One of the guilty pleasures of the girls in my high school (including me) was the gossip girl book series, written by ‘Cecily von Ziegesar’. The series follows the lives of rich, white, pretty kids in the posh Upper East Side neighborhood of New York City, as they go about their days in elite private high schools or modeling for some famous photographer or taking cabs downtown to drink margaritas. My own high school (public, competitive, ‘elite’ in terms of selectivity and academics but with a threadbare WASP presence) was on the Upper East Side as well; I remember spending lunch periods during the 9th or 10th grade wondering which of the surrounding elite private schools Blair, Serena, Nate, and their friends went to. Always present, though, was the notion that the books were silly and over-the-top, and therefore the cattiness and melodrama were not to be taken seriously.
The books, though, are marketed to the tween demographic in the first place. And I’m not sure what they make of it; even though the narrator (the invisible, omnipresent, omniscient Gossip Girl) has a somewhat facetious tone, I’m willing to bet that they take the books more seriously than they are intended to be. There is a whole lot of product placement–Serena’s latest purse or Blair’s latest perfume or Jenny’s trip to Bergdorf Goodman–and I wouldn’t be surprised if some tweens insist on emulating their favorite characters by having their parents buy certain things for them.
But the point is: the CW (home to pretty white kids with problems) is making a TV series based on the books, to debut this fall. I will probably tune in to the first episode, then finish the semester and watch the rest online during Winter Break. You can watch three clips here. Something interesting I noticed in the clips is that Kati and Isabel–Blair’s two sidekicks/cronies/lackeys in the books–are played by an Asian-American actress and an African-American actress. I don’t recall there being a description of what K & I (as Gossip Girl would refer to them as) look like in the books, so it seems like the CW is trying to ‘diversify’ the very white world of the gossip girl books. Then again, the cover of the first book does depict someone with darker-than-tan skin:
But considering that K & I don’t add much to the books, I doubt they’ll be adding much to the series–this is pretty blatant tokenism (see also). And also, the show’s casting directors changed the main character of Jenny, who is frequently described as being short, having curly brown hair, and huge boobs (to show her un-WASPiness and juxtapose her with her idol Serena, who is tall, blonde, and lithe) is being played by an actress who doesn’t fit at least two of the three given physical qualifications (but still seems to fit the ‘mousiness’ of the role), colorblind casting doesn’t seem too ludicrous. But who am I kidding, that would never happen. This is the CW.
I am looking forward to the show though. With The O.C. (another how about rich white kids, plus the novelty of a poor white kid, with problems, but which actually at least started out tackling those problems pretty cleverly) creator Josh Scwartz at the helm, I think it could be quite the enjoyable guilty pleasure. Oh, and recently cancelled Veronica Mars‘ Kristen Bell will be narrating!