Julie D’Acci’s piece on television, “Television, Representation and Gender,” shows how television’s depiction of gender is a representation our own perceptions of gender and these perceptions are often removed and distant from reality. In the world of Gossip Girl, gender distinctions are based on the idea that being white, skinny/fit, and wealthy makes you an insider while anything different from these standards make you unconventional—and not even in a cool, hipster way! Although so many new programs are arising that scale the degree of femininity or masculinity of its characters, we are still forced to compare these representations to what we as viewers consider to be cool and normal. By setting and interpreting these norms, as participators, we inadvertently establish a set of exclusions what is considered to be accepted.
One passage in D’Acci’s argument that particularly stood out to me commented on this idea of inadvertent exclusion. D’Acci writes, “It became apparent that future work on the representations of gender would have to take into account the ways the categories masculinity and femininity depended on such exclusions and repressions,” stating that we can only determine what is normal by first determining what is strange and undesired. She goes on to say “that normative femininity on early United States television was not only represented as white, middle-class, young, maternal, heterosexual and American, but was utterly dependent on the excluded categories of black, ethnic, working-class, old, non-maternal, lesbian, and non-American as its repressed others,” (379). This argument, that what is normal is based and constructed upon what is abnormal, goes hand in hand with D’Acci’s argument of marking. We assign certain expectations with being a white male just as we assign certain expectations for being an African American woman.
Creating these distinctions suggests that one marking is above all of the other markings. And though in my mind, I say that Chace Crawford is the ultimate example of a perfect man, who’s to say there is only one definition of perfection? The establishment of these markings helps to create a hierarchy in society based upon who is closest to the established characteristics. In most cases, as established above, the characteristics of white, male, and wealthy/powerful are typically considered to be of the highest rank and deviations from this marking are lower down the social ladder. For women, it is valued they be white and domestic, usually lean and beautiful.
Gossip Girl exemplifies the issues of markings based off of exclusions flawlessly. Based in the Upper East Side of New York City, the characters of Gossip Girl attend an elite private high school filled with rich teenagers. The girls of Constance Academy are shown to be leggy, skinny, and well dressed, and most of them happen to be white and blonde. To viewers, if you are anything different from these markers (cough cough 90% of the people I know), you are illegible to attend Constance and be a part of the society. The character Vanessa, who has distinct bohemian style and spirit, is never embraced by the preppy, girly dressers of Constance. The boys of St. Jude’s are defined as white, muscular, and wealthy. Like Constance, St. Jude’s rejects the exclusions of these markings. The exception to these markings is Dan Humphrey, who although is white and fit, is not particularly wealthy and for this reason alone, he is considered to be an outsider. He lives in Brooklyn as opposed to the Upper East Side and is not outgoing with the women of Constance. We constantly see Dan being overlooked and ridiculed, for example, in the pilot, Chuck and Nate make fun of him on the bus to school.
This is poisonous to society because it rewards people for having certain characteristics and can create, “horrific power that accompanies the enforcement of the conventional binary.” Additionally, these castes often limit and dictate our choices in television viewing by defining certain channels, times of airing, and charge for premium access. For example, television programmers dictate who is able to watch soap operas by playing primarily during them midday on weekdays to target stay-at-home-mothers. However, by playing soap operas in this time slot, programmers negate the possibility that someone like my business man dad would be interested in indulging in this programming. Programmers must assume that housewives are primarily interested in watching soap operas during the midday when in reality, each housewife could be individually more interested in cop shows or sporting events (I know I would be). These assumptions create a cycle that keeps viewers watching their assigned shows and inside their castes based off markings of gender and status.
It is easy to see the effects of these gender regulations and markings on the character of Dan Humphrey. In the first few seasons of the show, Dan and Serena attempt to date and are seen as star-crossed loves restricted by class. The couple disagrees throughout the first season because Serena has life easy and Humphrey cannot relate to that. Serena’s best friend Blair even confirms their incompatibility by pointing out he will never become like the men of St. Jude’s because he is too in touch with his poetic, brooding side (Dan is also known as a writer on the show). Dan is immediately shunned from the world of the Upper East Side simply because he doesn’t fit the superficial mold of what an Upper East Side “man” is. He is judged on his differences, rather than his similarities, and upon the assumption that different is bad.
Even though the scale differentiating between masculinity and femininity is becoming more ambiguous, thus allowing for more diversity, shows like Gossip Girl and many others still reinforce gender expectations for males and females that naturally create exclusions. These expectations are detrimental to society because they create a social hierarchy that is an inaccurate reflection of reality. To create a more equal construction of acceptable gender balances, we must make the programs with ambiguity more prominent and create a new norm.
D’Acci, Julie. “Television, Representation and Gender.” The Television Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, 2004. 373-88.