The new Gossip Girl appears to be deviating from the original more than we’d previously thought.
First, they made it more diverse: Crucial. Then, they updated the outfits: Good and necessary. Then, showrunner and creator Joshua Safran tweeted that the reboot would be absent of any “slut-shaming” and “cat fights.” I thought: Sure, I guess. But on Monday, in an interview with Variety, Safran said the new Gossip Girl would make characters more self-conscious about their wealth and privilege, an alteration to the original series I’m not sure I can stand for on principle.
“These kids wrestle with their privilege in a way that I think the original didn’t,” Safran told the outlet. “In light of [Black Lives Matter], in light of a lot of things, even going back to Occupy Wall Street, things have shifted.
“I think the first [Gossip Girl] showed a little bit of wealth porn or privilege porn, like, ‘Look at these cars, or here’s a montage of the best plated food you’ve ever seen,’” he continued.
It makes sense for the series to have an awareness of the political events that transpired between 2012 and 2021—on some level, it’s almost impossible for it not to. And viewers will inevitably bring an understanding of the shifts that have occurred in that time, if only unconsciously. But Safran seems to misunderstand the original intention of the show, which, it seems to me, was not to provide viewers with a neat moral lesson or role models to aspire to. The Gossip Girl of the late aughts and early twenty-teens was about escapism, melodrama, and even camp; more in the vein of a soap opera, it was never particularly concerned with social realism. (Might I remind everyone: Chuck Bass’s dad gets killed off in season two, brought back in season five, and then killed off again in season six.) Though one could certainly argue that it would be more realistic if the Manhattan private school students in Safran’s reboot—the children of the 1 percent—participated in slut-shaming, so-called cat fights and various unself-conscious displays of wealth, as I suspect many do in real life.
And besides: It’s not as if the characters in the original Gossip Girl didn’t suffer the consequences of their bad behavior. If the only TV shows that were produced were didactic ones where morally upright characters only did morally good things, TV would be terribly boring.
One day last summer, a friend of mine who had recently started watching The Sopranos for the first time told me she just couldn’t get into it. She had been rooting for the FBI to catch Tony and his fellow mobsters in the second season (as far as she’d gotten at that point). She hated all of the characters—even Christopher; even Paulie Walnuts. She thought they were awful people. I told her she simply shouldn’t watch the show if these were concerns for her. She probably couldn’t watch any TV show if these were concerns for her!
Portrayals of perfect moral goodness is not what most people go to television for, and it’s certainly not what any of us watched Gossip Girl for. And just as class guilt rarely serves anyone in real life— at least in the form of performatively “wrestling” with one’s privilege—I’m not sure it benefits the viewer to watch rich teens on TV be consumed with it either.