By Ugochi Uzoigwe
E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction provides David Foster Wallace’s evaluation of the growing television industry during the early 1990’s. He explains how television plays a role in understanding ourselves. How? We use it as a guide for what’s “normal”. He also notices the cultural trance that it has placed on society. We constantly turn to the TV as an outlet for our urge to watch others, and in the case of Gossip Girl, it’a no surprise that we do. Foster Wallace claims that television has appealed to the lonely Joe Briefcases, maybe in our cases the lazy new-era girls, who are fixed in front of the TV for a grand six hours a day. But why? It’s television ironic tactics that individually entice viewers to become one of many viewers staring into the tube.
Wallace speaks on the love-hate relationship the audience has toward television. We ultimately love TV, because it seems to separate us from our reality. TV is an outlet for fun. It helps a Joe Briefcase to fill his loneliness with fictional companionships and connections with characters; it seems natural to talk about Serena Van der Woodsen like she’s real, but it’s far from it. Also, television is used as “a transcendence of average daily life”. The fast-paced, luxury and drama-filled world of Gossip Girl seems unattainable. Our love for watching others is heightened by these qualities; making six hours of our day seem insignificant.
One of our reasons for hatred of the medium is in its form. Wallace identifies itas low art, as it tries too hard to please its viewers. We tend see right through the message that T.V. is trying to get at. Or do we? Yes, an audience may roll their eyes or complain, but they don’t just turn off the program. It is because television chooses to openly acknowledge this eagerness to please as well. But TV knows that we hate it, and it is this fact that motivates it in providing irony to relive that hate. One way it does so by providing its audience with in-jokes. The fulfilling feeling of connecting the dots TV places before us encourages us to continue watching. Television has also altered what it chooses to focus on. Before, TV focused on versions of “real life”; now, it just references itself. It began transform our TV experience, creating a malignantly addictive lifestyle that is fueled by the problems it causes.
Ironic television has definitely caught the attention of TV viewers; Wallace describes TV’s many methods of keeping the audience’s eyes focused on a television screen. Its main method is through audience-conditioning. How? Television had become a mastermind in determining the ideas and goals of an audience; it was able to discern through popular opinion and then re-represent itself. Television shows adjusted themselves to the new values surrounding of their audiences and well as their vulnerabilities. Instead of wholesomeness and goodness, the audience had begun to show more fascination in bad-boy irreverence. There was a rise in individuality as well, especially through ads. Deployment of pop-cultural references, brand names, etc. set the course for connectedness with TV.
Wallace’s opinions of televisual culture seem to somewhat hold value in Gossip Girl. Although I wouldn’t consider it a highly ironic environment, certain instances of TV connectedness are present in the show. First off, the series plays on the fact that TV provides an escape from everyday life. The wealthy characters and beautiful homes in which the characters live provide a getaway from the of majority middle-class life of the audience. It also highlights people’s love to observe other people. The main characters of Gossip Girl, Serena, Blair, Nate, and Chuck, are constantly being watched by the anonymous “Gossip Girl”. Because it is a drama, the series focuses more on irreverence and vulgarity than wholesomeness. For example, several episodes of the first season show scenes suggestive of intimacy of different characters on the show, and the topic of sex is frequently discussed. Even down to the pop-culture soundtrack of “Gossip Girl” episodes, the show creates nostalgia for a teenage audience as Wallace stated among the rock culture of the sixties.
The growth of television has truly led to a change in televisual experience for the audience. For Joe Briefcase, TV seems to have created an addictive, ironic cycle of TV watching. With television’s ability to adapt and condition, it was not surprising to see how many lonely people have become one loosely connected audience. But if this is the case, why am I still sitting in bed watching this alone? Although the show itself isn’t completely concerned about the agenda of enticing Joe Briefcase, Gossip Girl overall reflects these trends.
Wallace, David Foster. “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 13.2 (1993): 151-94. Print.