Gossip Girl here, your one and only source into the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite. Hey Upper East Siders, it’s been a while since we last convened. While we may not be born with royal blood in our veins, we can certainly try to emulate Manhattan royalty. You may not have the luscious blonde hair of It girl Serena Van der Woodsen, but you can use a large barreled curling iron for the same flouncy curls that grace her head. Her wardrobe is colorful and flashy, so try something with glitter or sequins. Remember, if you want to be like S, you’ve got to pop and stand out. Maybe S isn’t really your style and you’d like to go for Queen B instead, just like little J. If that’s the case, a cute headband is essential to your everyday style. Blair’s wardrobe is preppy and classy, filled with pencil skirts and plaid. Keep the makeup simple and natural, with soft pink lips. Rock your style with an air of confidence, because Queen B steps down for no one. For the males in the audience, they have a choice between Nate Archibald and Chuck Bass as their UES role models. To emulate the golden boy, head out to a salon and ask for what Dan dubs “man bangs.” If you’re going for Chuck Bass’s style, then a scarf is a must have, preferably in the color purple. To actually live their lifestyle, have some scotch on hand, and some cigars too. If you want to be extra fancy, get customized cigars from the company Custom Tobacco. You can choose the blend, the wrapper, and the size. You can even design your own cigar band. Even the stoic Bart Bass would be proud. As you can see, it’s not that hard to be a wannabe Manhattan elite. However, while the lives of the elite may seem glamorous and shiny, all that glitters is not gold.
What is it about these Manhattanites that enchants us so? Are they really people to romanticize and glorify? Or are they, in the end, flawed like the rest of us lowly beings? Let’s look back through the years and have them stand trial.
At the beginning of the series, Serena Van der Woodsen returns to New York from boarding school in Connecticut, hoping to turn over a new leaf. Her past has been riddled with scandal and mischief, involving both boys and drugs. While she left to supposedly change her lifestyle, has she really changed for the better? It does seem that her better characteristics are shining through when it is revealed that she returned to New York in order to support her brother Eric while he is in a psychiatric ward. Furthermore, she protects Eric and his secret hospitalization by claiming she is the one staying at the Ostroff center when Blair tries to publicly humiliate her at the Ivy League rendezvous. She is willing to take the blow if it means she can protect someone she loves. However, when Lily, her mother, wants to go away with Rufus, Dan’s father, Serena asks her not to do so because she believes she has a forever love with Dan. Doing so is selfish and doesn’t take into consideration the twenty years Lily and Rufus have had together. Not only does Lily comply with her daughter’s wishes, but Serena and Dan don’t even last as a couple. They end up in an on again and off again relationship. Serena also proceeds to hop from male figure to male figure in her life, each time exclaiming that this is the one and proclaims how much she loves him. This would not be a problem except it causes trouble for the men on the receiving end of her love. Ben, her former high school English teacher, ended up in prison as a result of their relationship. Tripp van der Bilt, Nate’s cousin, has his marriage with Maureen in jeopardy when he has an affair with Serena. This could have been potentially very damaging to his career as a Congressman. Even in the very last season, Serena wavers between Steven and Dan. Ultimately, she ends up marrying Dan. While it did take a long time to get there, Serena is a better person at the end of the series, although she is not perfect. She continued to have a complicated love life but at least she managed to refrain from partying and partaking in drugs. No one can be perfect, and we can only hope for the best.
