Dark Clouds

Gossip Girl goes into reruns starting this week, with no new episodes until after the new year. It’ll be hard to manage, but I’m glad something finally happened this season.

Jenny is my favorite character. Although I love me some Blair and Serena, I really like Jenny’s moxie. She stood up to the girls at school and beat them at their own game, then set off to take the fashion–and philanthropy–world by storm with her guerilla fasion show. Yes, you heard me–there was a guerilla fashion show.

Then Jenny considered emancipating herself from her parents.

Now she generally just has punk-rock hair and wears cute clothes. She doesn’t raise hell unless somebody goes looking for it. I relate to that.

Well, loyal readers, this week represents my final work week before retreating west for R&R with the fam and the bf. I probably won’t put in another 60 hour week, but it’ll be busy. Posts will be sparse, their depth debatable. But while I’m out there working it, I hope you’ll be working it too, poetically speaking. Write me something nice. Bonus points if you use the word “coal,” because that’s what some of you’ll be getting this holiday season. Might be a good investment in these tough economic times!

You know you love me.

xoxo,
CR

America and the Culture of Surveillance

After writing my post yesterday, I got to thinking about how unremarkable the idea at the heart of Gossip Girl really is these days. Why we aren’t shocked or surprised by the concept, why we say it couldn’t happen (or even why it shouldn’t happen), or more importantly, why we don’t look away.

We live in a world where we are routinely privy to the private and intimate conversations of those around us, particularly the cyborgs roaming the grocery stores and airports with their unnerving Bluetooth earpieces. We are encouraged to join social networking websites and share detailed and organized information about ourselves, our relationships, our friends, our jobs. We build websites that promote our writing, as we must, but they reveal who we are in ways that are accessible by everyone with an internet connection 24 hours a day.

We are a paparazzi culture where knowing a celebrity’s underwear size and preference seems like data we can justify pursuing. We know the sex lives of our presidents now. We can’t always prove it, but we’re pretty sure who’s gay, who’s stealing scarves from Sak’s and exactly how Angelina wrestled Brad away from Jen. More than that, we know what Angelina was thinking and feeling when she did it.

Although I engage and participate in the boundaryless culture, I don’t necessarily support it. I am a private person at heart–although you read this blog, consider how much you know of my aspirations, my dreams, my fears–even my boyfriend–as opposed to what TV shows I watch and which political movements I support. Because I know you’re watching me. And listening. And don’t ever think for a moment that you’re surveilling my thoughts. I’m handing them to you, carefully selected, pre-approved.

The Only Thing Worse than Being Talked About

One of the more intriguing facets of Gossip Girl’s narrative structure is its reinforcement of the idea of the panopticon.

The panopticon, originally conceived by architect Jeremy Betham, is a circular prison structure in which prisoners can be watched without them seeing the person watching them. Michel Foucault famously deconstructed the philosophy behind the panopticon in Discipline and Punish, but many people will recognize it in a more literary context—that of George Orwell’s Big Brother.

In Gossip Girl, it’s not Big Brother who’s watching, it’s Big Sister, speaking to us (the audience) in the purring, confidential voice overs provided by Kristen Bell. But there are a few important differences between Big Sister and the panopticon:

1. Gossip Girl doesn’t actually watch anyone herself
2. Gossip Girl doesn’t report what she sees, she reports what she knows.

It’s true. Gossip Girl is the twenty-first century version of Big Brother because she deals in knowledge, which in the reality of the show is the ultimate currency, trumping even the enormous trust funds of its denizens. Gossip Girl’s free influx of information comes from her army of watchers—her loyal readers—who can be anyone.

Although Gossip Girl is the enforcer of what is “good” behavior and what is “bad” (although her definitions tend to be in alignment with contemporary society’s), she isn’t simply an enforcer. She is also a tool, an elegant, sophisticated form of punishment various main characters use to serve their own sense of justice. Blair is the most notable user of Gossip Girl as a tool for retribution, sending her juicy tidbits on her friends to pay them back for their perceived misdeeds. Unlike Big Brother, Gossip Girl doesn’t just enforce societal codes; instead, she enforces justice.

