Monday, November 19, 2007

Gossip Girl

Open Letter to (Anonymous Student) about Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar

Dear Student,

Thank you so much for letting me borrow your book and enter into this "teenage world" for a brief time. I truly appreciate it. I hope that you enjoy Mr. Blue.

As I mentioned already in class, I did not "enjoy" reading Gossip Girl. Some of the reasons you already know or have guessed, but others I am sure you have not. Firstly, as a piece of literature, it is very poorly written. It uses teen language; I can see why that may be attractive, but it means that it does not teach you how to write better. In fact, it encourages a certain mediocrity in writing. There is no intellectual challenge in reading a book like this. I know, you're saying, "That's the point," but it is worth thinking about. There is not depth to the story, the characters or the situations. They are not complex; They are not truly dramatic. Drama requires tension, confusion, subtlety... this book lacks all of those things.

The characters are fairly superficial. I am not sure why I should care about what happens to any of them, or who I am supposed to identify with. Their personal struggles or issues are trivialized (Blair's eating disorder, Jenny's body image, everyone's family situation). They are one-dimensional: Serena is mysterious; Blair is envious and insecure; Nate is attractive but doesn't seem to have a personality; Vanessa is a proud artist; Dan is "brooding" and has a superficial crush; Jenny is a size 34D; Chuck is horny and likes to use girls to satisfy himself; That's all we really know about these characters.

Friendships in this book are superficial, even while they are supposedly lifelong. They are focused on material things, looks, and rumors. Serena and Blair, supposedly "best friends," did not even speak when Serena was away. Serena never told Blair about her fling with Nate. The way the other girls tear Serena down is sad and reveals serious lacks of self esteem. (If you are secure in yourself and in your beauty/worth, you have no need to tear others down. That is why most people grow out of that unattractive and destructive habit.) Love means building others up. I wouldn't want to be friends with any of these girls because I would be constantly judged and my every action scrutinized. I would always have to be performing for them.

Male-female relationships in this book are likewise superficial. None of these girls are being loved by the guys they are "with"; They are being used. To be fair to the guys, the girls are using them right back. (For example, when Blair decides that she wants to have sex with Nate, she does not even consider that he might want to talk first, or might have something to say [which we discover he does]; She undresses even before he arrives. Was that out of love for him?) Even setting aside the most obvious problem (that sex is considered casually as a natural next step, as "no big deal" and nothing special, which you already know is untrue), it is clear that the characters are not interested in what is good for the other person, only in what they want for themselves.

Would any of these characters suffer for another? If you think that someone loves you, you should ask yourself, "Would they suffer for me?" Most of us have at least one or two examples of this love in our parents. But it doesn't seem like any of these characters know that kind of love- even from their own parents- and that is tragic. They want to be loved but they do not even know or believe that true love- the kind that suffers for and with the one loved, and lasts forever- exists and is for them. This book is full of characters settling for less than they deserve. It worries me that you read this book because I want to tell you that LOVE is REAL! It does not require a certain body type; It does not require fancy outfits or cars or sex; It does not demand or seek to use you in any way. This is the truth. This is what doesn't sell and isn't on TV— because it also hurts. But it is what is most beautiful and, in the end, the only thing that matters.

Jesus is way better, way more dramatic, and way more interesting than Gossip Girl.


Kaitrin said...


Anne Marie said...

Aww. It's sweet that you wrote that...she's VERY lucky to have you as a teacher.

My teachers never noticed the trash I read when I was that age....I wish they had.

Erika Ahern said...

You go girl! Amen to that, and I, too, am glad those girls have you as a teacher.

Catherine said...

Way to go! I should try to emulate you in the classroom! Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately in some cases?) my students don't read anything...Anyway, bravo!