Chuck and Blair Going To The Movies

I have these three beautiful blonde girl cousins who are 12, 15, and 18 years old and we generally like all the same movies and TV shows.

Like a lot of childless unmarried adults my age I tend to think of myself on some semiconscious level as a perpetual teenager, but then when I’m confronted with actual teenagers I realize not only that I am an adult, I am also a member of a completely different generation and fitted with a completely different make and model of brain than today’s teenagers. My cousins have been texting and IMing constantly since they were little kids and they’re used to being in constant contact with, or at least constantly available to, a roster of friends, something that will always seem invasive and foreign and like “work” to me. But maybe that’s not a generational thing as much as it is a personality or a maturity thing, like, I am kind of over chatting. Jonathan Franzen is right, I think, that people fiddle with their handheld communication devices as they used to fiddle with their lighters and cellophane pack wrappers and the result is a lot of messages that don’t say anything. People talk without saying anything IRL too, of course: “They don’t have any information I need,” someone recently told me while explaining why he wasn’t about to strike up a friendship with a group of perfectly niceish people he’d met. You get to a certain age and you become more selective about what information you need. Or maybe you just become more of an asshole? In-person small talk serves some purpose, and can turn into big talk with the aid of the little gestural cues that virtual communication strips away. Small talk online remains small, relegated to a little bubble in the corner of the screen. You’ll never be more reminded of language’s inadequacy than when you’re gchatting with someone halfway around the world and what you most want to say could be communicated better with the slightest touch.

The culture of the constant text update is the putative foundation of the tv show Gossip Girl. Loving this critically acclaimed CW-network ratings disaster is one of the things my girl cousins and I have in common, but I think we might appreciate the show for different reasons. For them, the show is a drama about teenagers’ social lives. For me, the show is a sci-fi epic, taking place, as it does, in an alternate-dimensional version of New York. To enter GGNY, you cross the Manhattan Bridge and arrive in Williamsburg, where hard-luck cases live in palatial lofts and the Brooklyn Inn is run by a 50 year old jazzman who knew Joe Kennedy during Prohibition. From there, you zip up (somehow! Transition b-roll never shows the subway, only gorgeous aerial views of the skyline. Maybe you fly!) to an Upper East Side where parents are as concerned as dowagers in an Edith Wharton novel with the business of allying the teenage scions of their families. All of these people are constantly getting text messages from a mysterious online social chronicler (the titular Girl). It’s like it’s 2008, 1990, 1890 and 1962 simultaneously! Also everyone is wearing truly ridiculous outfits and four pounds of makeup at all times.

But while I like Gossip Girl because it’s surreal and hilarious, my cousins like it because they’re actually following its soap opera plotlines (which are, they acknowledge, ridiculous, but still). They hate Serena van der Woodsen, the show’s blonde ‘star,’ who has transformed, this season, from social pariah — she had some sex, and also maybe accidentally killed a man! — to Page Six-worthy socialite. And they love brunette Blair Waldorf, the evil yet adorable ‘Queen Bee’ of fictional Constance Billiard High. The Blair-Serena rivalry is the show’s supposed dramatic backbone, and now it plays out in actual NY as well as GGNY: Leighton Meester, who plays Blair, ill-advisedly gave Us Weekly the exclusive on her rags-to-riches success story in exchange for a week on its cover, while Blake Lively, who plays Serena, is spending this month on the giant glossy cover of W. The show, like its predecessor ‘The O.C.,’ will go on exploring every possible permutation of hookup between its comically tiny group of central cast members – heartthrob Nate Archibald has already found himself passed around to all four of the show’s female leads – until it gets canceled, but the real nail-biter is the battle to see who will be famous. Things might seem like they’re working out for Blake Lively now, but hmm, what’s Mischa Barton up to these days? No, while Lively and Meester may be stiff competitors in the realm of Most Totally Ridiculous 90s-Child Name Ever, there is no question in this viewer’s mind about who’ll still get covers in the post-aught era. Meester’s portrayal of flip, frank, entitled sexuality – “I’m just finishing something!” she calls out airily to the maid who’s caught her masturbating – is the second most compelling thing on the show. The most compelling thing, of course, is Chuck Bass.

