5 and 5: Revisiting Gossip Girl

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You know you want to trash me.
XOXO, Gossip Girl

I didn't forget about 5 and 5, I swear! Finding the time to reread and analyze certain titles took a lot more energy than expected and it was on my lower priority branches. But! 5 and 5 is one of my many projects for 2019. I've been feeling very nostalgic lately and essentially my idea behind this tag was to revisit books I've loved and disliked, because as we grow, our tastes change and the more we learn, the more our critical thinking skills grow.

I found myself wondering, "What's changed?" And then, boom, 5 and 5 came into this world.

Previously, I revisited After by Anna Todd. I didn't like the novel the first time I read it--click the link to find out why and if my opinion has changed.

This week, I'm going back to my teens via Gossip Girl! Which, as we all know, I lived for back in the day.

Gossip Girl is that series for me. If I believed in guilty pleasures, it would be the definitive choice for all time favourite guilty pleasure.

It is, tied with Harry Potter, the series that not only got me into reading but consumed me. There was a time where I felt like the characters of both were more like extensions of myself, not fiction. Most of my sensory memories involving literature come from the two. I grew up with them, quite literally. As an adult, I look back on my life and so rarely see myself without them.

Also, I used to write really bad fan fiction based on both. We don't talk about that!

And, yes, I was definitely reading this series when I was way too young. It came out in 2002, and I started reading them in 2003. My mom used to get very frustrated with me for bringing them home from the library or Barnes and Noble.

Once I hit my teens, she realized it was pretty pointless to keep my from reading them. But, there was a time where she was pretty scandalized at pre-teen me reading Gossip Girl.

The funny things to think about with this series are pretty to the point: it's trash.

But, it's my favourite brand of trash.

I really miss that anticipation of getting, usually, two books per year for the series. A lot of series are the cause of excitement for me but I don't think anything will ever top it.

As for the books? Nowadays I have my collection of the books and the DVDs of each season of the show propped up on my vanity. You can see it poking out from behind my lipsticks. Every time I look at it, I smile a little. I never would have guessed that it would have grown like it had. I thought even less than it'd mean so much to me well into my 20s.

I know I wouldn't like it on its own now, if I hadn't read it before. In-fact, I'd probably be one of the many who prefer the television adaptation of it to an extent (still would hate Chuckles, though)--alas, I am always going to have nostalgia filled love for the books and rant about how much I loath the T.V. show.

What I loved about Gossip Girl as a teenager: 

  • Well, for starters, it was the first series I read where the kids actually felt like kids. They were out there doing REALLY dumb things and generally flaking out on everything. By the end of the series, they were starting to grow up and a lot of these high school relationships were left on a big question mark and full of possibilities. No endgame relationships, but still a happy ending. This is in no way me dragging other YA releases then or now for not letting kids be kids or for them being a different kind of kid. I just felt like Gossip Girl had a really superior approach to it--these kids were immature, spoiled and privileged, petty and often just plain insufferable and crude. They, like many teens, also liked to pretend they were older, wiser and altogether more than they were. They did very adult things while still being whole a*s children about it. I liked how shameless it was and how it mashed up the common teenage tropes of the early and mid 2000s and equally made light of all of them. 
  • Gossip Girl's little snide remarks about what was happening via the narration. There's a joke in there somewhere, no matter what the characters do or did. Jenny Humphrey probably blinked and Gossip Girl had something to say.
  • The girls would find themselves in feuds quite often but in the end, its friendship that wins and is the series' big endgame. I feel like this is most notable especially when in comparison to the television series. The romantic relationships and friendships of the books were a different brand of toxic compared to the show. They were more of the "I'm young, stupid and confused" levels of toxic. Which isn't good, but is kind of real. It never goes as far as the show, thankfully. 
  • I really loved Vanessa, Blair and Serena's friendships. Every combination of them. And, yes, TV lovers, you're reading that correctly: friendship. Blair and Vanessa even lived together at one point.
  • We never knew who Gossip Girl was. I always felt like the show's reveal of it was borderline unnecessary and nonsensical. It is what it is, but I always assumed with the books it could have been anyone. But, I never really cared to know. Because it was established that everyone, insiders and outsiders, contributed to the gossip.
  • Nate Archibald. I'm sorry, but will I ever not be trash for this prep school stoner who is indecisive as heck? Nope. TV watchers, you can keep Upchuck the Basstard and Gossip Humphrey. 
  • There are so many little things about Gossip Girl that makes me laugh to myself when I just remember them. I might do a series reread and do a post on the most ridiculous parts of this series. 
  • Finally, I always knew what year each of the books came out because of the ever-changing technology and fashion references. Seriously, this series saw a lot of changes in such a small window of time. It was kind of a little inside joke when it came to it. In one of the earliest books, Blair's wearing leather pants. Also, the fact that it takes place over one year but took so many years to be fully published was hilarious--I started the series and was like, wow!, they are so much older and cooler than me, and by the time it ended I was only a couple years younger than them.
What I didn't love: 

