Teen queens and Internet TV: The real staying power of Gossip Girl

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Every fall brings an onslaught of new shows. Some make it, some don’t; some you love to hate, and some you hate to love. This season brought us a new show that is quickly becoming a favorite. Based on the novels by Cecily von Ziegesar, the CW’s Gossip Girl is what some people are calling the new The O.C.. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that The O.C.’s executive-producer-with-an-eye-for-teenage-drama, Josh Schwartz, is also the executive producer on the new hit show. Why is Gossip Girl so good? I’m not entirely sure if “good” is really the word, but one thing is for sure: It is addictive.

The lives of Manhattan’s elite are detailed by a mysterious blogger under the pseudonym of Gossip Girl. We never actually find out who Gossip Girl is, but she is voiced by the infamously snarky Kristen Bell (of Veronica Mars and Heroes fame). If anything happens in the world of the upper-crust, Gossip Girl knows about it, and spreads the word on her website.

The pilot brings us into the world of Upper Eastsiders as character Serena van der Woodsen arrives in Grand Central Station. We are immediately introduced to the prominence of the social grapevine, as someone spots her and texts everyone to let them know “the news”: Serena is back after a mysterious six-month disappearance to boarding school in Connecticut, and therefore, drama is imminent. Upon returning, the former queen and resident party girl of Constance-Billard School for Girls finds that she has been whisked off her pedestal, replaced by her best friend and poster-child for good behavior, Blair Waldorf. Due to various circumstances (not the least of which is the fact that Serena slept with Blair’s boyfriend, Nate), Blair hates Serena. An on-again-off-again friendship resumes for the remainder of the aired episodes. Meanwhile, with social status out the window, Dan Humphrey, a shy, moral boy at Constance-Billard’s brother school, St. Jude’s, enters the picture as Serena’s new beau. Aside from that, Dan’s little sister, Jenny, is trying desperately to get in with Blair and her friends, while fighting off advances from Nate’s sinister best friend, Chuck, whose personality can be likened to that of the devious yet subtly sensitive Sebastian Valmont in Cruel Intentions.

Confused yet? We all are. The show is insane, and it is fantastic.

The real power behind Gossip Girl is its seeming intangibility: Probably 95 percent of people will never experience the lavish lives that these teens live. It’s a fantasy world with characters through whom viewers are allowed to live vicariously — watching rich people stress about their problems of social status and reputation is a great escape from real problems like getting financial aid and finding the perfect internship. Also, hot teens in expensive clothing are definite bonuses.

On top of the drama, Gossip Girl makes a mild social commentary on technology. I know it is impossible for me to imagine my life without a cell phone nowadays; and in the show, cell phones can pretty much do everything. With one picture, half the junior class is almost suspended from school; with one text, Chuck destroys Blair’s reputation. Using this technology, gossip is now virtually instantaneous.

And if the characters of Gossip Girl rely on technology, so do the fans.

The show’s viewers can catch up on any “gossip” they’ve missed by watching the episodes online, as most TV networks are now offering full episodes on their websites. Fans of shows like 30 Rock, Heroes, and Grey’s Anatomy can go online to watch episodes at a time other than their regularly scheduled television time slots. In addition, the networks know that putting episodes online is a great way to get more viewers for a show even at mid season.

I think that watching shows online is a great idea — it’s free, convenient, and legal! That being said, part of the reason Hollywood writers are on strike is that they do not receive money off of ads from online episodes. Now, I want to help them and watch Gossip Girl during its regularly scheduled time, but certain extraneous circumstances (read: school) make that impossible. Most fans (myself included) enjoy the freedom and convenience of technology way too much to give it up, just like the Gossip Girl characters depend on cell phones.

Gossip Girl has real staying power, in part because it is so technologically relevant. However, I am worried as to what will happen when it reaches the teen drama death trap: college. But that’s in the future. For right now, Gossip Girl has everything it needs to remain a hit. Maybe those things are superficial (hot stars, great clothes, scandals, and insanity), but escapism isn’t perfect. It is true that the dialogue in Gossip Girl is somewhat lacking, but who cares? It’s still entertaining.

If you want something of value, watch 60 Minutes. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the drama.