It’s not even like Ed Westwick, who plays Chuck, is such a good actor! His foppish, manipulative high-school dark prince, who loves hookers and drinking before noon and pocket squares and sneaking up on you in a limo and then slowly rolling the window down in order to leer, is a sloppy paste-up job. You just mix Christian Slater in ‘Heathers’ — who was of course imitating Jack Nicholson — and young Ryan Philippe in ‘Cruel Intentions’ — who was of course imitating John Malkovitch in ‘Dangerous Liasons,’ who was imitating a character in a book. But this simple recipe yields a delicious, over-the-top confection: Westwick’s gleefully bad Chuck provides the show with its only moments of laugh out loud funniness. And his natural foil and ideal mate is of course evil Blair. Together, they use cameraphones and trickery to ensnare the show’s more guileless characters, selfconsciously referencing their Valmont-Merteuil source material all the while. But while they seem to belong together, their similarities ultimately keep them apart. Every time Blair makes herself too available, Chuck recoils – ‘You held a certain fascination when you were beautiful, delicate and untouched. But now you’re like…one of the Arabians my father used to own. Rode hard and put away wet,’ he memorably told her near the end of the first season, because she’d slept with one other guy after ecstatically losing her virginity to Chuck in a limo’s backseat.

But this season Chuck has shown a large and improbable soft side, as well as an unlikely amount of self-knowledge. At the season’s outset, Blair refused him because he couldn’t bring himself to say “three little words.” But on a more recent episode, the Blair/Chuck subplot hinged entirely on Blair’s inability to confess her love – and an odd turn of events that transpired after she finally overcame that inability.

At the 56 minute mark, Chuck and Blair find themselves in a clinch with no impediments. But then Chuck has a revelation. “The reason we can’t say those three words to each other isn’t because they aren’t true,” he tells Blair. He is wearing a sage-green suit with contrast piping and a snakeskin-patterned bow tie. “Then why?” she asks. “I think we both know that the moment we do, it won’t be the start of something … it’ll be the end. Think about it. Chuck and Blair, going to the movies. Chuck and Blair, holding hands …”

“We don’t have to do those things,” Blair offers, her voice husky with suppressed tears. “We can do the things that we like!” “What we like is this,” he says. “The game,” she says. He nods. “Without it, I’m not sure how long we’d last. It’d just be a matter of time before we messed it all up.” She looks at him longingly, and he kneels and puts his lips near hers. “I’d rather wait. Maybe in the future …” “I suppose there could be some excruciating pleasure in that,” Blair concedes in a pained, hopeful whisper.

It’s rare to watch a tv show’s writers basically confess that they’ve hit a wall. Imagine if, somewhere around the third season of Friends, Ross had sat Rachel down and said, “You know, we’ll never stay together, because there would really be nothing to hang the misunderstanding-based hijinx of this show on.” When Chuck told Blair that “the game” is “what we like,” he might as well have been staring into the camera and addressing the audience directly. ‘When we finally get together,’ he’s saying, ‘you’ll know that Gossip Girl’s writers have finally gotten that memo from CW headquarters that they’ve got another episode or two to wrap things up.’

But less cynically, or maybe more cynically: the audience basically never gets to watch the ever-after part of romances – it’s boring, we’re given to understand, all that moviegoing and hand-holding. Love affairs have three acts, we know from tv, and even, a little, from our own experience. There’s the thrilling beginning, fraught with obstacles and delicious suffering. And then there’s the middle, the happy normalcy phase that actually maybe doesn’t even exist and is just a slow slide into the mediocrity and boredom that signals the end. Maybe there are just two acts, then.

