Sheely, Belinkie, and I watched the most recent episode of Gossip Girl together. It was Belinkie’s first time, and he was not amused. I wish, actually, that we had recorded it. He kept annoying our other guest by pointing out the trite dialogue, formulaic plots, and lack of stakes. For someone trying desperately to be entertained by a lackluster episode, it was devastating. He won.
But then he looked on the internet and saw a veritable avalanche of high-end media outlets proudly claiming the show as a guilty pleasure. Somewhat chastened, he emailed me:
I’m not quite getting the appeal, but you can’t ALL be pretending to think the show is good. So maybe I’ll give it another shot.
Gossip Girl is too early in its second season, but it may yet prove to follow the trajectory of it’s predecessor, The O.C.: a novel and promising first season, followed by a long slow decline. Or, in The O.C.‘s case, an extremely rapid decline and a long time spent sitting a the bottom.
That remains to be seen. But why would we, or McSweeney’s, or New York Magazine, situated as we are in the post-Sopranos Golden Age of Television, bother with anything even the slightest bit substandard? Upon reflection, I think we can in fact all be pretending to think the show is good. Why, you ask? Let me tell you…
For every queen bee 17 or 16 years old, there is the instant when the Prom Court has yet to be announced, and the dress is picked out, the corsages are ready to be worn, there is liquor decanting and awaiting to be drunk, and the great black limo is waiting in the driveway and the night and her date is ready to go and looking up the stairs for her father or mother to give the word that he can walk their daughter out the door. It hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, but still there is time for a feel up by the stairway, and all know that This Time might be the lucky night for the bachelor prince, with all this much money spent and so much to gain: stolen tequila, groping beneath the stairs, a hotel room, the golden domes themselves to crown with feverish climax the question posed three weeks ago.
Three weeks is a little ambitious. Sheely pointed out last Tuesday that the show doesn’t manage to hold on to a suspenseful detail more than an episode or two. But I digress.
How could Gossip Girl not suffer in comparison with Faulkner? Not every TV show would, I think… The Sopranos shares not a few features familiar to readers of his novels. Faulkner wrote about intimate family tragedies brought about by the combination of personal failure and historical circumstance.
This is territory that Gossip Girl could tread — yes, it would have to be a different show — ancient families with skeletons on the closet, wealth and poverty, class, race (ever notice how all the domestic employees are minorities?)…There’s just so much there. There’s so much potential for our guilty pleasure to be guiltier and more pleasurable. A show capable of the justifying the line “I didn’t sign up for some creepy love triangle with you and someone’s mom.” is capable of so much more!
(FYI, the line was suggested to me buy the latest installment in NY Mag’s weekly feature computing the show’s reality index.)
I think this promise is what keeps us coming back. It’s Pynchonesque: we are hoping that the blinding flash, the revelation, the detail that makes the whole thing comprehensible and enjoyable is just around the corner. We dream of, in Derrida’s words, “full presence, the reassuring foundation, the origin and the end of the game.”
We’re never going to get it. And Derrida (and Belinkie) are right: We’re stupid to do it, or at least weak. Something that even the teenagers in Faulkner understand is that the grave is our universal destiny, and to waste even one minute pretending something disappointing is pleasurable is baffling. All the time you’ve spent watching so far is a sunk cost. Turn off your television, go to your window, and shout, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m…”
Wait, what? Now? Gossip Girl’s back on? Shit, I’ve got to watch this. See you later.
P.S. For what it’s worth, I think the show knows how dumb we are for watching it, and it’s mocking us. The eerie, unholy trinity of obsessed stalkers who accost Dan and Sarena in the park are, in fact, a satirical picture of us, cruel and accurate.