  • If I remember correctly, there are a lot of offensive things in this book that definitely wouldn't fly now. 2002 wasn't that long ago but it was at the same time. It probably hasn't aged well. I think there was a lot of shaming and blaming and general grossness. Then again, it's not all that surprising. (a) 2002-2006 was the books publishing timeline and (b) teenagers are still learning what's right and wrong. I don't like this, not then and not now, but it does ring true to the time and the characters ages.
  • The casual way it was mentioned that Chuck was a predator/creep. Not my thing. I will say that the books, at least at the beginning, didn't just... make him into a romantic lead, cos he never was in them. But, it's one of those things that's always rubbed me the wrong way. IN SO MANY WAYS.
  • Constantly mentioning a 14 year old Jenny Humphrey's breast size. And the sexualizing her body that strangers do--which is more of a reflection of how gross people are in real life. That being said... We get it. She developed sooner. But, I don't know, it's a yikes from me. And always will be.

There's a lot of things I notice now that I didn't notice then. One, the writing is exceptionally bad. A lot of characters are cringey. I had to remind myself that it was from 2002. It doesn't seem that long ago but it was: SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO. Yikes. Anyways, I also had to remind myself that a lot of awkwardness and weirdness was intentional: while Gossip Girl, the show, was a drama with a tendency to take itself too seriously, the books were mostly just satirical.

I feel like everyone forgets that. 

Rereading Gossip Girl was a lot like coming home for me. I felt like an awkward teenager again and it was fun. It's a different nostalgia feeling than rereading Harry Potter. Which, I expected. I wasn't going into Gossip Girl to learn something or be wowed by the quality--I was here for a laugh, the drama and anticipated only pettiness paired with gorgeous, privileged teenagers doing dumb things.

Another thing I noticed this time around was even though I'm nearing the end of my twenties, I still felt like these characters were older than me. EVEN THOUGH THEY AREN'T. I guess that's one of those things that I've conditioned myself on when it comes to revisiting old favourites. In my eyes, I'm still a kid, but they're the older kids. 

To recap, the first book can be pretty easily compared side by side to the first two episodes of the first season of Gossip Girl. They share more than the same name, but a lot of the same premise.

There are a few glaringly obvious differences in the pilot episode of the show vs. the first book and I'll list a few right now, but save some for an official comparison post in the future: 

  • Vanessa is a main character from the start. Oh, and she's bald. And badass.
  • Erik is older and straight in the books and not around at all for the beginning. He doesn't self harm. He's literally a male version of Serena. (Note: I like the changes they made in him for the show. It gave Serena a family, Jenny a friend and a little boost to the hetero stance the show set up quickly.)
  • Serena's as flaky as ever and isn't looking to change herself. I wouldn't say she is malicious in the books but she gives just as good as she gets and isn't on some "I want to be a better person" thing. Which, honestly, doesn't make as much of a change in comparison as you'd think.
  • Nate wants both Blair and Serena. A lot. He always wants the two and about seven joints. He is a typical teenage boy who wants to have sex with his girlfriend, who also happens to be one of his best friends, and their other best friend. And continuously fucks up.
  • Nate never cheated on Blair because, technically, he and Blair weren't together when he slept with Serena.  
  • Serena and Nate lost their virginity together pre-book. Or rather, the prequel book.
  • Chuck is the standard creep.
  • Dan is the star of Vanessa's film project and Serena, his dream girl, auditions to act opposite of him. That's how they connect.
  • Cyrus is around from the start, too. (TV Cyrus is superior and less creepy. One of the best changes the show made.)
  • The parents play no real part of the plot. Only, we know that they're all alive (namely, Chuck's mom) and like to gossip just as much as their children do.
  • Rufus is not only a bit of a pretentious prick and a beat poet/editor, he is not involved with Serena's mom. 
  • Jenny is short, has curly brown hair and--sigh--big boobs. She is an artist, not an aspiring fashion designer.
  • Serena's airy and mysterious "why did she leave and come back?" thing is less of a mystery and more of an, oh, this happened thing. Oopsie, I got kicked out of boarding school! Poor little rich girl! Time for the next adventure!
For the most part, I've always thought that the first book was adapted fairly well. It still changes a lot, but it's the most faithful adaptation of the series as a whole. After they do this, we get little moments that feel like something from the books, but for the most part the only things they really used on the show were from this book.

