Guest Post: You Know You Love Me: Gossip Girl through the Lens of the Medieval Corpus

by Preston Yancey on July 26, 2009

Gossip, the goss, the low-down, the 411, the latest, whatyaknow, spinnin’ a tall tale, a yarn, a good story…..
Today I bring you a guest post from Preston Yancey who looks at CW’s Gossip Girl in a way i’d almost guarantee you’ve never even considered. Preston is a talented writer who also has a blog of his own over at http://www.seeprestonblog.com/.

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You Know You Love Me: Gossip Girl through the
Lens of the Medieval Corpus

Preston Yancey

“Whoever has good material for a story is grieved if the tale is not well told.”[i] So begins Marie de France’s lai, Guigemar, and so too in a modern echo does the television program Gossip Girl when we are told, “Hey, Upper East Siders, Gossip Girl here, and I have the biggest news ever.”[ii]

Bridging the gap between our academic studies and the pop culture world we live in can prove to be a challenge; moreover, convincing people (academics and non-academics alike) that there are overlaps between the two worlds is often difficult and many times disinteresting. I began to ask myself around the start of this summer what my own responsibility was as a growing academic to facilitate a conversation between scholarship and the everyday. After all, I enjoy watching TV, hanging out with friends, seeing films that are not at all intellectual, and yet still enjoy longing around reading Dante or debating interpretations of Virgil. It was from this pondering that the idea of examining Gossip Girl through the lens of the medieval corpus hit me. What better way to explore a salacious and provocative show than through the literature of a time period engrossed in tales of scandal and treachery? What better way to encourage a conversation between academics and weekly viewers?

Sure, it seems a stretch to construct a relationship between the fantastical of the Lais, the ponderings of Boethius, and the journey of Percival with the excessiveness of young affluence, the perpetual sullen expressions of Blair, or the calamity of a Gossip Girl text-blast, but if we allow ourselves the indulgence of whim, the conjoining of these two worlds, medieval and modern, provides us with the unique opportunity to glean from both camps new knowledge and understanding of ourselves.

Regular viewers cannot deny that Gossip Girl reflects a common mindset of selfishness, treachery, and vengeance. Through the gloss of the medieval corpus, however, we may uncover the resolutions to conflicts that cannot be resolved within the story alone and, for our own part, we may better understand what the medieval authors would say to us in how we are to address the problems of the human condition that are raised and explored in the series.
For my work, I have chosen a few areas of focus: Gossip Girl as deity; unchecked affluence as a form of the mystical; Serena Van der Woodson and her relation to Fenice from Chrétien’s Cligés; the relationship between Bart Bass, Lily Van der Woodson (Bass), and Rufus Humphrey as the Arthurian love triangle of Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot; the allegorical motif of Dante’s Commedia with Chuck Bass as the pilgrim and Blair Waldorf as Beatrice; Jenny Humphrey and her path toward self-discovery as it relates to Percival’s own; and, as antithesis to Jenny, Blair’s own self-actualization in the spirit of Boethius and Anselm; and a reflection on the complications that such a world as Gossip Girl presents and the possible, medieval, solutions to remedying the modern problems.

From these renderings, taking the modern works and affixing to them a gloss from the medieval corpus, I aim to expose underlying commonalities of the two worlds and bring the discussion to works outside of the medieval and outside of Gossip Girl, seeking to broaden the scope of both academic consideration and appreciation of pop culture.

Notes
[i] Marie de France, Lais (New York: Penguin Books, 2003), 43.
[ii] “Pilot” Gossip Girl 2007. Directed by Mark Pizarski. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1036062/

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