrary restrictions on the coming and goings of the kids, leading to entanglements that give rise to the plot. There are no restrictions on these kids — they have totally unchecked access to clothes, transportation, food, sex, alcohol — and the parents behave more like teenagers.
In the parent of the year sweepstakes, the second runner up is Dan and Jenny’s father. Rufus is back from his band’s tour (they were big in the nineties, and are enjoying a nostalgic resurgence), and he’s contemplating going out on another one (leaving his kids alone for the semester). But wait, don’t dial child services just yet: A sentimental glance at a picture of his kids reminds him that there might be something to this parenting thing after all.
Representing Nate discovers that his father’s flight from Federal prosecution for embezzling has resulted in his family’s assets being frozen. His mother has kept this from him (to “protect him”) all summer in the Hamptons, but can’t keep up the charade when Nate returns home and finds g-men gleefully raiding the townhouse. Clearly, parental resourcefullness is called for, so naturally Mom turns to another kid, Nate’s best friend Chuck, to bail the family out. (Another reminder that money, not seniority, is the real status marker here.)
But the “swimming with the kiddies” award — most attentive parent, in a perverse way — has to go to Nate’s, um, lover, who turns out to be a duchess (by marriage) and the step-mother of Blair’s love-interest. (Never mind the convoluted relationship. A kid is boning another kid’s stepmom. She’s *gasp* 40.)
I suppose the logical extreme of the kids acting like adults and the adults acting like kids — they’re irresponsible, rash, self-involved — is that the adults and kids start sleeping together. If their narcissim and neglect hasn’t destroyed the parents’ moral authority, a torrid intergenerational affiar surely will.
Our best reference point for this occurence has got to be Tamara and Pacey from (the far superior teen soap) Dawson’s Creek. There, the scandal was intensified by making the older woman Pacey’s high school teacher. But aside from the breach of professional ethics, there was a sense that the generational boundary mattered (even as its violation was being exploited for ratings).
Here, the biggest concern seems to be that the step-mom will lose her access to money and social clout if her underage lover is discovered with her. (In the premiere she pushed him out the window when her husband unexpectedly pulled up, and he ran in his underwear through the streets.) In fact, the lad seems to be part of the pleasures to which her money and position entitle her. A young lover is here presented as the ultimate luxury good.
(She’s at least helping the plot along: Blair discovers their affair and can use it as leverage.)
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not on a moral I’m no prude. And stories about young men being sexually initiated by older women are as old as, well, young men and older women. But I think there’s a difference here — as with the kids’ access to alcohol, the moral question is not only not raised, it’s not even germaine.