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Do We Really Need Gossip Girl To Be “Woke”?

Do We Really Need Gossip Girl To Be “Woke”?

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Attention Upper East Siders, do I have a blast for you. The Gossip Girl reboot is only days away, and let’s just say fans have some concerns.

The highly anticipated spin-off of the iconic original 2000s show was announced at the end of 2020, and we’ve been given glimpses into the new series over the past few weeks as the show prepares to premiere on July 8th on HBO Max. 

A few weeks ago, HBO Max released the show’s first teaser trailer which was the first time fans were given a closer look into the characters, storyline, and the overall vibe of the series. And in one sense, it’s everything we would expect from a show that is set in the same universe as the original Gossip Girl, only 9 years later. 

How similar will the new series be to the original?

From the glimpses we’ve seen so far, it seems the new series will retain the same level of insane wealth and privilege as we have seen in the original show. The storyline will revolve around the lives of a new close-knit group of New York elite that have been friends from childhood. Although the show has kept coy on the backstories of these new characters, only revealing their names and a one-word descriptor, it seems the spirit of nepotism will carry through strongly in the new series. Through the promos so far it looks like this new group will include the children of property developers and fashion designers alike, paying homage to the original premise of the show.

Another remnant that is here to stay is of course the presence of Gossip Girl, the anonymous site that keeps close tabs on the lives of New York’s it-boys and girls. Taking the form of a blog site in the original series, snippets have suggested the new Gossip Girl will manifest by way of an anonymous Instagram account— fitting, given the Internet and social media has undergone drastic change since the 2000s. From the previews it’s clear that Gossip Girl is as shady, well-informed and prolific as ever, and still committed to exposing the secrets of Manhattan’s elite.

How will it be different?

The show has also made some other significant changes that bring it into 2021, the most obvious being the diverse casting and representation of characters. While the original show did not feature any people of colour as main characters, the creators of this revival have clearly prioritised diversity in their casting; a change that if not made, quite frankly would have jeopardised the success of the show, given the evolution of our expectations of entertainment and popular culture.

Why are fans concerned?

Whilst this change is to be celebrated, this brings us to perhaps the most jarring difference to the original show. In an interview with Variety, showrunner and series writer, Joshua Safran said that “these kids [will] wrestle with their privilege in a way that I think the original didn’t”, hinting that the new characters will be more aware of privilege and inequality. 

This one comment alone has sparked some discussion to say the least, with Jezebel calling the change “tragically misguided”, and AV Club writing that Joshua Safran “forgot the whole point of Gossip Girl”. Not to mention the response from fans of the original series that range from satire to confusion.

The original characters weren’t known for their self-awareness and that was the point. The series created something of a fantasy world in which unimaginably privileged highschoolers threw masquerade balls every other weekend, had after school catch-ups at 5-star hotels, and received personal recommendations from Anna Wintour for summer internships. I know. See Season 3 Episode 14.

The appeal of Gossip Girl was the exclusivity that the show afforded its viewers. Rather than experiencing the world from an outsider like Dan Humphries’ eyes, we were invited to see it through Serena and Blair’s. The show provided the perfect form of escapism where viewers could immerse themselves in a world of wealth and privilege, fantasising over what they would do if they were part of it.

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So, where does Gossip Girl fit in 2021?

In order to incorporate the other much-needed changes that mark a 2021 perspective on the show, I can see why Joshua Safran might be taking the series in this new direction of “wokeness”. However, as a society, I don’t think we’ve quite moved on from our natural interest in the lives of the rich and famous. 

People are still clearly interested in lavish lifestyles of the beneficiaries of nepotism. Think Olivia Jade, whose famous parents just served time for the infamous college admissions scandal. Or Kaia Gerber, daughter of supermodel Cindy Crawford who is on track to becoming as successful in the modelling world, if not more so than her mother. Or Talita von Furstenberg, the granddaughter of billionaire fashion designer, Diane von Furstenberg, who recently launched her own capsule collection with the brand. For context, she also has a literal title and is first cousins with the Greek royal family. They are the real-life Upper East Siders, and beyond their famous connections, they also share millions of followers because people are interested in their fairytale lives. 

We could even look to the success of TikTok creators like @theaudreypeters and @tinx, whose content revolves around delivering the inside scoop on where the rich eat, drink, shop and play.

The only solace we can take from this seemingly off-brand decision is that Joshua Safran was an original showrunner and executive producer of Gossip Girl, albeit only for one season. For the time being, fans of the show will have to tentatively trust his vision for the reboot of the beloved series, and there isn’t long to wait now.

As for me, will I be tuning in this Thursday for the new series? Probably. But “woke” Gossip Girl? You’ll have to convince me, xoxo.

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