In this week's episode of Gossip Girl, Chuck Bass throws a punch in former girlfriend Blair Waldorf's general direction. He winds up smashing a window behind her, and her face is cut by a shard of glass. Yet this isn't a story about relationship abuse — the writers say it shows how much he loves her. Indeed, love is fragile, like glass, and apparently both can leave a woman's face bloodied.
I'll admit I only got one book and two TV seasons deep into Gossip Girl (and I seem to recall Chuck being an attempted date rapist in both), but you don't need to know the characters to understand what's happening in the scene above. Chuck has always been the brooding "bad boy" you're supposed to be secretly rooting for, but in this scene he's a textbook abuser.
Carina Adly MacKenzie explains what happened earlier on the blog From Inside The Box:
After humiliating Blair (Leighton Meester) by crudely airing details of their sex life to a woman she was trying to impress, Chuck went home to continue to drink himself into a stupor. Blair met him there to tell him that the Prince had proposed to her. She wasn't malicious or intending to use the revelation to hurt him. She was just asking that he acknowledge reality. Considering his behavior at the party, she was surprisingly gentle with him.
The scene provoked an instant backlash from fans, so the next day executive producer Josh Safran did an interview with E! to explain to viewers, many of whom are young and female, that a guy being intimidating and physically threatening doesn't count as abuse:
E!: I thought it was interesting that Chuck actually grabbed her and that the consequence of that fight was Blair had the most perfect, beautiful, dainty injury, which are two symbolically significant things. Did this moment verge on abuse? What was going on in this scene?
Safran: The way we viewed it, I think it's very clear that Blair is not afraid in those moments, for herself. They have a volatile relationship, they always have, but I do not believe-or I should say we do not believe-that it is abuse when it's the two of them. Chuck does not try to hurt Blair. He punches the glass because he has rage, but he has never, and will never, hurt Blair. He knows it and she knows it, and I feel it's very important to know that she is not scared-if anything, she is scared for Chuck-and what he might do to himself, but she is never afraid of what he might do to her. Leighton and I were very clear about that.
Blair seems pretty scared for her own safety when she screams and runs off. Chuck may not be trying to physically injure her, but his violent outburst does result in a ("beautiful") cut to her face. But, you know, sometimes chicks are so annoying that they force guys to break things in a fit of rage.
So basically the scene is also sending these messages:
- If you don't behave perfectly in the relationship, you deserve to be abused.
- If you stick with an abusive guy, he'll probably turn into a prince.
- Guys getting a little violent is sexy, and shows how much they care.
Great. Safran and the other writers can't manage to compose a scene about a guy feeling betrayed without falling back on the retro soap opera cliché "guy gets drunk and breaks something." And now when girls are abused by their boyfriends, they'll just see it as a romantic plot line right out of Gossip Girl.