I wonder what I would make of this show if I were actually in its target demo. On my recent trips up and down the Eastern seaboard I keep seeing this billboard featuring a photograph of a real – but carefully chosen, because if she’s unattractive then the thing becomes a joke – teenage girl. “I don’t give it up … and I’m not giving in,” she tells us, in letters ten feet high. A similar abstinence-themed ad runs sometimes during Gossip Girl: Jenny McCarthy appears and shoves a squalling infant into the arms of a teenage couple who were just about to Do It in the backseat (not of a limo).

I’m glad my teenaged cousins are so smart; I hope very much that they can figure out what all of this stuff is trying to say to them. Personally sometimes it makes me feel like a lady from French literature who Blair Waldorf resembles far more than she does the Marquise de Merteuil – a girl who tried to imagine “just what was meant, in life, by the words ‘bliss,’ ‘passion,’ and ‘rapture’ — words that had seemed so beautiful to her in books.”

17 comments to Chuck and Blair Going To The Movies

  • This is a top quality post; good job.

  • I gave up on this boring ass show a few episodes ago. My problem with it is that if you’re going to go inside the “scandalous lives of Upper East Siders,” I better see some daddy date rape. I want to see the coke on toilet seat. Breasts! Unwiped assholes! Slicked down pubic bushes! Essentially, I want more close-ups. I don’t care if it is on CW, or Lars Von Trier or Gus Van Sant or Todd Von Solondz should be penning this snoozefest on Showtime, not Josh Schwartz.

  • Fantastic! Personally, I think Josh Schwartz is at his best when his dialogue veers into the self-conscious 4th-wall territory. Remember at the end of season 1 when Blair and Chuck and Nate were all trying to get Serena to confess what Georgina had on her? Blair and Nate each offered up their various sins as proof that nothing could shock them, and when it came to Chuck he simply said “I’m CHUCK BASS.” True!

    I also like Nate’s character more and more. Maybe I’m alone in this, but I appreciate that gets away with murder purely because he’s jaw-droppingly handsome and seems to know it.

  • Loved, loved, loved this post, Emily. Deliciously insightful stuff. Have posted a response to some of my favourite parts on my own website.

  • Tim

    Sad that you distill your insightful critique of Gossip Girl into a comment about abstinence and some D.H. Lawrence-esque gobbledygook. I can hardly imagine the CW network is capable of creating and airing anything that is as intellectually inspiring as you claim GG to be. I agree with Michael R. Jackson. Bring on the shit stained testicles and prehensile nipples.

  • emily

    Sorry, Tim, but insightful conclusions cost $2/word. Blog posts ramble and peter out (sometimes). Also I think Flaubert would be mad that you called him D.H. Lawrence, I mean there’s no way of knowing but that’s just what I think. Possibly he’d blame the translator.

  • Awwwwww snap! Also, they START at $2/ word.

  • Tim

    You can’t squeeze water (or blood) from a stone, even at $2 a word. The comparisons in your piece between classic French literature and a cheesy CW series plotted like a soap opera seem like a leap to me. The connections you make either display your overarching sophistication and intelligence or your naive intellectualism. Nonetheless, I think you are a talented writer with a keen and (sometimes) searing wit. And your youth makes you a triple threat.

    Maybe you should take up salsa dancing so you can be a quadruple threat.

  • christy

    tim, i dont believe emily said the show was intellectually stimulating … but entertaining. bottom line, sometimes the show has embarrassingly lame plots and lines … and sometimes the writing is actually pretty great. it’s a show about rich private school kids trying to get into yale and brown … and accordingly the show is littered with some pretty high brow literary references. it’s still a show about high schoolers. no one is claiming otherwise. you may be surprised, it’s certainly different than what else is marketed to the same generation.

    i love the quote .. “It’s 2008, 1990, 1890 and 1962 simultaneously”. In a single episode Blair will play out an Audrey Hepburn scene, little Jenny in her bad-ass eyeliner will hang out with ‘Agyness’ and a black guy taking pics at hipster parties (an obvious rip off of lastnightsparty), pay homage to old school, old money new york and play love and rockets in the closing scene. it is at once timeless and bombarded by every possible trend.

    also .. tim … the show makes fun out itself … and has already beat you to the punch. and the obligatory coke plot has already played out.