Justice is a malleable ideal. It’s more than simply “wrong” or “right.” As a friend of mine once told me, evil people never conceive themselves as committing acts of evil. The human conscience requires justification—a ha! justice—in order to act. Jacques Lacan referred to this as “passage l’acte” (permission to act); the lack of it is essentially what keeps “good” people from stealing, committing murder, etc.

In Gossip Girl, justice often entails facilitating someone getting their comeuppance for being too upwardly mobile, too downwardly mobile, too self-righteous, or too hypocritical. It’s this last crime, the crime of hypocrisy, that is most widely enforced. In the world of Gossip Girl, there is no greater transgression than to criticize one person’s behavior and then commit it yourself.

And really, what’s so wrong about that?

I’m back and better than ever.

There’s nothing quite like a holiday, complete with eleven hours of travel (door to door) to get you feeling rejuvenated and ready for work again. Especially when you start that first day back with a parking ticket and some really disconcerting news at the office.

But I’ve shaved today, a semiannual ritual of sorts, and look twelve years old. I’m wearing a new houndstooth blazer I got on sale. I’m drinking a cup of that strong Writer’s Center coffee. And I’m ready, world, for what’s next.

I spent a good chunk of the break revising the full-length version of the Living Things manuscript. I hadn’t looked at it in ages and was, for a while, thinking about chucking it. (I chuck a lot of work.) I cut some poems, rewrote a few others, and am still tinkering with the title piece, which has been really difficult to nail down.

I think it’s getting there.

I also started rewriting a fiction piece I’ve been working on for a while called Musical Theatre in Hell.

And I read all of the second Gossip Girl novel, You Know You Love Me.

You could say I’m a little obsessed.

OMFGG

Last week I downloaded OMFGG: Original Music from Gossip Girl. This is because during every episode I end up feeling like the music on the show feels exactly right for it, even when the choice is something unexpected. I think of a scene from an episode earlier this year when Blair, during an impromptu garden party she’s thrown, walks down the long, wood-paneled hall of a townhouse toward the library, where she’s about to find her ex-boyfriend and her current boyfriend’s stepmother in flagrante delicto. The song playing? Santogold’s “Creator,” a raucous, frenetic, and flat-out strange track that doesn’t exactly scream “potential heartache” at all. But what it does do is suit the character moreso than sensitive acoustic rock would under any circumstance. Blair is, after all, a hunter. The song does her justice.

Though “Creator” isn’t included on Volume 1 of OMFGG, there are plenty of other great songs here. Of the bands, only two (Phantom Planet and The Ting Tings) were known to me; the rest are delightful finds. The first half of the album pounds with steady rock beats and infectious pop hooks with songs like The Kills’ “Sour Cherry” (which asks, repeatedly, if you’re the “only sour cherry on the fruit stand”), The Kooks’ “Do You Wanna,” The Teenagers’ “Feeling Better,” and The Virgins’ “One Week of Danger.” Some fun electronic pieces take over, like Nadia Oh’s “Got Your Number” and “Crimewave” by Crystal Castles.

Because I’m a Gossip Girl nerd, I watched the DVD extra on the show’s music. I know the producers consider two factors when planning the soundtrack—that these kids would have access to (and would seek out the social cache of) obscure music, but would be obligated by their age and peer group to adhere to accepted musical standards of their generation. I think the album satisfactorily straddles both ends of the spectrum. It’s also fun to listen to on your iPod while walking to and from the subway (this I’ve tested).

Two fun inclusions on the bonus version: “Everytime,” by character Rufus Humphrey’s fictitous almost-famous 90s band Lincoln Hawk (which is purportedly written about fellow character Lily Van Der Wootsen, now Lily Bass—sorry, Rufus) and the girls prep school choir version of Fergie’s “Glamorous,” notable for encouraging children remember to not include the phantom “u” in their spelling of the word.

Where am I going and where have I been?

I fell into a Gossip Girl whole and spent my entire Saturday eating waffles and watching all the season 2 episodes so far.

It made me feel like this:

Then, I spent subsequent days catching up on all the episodes of Privileged and 90210 too. They’re not as good as GG–in fact, 90210 is as reeky as the original, unfortunately, but I like Privileged despite its moral-of-the-story-afterschool-special episode-ending summaries. The lead actress is really good.

Now I have to get caught up on Fringe and Ugly Betty.

And then, I can, you know, go back to being a writer and stuff.