Gossip Girl 3.06 “Enough About Eve” (aka Social Identity Theory)
This week’s episode of Gossip Girl is a very combative one: Vanessa versus Blair, the Van Der Bilts versus the Buckleys, aristocrats versus egalitarians — it’s all about pitting faction against faction. In an earlier review, I addressed how the American worker was pacified by getting the working class to look up and identify with their exploiters. Part of that was accomplished by associating the ruling class and the workers together in the same ingroup. This seems like an impossible task, since the worker and his employer have conflicting agendas; no rational justification could be used to bring the two groups together. Of course, the tactics used — religious fanaticism, nationalism, identity politics, and jingoism — override the raitonal. They appeal to the almost-instinctual fear of the alien and the other. Thomas Frank in his book What’s the Matter with Kansas? explains how states like Kansas and Oklahoma, once hotbeds of leftism, could be co-opted to vote against their own interests. By appealing to race and religion, the ruling class taints progressive causes that advocate the public interest, demonizing them as decadent or corrupt or “un-American,” whatever that is supposed to mean. “Shares our values” is still one of the most important metrics of a candidate’s electability. It’s all about values.
The same is true in the world of Gossip Girl. It’s interesting to see how New York University is perceived. Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester), who once considered even the prestigious Sarah Lawrence beneath her, considers it a mark of shame that she’s forced to attend the school and disdains it every chance she gets. Gabriela (Gina Torres) heaps scorn on the school as well, although she comes from the other side and considers the private university to be exclusionary; she believes that education should be a public good open to all. The show frames both positions as unreasonable, causing friction in the relationships between both Blair and Chuck (Ed Westwick) and Gabriela and her daughter Vanessa (Jessica Szohr). However, the equivalence between the two positions is a false one. Blair’s disdain comes from a complaint about how the school does not comport with her own self-perceived status as an elite — it’s an argument about image. Gabriela, on the other hand, is arguing that using education as a commodity and marker of the elite is itself wrong; hers is a criticism of society. It’s a shame that she lets it affer her relationship with her daughter, but as she points out, the quest for status leads Vanessa to do horrible some horrible things. Gabriela is not entirely off-base.
The conflict between Vanessa and Blair for the coveted Freshman toast is brisk and filled with reversals, making great use of a number of open-mic gaffes: Vanessa says “I wish Rufus and Lily were my parents” right as her own mother walks in, while Blair inadvertently recounts how she manipulated her boyfriend into kissing another man in order to steal the toast away from Vanessa. The situation itself is awkward and played for laughs to great effect, allowing Westwick to deliver the delightfully enigmatic line “You really think I’ve never kissed a guy before?” (and thus ensuring the hatred of Kansans everywhere. Yeah, I can’t help it.)
In the end, the toast goes to starlet Olivia (Hilary Duff), who makes a gaffe of her own when Vanessa manipulates her into thinking that Rufus (Matthew Settle) and Lily (Kelly Rutherford) were judgmental and looked down on “Hollywood types.” In response, she plays the stereotype to the hilt, acting haughty and snooty towards them. The funny thing is that her behavior is only a slightly-exaggerated version of the attitudes that Lily’s own daughter Serena (Blake Lively) and her socialite friends hold themselves. The show attempts to paint the Hollywood stereotype as gauche and disrespectful, but the two elites share more commonalities than differences. It’s an artificial distinction.
Another distinction — it’s apparent that Gossip Girl hates the South. Just as the only Briton we’ve seen was a guy who slept with his own (step)mother, all the Southerners we’ve seen have been con men, creepy evangelicals, spies, and brutish oilmen. The Buckleys are among that group, and their feud with the Van Der Bilts is representative of another conflict between ingroups. Are we supposed to sympathize with the Van Der Bilts because they are Democrats and the Buckleys are Republicans? We’ve already seen that the Van Der Bilts are just as controlling, manipulative, and desirous of power; they only reinforce that image in this episode. (For a moment, I almost though that Gossip Girl was actually engaging in political commentary.)
The Buckleys are truly callous when engaging in what amounts to indentured servitude. But is there anything more noxious than the look of fear and disgust on Serena’s face when she contemplates that her boyfriend might have to WORK on an oil rig? Newsflash: People do that when they need money. At least when Blair is being annoying and elitist, we sense that rather viscerally. Serena, on the other hand, rarely comes off as unsympathetic even when she should be. Maybe Blake Lively is just so charismatic that she can’t sell being incorrect or unlikable — but that’s a negative. (Another lesson from this episode is to never bring Nate Archibald near a poker table. That guy’s a real cooler.)
But at the end of an episode all about factions and the boundaries between them, those boundaries become quite blurred. In their manipulations and machinations, both Blair and Vanessa burn everyone close to them. In the end, they have no one else — except each other? They break bread (croissants) together. Who knows if it actually means anything, since there are reverses in every Gossip Girl episode that rarely last, but it’s a fitting cap for the episode.
Cultural references in this episode (this one has a ton):
- All About Eve is a 1950 film starring Bette Davis as Broadway actress whose star is on the wane. Davis is certainly a contrast to Hepburn, who Blair constantly dreams herself as. Whereas Hepburn is remembered as a youthful and energetic figure in such movies as Charade, Davis was more serious and perhaps of a bygone era. I enjoyed her turn in The Corn is Green where she played a stern but caring schoolmarm who sends a young coal miner to Oxford.
- Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is another film where Bette Davis channels a fading actress well past her prime, descending into obscurity and insanity. Blair’s certainly getting all Freudian.
- Welcome Back, Kotter was a sitcom most notable for the breakout performance of John Travolta as the leader of the slacker high school students known as the Sweathogs. This episode peppers references to actors with notably checkered careers and who are memorable for their faded glory.
- J.R. Ewing from the television show Dallas pretty much epitomizes the stereotype of the evil Texan.
- Blair draws as her inspiration for the toast the works of Thomas Hobbes, Mao Zedong, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Sun Tzu. I’m sure it would have been a speech to make a neoconservative proud.