That being said, I still think it is a very flawed but fun read. I would definitely have rated it as only a 1 or 2 star read if I hadn't read it at the age I did. Nowadays, my nostalgia influences my rating of it and my love for it: it's still a 4 or 5 star read solely because it's entertaining and reminds me of something that passed long ago.
Here's what I liked this time around: 

  • The fact that they act like teens. I said it already and this hasn't changed. For real, I mean, Blair even mentions having watched Nickelodeon to avoid her mom and Cyrus being all lovey-dovey. She just so happens to be drinking scotch as she admits this. It's just... exactly the contradiction I liked about the books: these are kids, pretending to be adults, while still being kids
  • All the little nods to the gossip happening around them. It's more than just the main characters getting their gossip on, it's everyone. Strangers, Gossip Girl herself, the main characters, parents, etc etc. One of the main traits of the series is that as everything is happening, we usually get a glimpse of gossip from background characters. 
  • Blair's naivety, bitterness and pettiness. Vanessa's jealousy and childish attitude about Dan's crush on Serena only to change he mind on Serena as a person because she actually likes her. 
  • No romanticizing Chuck's creepy actions. Boy literally tried to force him on Jenny and Serena!!!!!!!!! I really appreciate that the books don't do this. Like, one thing in a row they did right. We stan. 
  • Nate's general fickleness. I think the show attempted that fickleness but it didn't translate well and came across as an 'It's always been Serena' vibe, only to never really stick with it. And then to just... not stick with Nate's character at all. You know? I just think that one of Nate's biggest qualities is how genuine he was in just being confused. He was less golden boy, and more flawed. (And problematic.) 
  • That tension between Serena and Blair. Serena's cluelessness. Blair's pettiness. The actual hurt they both have. The way it pans out. It's very teenage reflexes and I loved it. It's upsetting to a degree because I love their friendship, but it was real. 
  • Basically, most of the things I loved about the books when I first read them.
What I didn't like: 

  • Well, there's a lot of offensive language in this that wouldn't fly now in 2019. So, that's the number one thing to make note of. A lot of this was problematic then but as a teenager, or preteen, I didn't think much of it being appropriate or not because ignorance. BUUUT, it's definitely something to note.
  • Still really dislike how Jenny's breast size is so frequently mentioned. Having big breasts isn't a personality trait. It's not a bad thing, either, and it's not treated like it but seeing a literal 14 year old be sexualized based on this is really uncomfortable.  
  • The way that Blair's eating disorder is handled/mentioned. It's a lot weirder to me now as an adult. Still, its better than what the show offers in terms of portrayal--but is that really a compliment? No. Just because this rubbish portrayal is better than the television show's rubbish portrayal is better, doesn't mean it's good. It's basically like spraying some Glade by a dumpster and expecting it to completely cover the stench--it only does so much, but it still stinks.
  • Rufus has this attitude towards Jenny that pisses me off. I don't actually remember noticing it before this reread but I really felt like him and Dan were big on putting Jenny down for some stuff. And I wasn't liking it at all, because he was clearly just projecting his bitterness towards Jenny and Dan's mom. 
  • Cyrus' interest in whether or not Blair and Nate have had sex. *Simon Cowell voice* It's a no from me. 
Overall, my opinions changed only slightly with Gossip Girl. In spite of its flaws and all the issues I have with it, I still prefer it to the show and will always have a soft spot for it. Always have, always will.

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