  • @emily:
    touché. or in this case perhaps, douché

  • …“They don’t have any information I need,” someone recently told me while explaining why he wasn’t about to strike up a friendship with a group of perfectly niceish people he’d met. You get to a certain age and you become more selective about what information you need…

    One of the interesting things about reading an intelligent, thoughtful blogger like Emily is that, as an [shudder] older person, you can sometimes catch glimpses of your own psyche at an earlier stage. Sometimes these glimpses are contained in sentiments expressed by Emily herself and sometimes they are reflections of things she sees or, in this case, comments made to her by her contemporaries. I’m not sure if, in the second sentence of this quote, she is agreeing with her friend or merely paraphrasing him for the sake of clarity.

    Furthermore, I’m not catching the distinction between “nice” and “niceish.” Are “niceish” people people who only seem nice, but may not be? Are they what is sometimes known as “Minnesota nice”? (Nice to your face but don’t turn your back). Or are they backstabbing rat bastards who have learned to disarm their victims by assuming the mannerisms of niceness? (aka California slimeballs).


    The rut-roh moment comes in the second sentence: “You get to a certain age and you become more selective about what information you need.” Translation: “At a young age you may pass though a period where you become very picky about whom you befriend, period.”

    In other words, you don’t let just anybody into your little circle of friends, even the nice “ish” ones. You become, you know… more selective.

    Any why not? When you’re young and pretty and clever and everyone wants you, you can afford to be. There will always be more friends where those came from right? And niceish can get so boring.

    Wait until he gets a little older. He’ll be kicking himself from wheelchair to walker about the friendships he passed up. Especially with the perfectly niceish ones.

  • Having seen Twilight, I’ll agree and raise you a “lustful glances are generally hotter onscreen than actual sex.” One of my favorite tropes of fiction has always been the couple who break up because they’re too volatile and then are hilariously cutting to each other in a way that is also really sexually charged. However having gone through this experience in real life a few times now I actually completely hate it. It is not sensual, it is just frustrating. That’s the difference between real life and art I guess, my frustration doesn’t represent anything, it’s just disappointing.

  • emily

    Molly I so agree re: “the couple who break up …” , I mean, this is why I love Tusk-era Fleetwood Mac. “I still look up …”

  • Totally, and ABBA. I actually referenced both in the extended (director’s?) cut of my videoblog. By the way, I owe you like a hundred blowjobs and a cup of coffee whenever you come to LA. The blowjobs are metaphorical. I’m not sure what for yet.

    p.s. I adopted a kitten! what should I name it?

  • That’s the other things about this show–if these kids are so bad ass and rich and sexed up and popping pills etc., why does the writing of the show even bother to act like them getting into Yale or Brown is consequential? I mean, after all “HE’S CHUCK BASS.” Why would he waste time going to his Comp Lit class when he could pimp out a 13 year old heiress to hedge fund managers at the Ritz on the weekend for his cocaine money? THAT’S the kind of Gossip Girl world that would be compelling. Right now, for the most part, all the characters are drag queens, which is good, but they’re not good drag queens, which is bad.

  • Michael

    Love this post. I miss your Gawker advice column. Your advice helped me make the decision to get out of a pretty much sexless relationship in Stage 2 and move on to a new one, which has now just hit Stage 2. Now I want to go back to the first girl because I kind of like her better but don’t because I feel guilty. What do I do!!??

  • lisa rosenthla

    the problem with gossip girl is that it’s boring.

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