It’s not awful. It’s you. It couldn’t be awful.
Dan loves me for me.
#in this essay I will discuss the bind the s6 gg writers faced#once discovering that with the dan x blair relationship#they stumbled into a dynamic they had no desire to play out#and facing a failed redemption arc with the person they wanted to pair blair with#they opted for the exact opposite#rather than spend any additional time on growth redemption or maturity#they opted for what I wall call a ‘mass destruction arc’#where instead they made dan into a selfish sociopathic deluded asshole#and blair into an aimless ambitionless monster#it’s the ‘if they go high we’ll go low’ method#if they can’t redeem a character they’ll destroy everyone else#and then you have a bouquet of assholes and no one cares what happens to any of them#it’s a little more intentional than what the himym writers did#but just as misguided imho (via @nevertothethird)
By the end of Gossip Girl I genuinely didn’t know which relationship creeped me out more – Chuck and Blair with the possessiveness, objectification and undercurrents of abuse, or Dan and Serena, with Dan having brutally manipulated Serena for years on end, and her apparently being okay with that (had he ended up with Blair, mind you, the implications would have been JUST as creepy, as it’s not like Gossip Girl was particularly decent to her either). Not to mention that Serena sleeping with Blair’s boyfriend – AGAIN, and purposefully this time – ought to have been relationship-ended under any vaguely normal circumstances.
The potential for the Dan/Blair pairing was the only thing that really grabbed my attention with Gossip Girl. But I kind of thing the premise of GG, with all the characters sending in tips to an anonymous blogger in order to police each other wouldn’t have allowed that kind of story. Most of the characters might as well have been Stasi informants in East Germany, but they always tried to play it like that’s just part and parcel of being that fabulous. I haven’t read the book series, but from friends who have I’m told the “all the characters are a source to Gossip Girl the blogger” thing was created for the TV show. In retrospect, it was huge miscalculation. Not only did the show come out around the time people started talking about online bullying as dangerous, but it came around the time people were starting to have second thoughts about the mass surveillance that was put in place in the post 9/11 panic. (Pretty Little Liars came out a year or two later targeting the same audience. While it had A LOT of problematic aspects, it at least knew that the leads being watched all the time should be treated as horror.) For a show that wanted to be the hot thing of it’s moment, it really didn’t understand the moment in which it was living at all. (Not to mention, it debuted about a year before the Housing Bubble burst and the Great Recession started.)
(Despite my superhero abstention, I do wonder if the creative team behind Gossip Girl has demonstrated anything that says “lesson learned” in their current teen series, Runaways.)
Anyway, as far which relationship is worst, Constance Grady in her ten year anniversary review of the show, blames a lot of the problems with moving Chuck from a periphery villain to leading man. While Willa Paskin’s Decoder Ring podcast’s second episode didn’t get into Gossip Girl, I was thinking of it, and the debates that sprang up when they tried Dan/Blair when she discussed the ways the potential John Watson/Sherlock Holmes relationship was debated in terms of what would make it more healthy and equal. (It was a good episode, I just disagreed that some of the fights around Johnlock were more intense than around text-not-sub-text straight couples. I’ve just seen too much of fandom to agree.)
I think Gossip Girl is slowly suffering the fate of something like Friends or Sex and the City, where it seems far MORE dated than it’s production date would indicate, because of how social mores have evolved.
When the first season aired I was willing to waive the more creepy aspects of Chuck’s behaviour, chiefly because they were mostly confined to the first few episodes (and it often take shows a while to nail down characterisation). (And not, I want to be clear on this, because I ever thought his actions were ‘not that bad’ – though Grady’s article points out how questionable that attitude is).
But I think they lost track of what made his romance with Blair appealing very early on, which was the sense that Blair unequivocally had the upper hand – that falling in love with her was bringing Chuck UP to her level, rather than her down to his.
The choice to reset their relationship at the end of the first season was quite telling in retrospect – it indicated that they were unwilling to allow Chuck to actually change in any meaningful sense, and as they went on the writing really leaned into the more repulsive aspects of his character, both textually and subtextually.
I tend to think that Gossip Girl was largely a success because of Leighton Meester’s charisma, but I also think the first season was a lot more intelligent in how it used Gossip Girl as a concept – Blair’s ‘scandal’ is presented, correctly, as the horrific, misogynistic abuse…whereas later on, they seemed to try and have their cake and eat it. (Though the implications of that plot point become utterly horrifying when you realise that Dan was behind it – our good, moral, empathetic Dan setting his girlfriend’s best friend up for a public shaming in that manner seems almost sociopathically out of character).
There’s a lot of House of Cards (the BBC version) in the first season’s dna, and I think evolving away from that was a mistake. Certainly, I had largely stopped watching the show by the third season, as Chuck and Blair’s melodrama was EXTREMELY dull to watch – and it was Dan and Blair that brought me back to the show (temporarily).
But, going by Grady’s write-up, I think you’re probably correct, and the very sincerity and reasonableness of Dan and Blair’s connection – two intellectual snobs with soft hearts – meant it would never survive the masque-like world views of the writers. At a certain point it was like they ceased to believe in the IDEA of value existing anywhere but the surface.