Now we come to Blair Waldorf, a very complex character. At the beginning of the series, she is your typical mean queen bee. She rules the school with an iron fist clad in preppy plaid. She seems like the quintessential mean girl, hazing Jenny as she tries to integrate into Blair’s clique. She coerces Jenny into running errands for her and pressures her to drink at her slumber party. While it may seem like she’s a princess who gets everything handed to her on a silver platter, there is more to the story than meets the eye. Although the viewer may first despise Blair, we come to understand why she does the things she does, and we see her character mature and evolve throughout the series. Even though she was born into a rich family, Blair actually fights for her achievements. She is studious and dreams of going to Yale. At first she is willing to do whatever it takes to get to the school of her dreams, but when she gets the chance to blackmail Emma Boardman’s mother, a prominent Yale donor, she does not use the opportunity for Emma’s sake. She sees that their family and relationship is more important and chooses to put Emma’s happiness first before her own happiness. We see this turnaround in Blair’s character once again when she goes head to head with the English teacher Rachel. At first, Blair hazes Rachel for giving her a B. She fabricates a rumor about Rachel and Dan and nearly ruins Rachel’s career. When Rachel and Dan actually do sleep together, Dan reveals this information to Blair but again, she declines to use this against Rachel. She tells Rachel that her punishment is just to “live with it.” Later in the series, we see Blair trying her best to succeed at both her internship at W magazine and with steering Waldorf designs in the right direction. Whereas everything comes easily to Serena, Blair has truly been forged by the fires of her trials and tribulations. She blooms into a confident, young woman who not only supports herself but also the love of her life, Chuck Bass.
If Serena is the golden girl, then Nate is her male counterpart. From the beginning, Nate is an easygoing character, although he does not have much of a plan for his life. He parties with Chuck and skips out of school announcements to smoke weed. He wants out of the upper elitist life and admires Carter Baizen at first for breaking free from his family. While it is clear that Nate wants more than what his parents have planned for him, he does not know exactly what he wants or how to get there. However, Nate becomes admirable when he reveals that he wants to go to USC or a different school apart from Dartmouth because he wants to get in on his own merit and not his family prestige. For this reason, Nate studied for the SATs, after which he gives his test materials and books to Dan. Nate also shows signs of maturing into an adult when he confronts his father about his cocaine use. Nate steps up to the plate when his father is eventually jailed for embezzlement and fraud. Furthermore, later in the series, when he becomes editor-in-chief of the Spectator, he refuses to write salacious articles on people’s personal scandals. He also refuses financial help from his grandfather William Van der Bilt. Slowly but surely, Nate is becoming a person in his own right, and building up a name for himself. He wants to succeed on his own terms, and with his own power, not by family influence. By the end of the series, Nate is running for mayor of New York city. He went from being a typical high school stoner to a major figure in the political landscape.
Last but definitely not least, we have Chuck Bass. He is dark and broody with just a touch of mystery. He is the foible to Blair Waldorf. Chuck Bass is the quintessential playboy. At first glance, he seems like he’s bad to the bone. He looks down on Dan for his lowly origins, and flaunts his wealth. He parties and goes through women like a box of tissues. He not only tried to coerce Serena into sex at the beginning, but he also tries to rape Jenny at the Kiss on the Lips party. He is by no means a very likeable character. It is revealed, however, that Chuck does not have a good relationship with his father and always fails to meet his father’s expectations. It is quite likely that this discord is what fuels his party boy personality. Furthermore, through a conversation with Dan, we find out that he finds himself responsible for his mother’s death. We do see a better side of Chuck when he shows ambition and proposes a plan to his father to buy the club Victrola. He is actually trying to turn something he is passionate about into a business proposal that will make his father proud. He is trying to become more like an adult. While he plays with Blair’s feelings at first, his on again and off again relationship with her strengthens him as a character and he learns to own up to his emotions and be vulnerable. While he fought with Nate before over Blair, Chuck shows his compassionate and caring side when he warns Nate that his father is going to run away from the authorities after the Van der Woodsen and Bass wedding. Chuck may have inherited a stoic persona from his father, but when it comes to the people he cares about, he will make sure he protects them. He tries to give Blair her dream prom night and doesn’t even take credit for it. He just wants her to be happy. While he is as scheming and conniving as Blair, together, they bring out the best in each other. Chuck is inspired to dream big and buys out the Empire Hotel. It is a long journey, but by the end of the series, Chuck has become a respectable man.
Whether you loved it or hated it, this series has taken us for quite the ride. Through all the drama, gossip, plotting and lies, the characters managed to forge a path for themelves towards happiness. They laughed and they cried together as they played the game called life. Even if they hurt each other in the process sometimes, they helped each other grow and mature into the adults they are now. It was both an honor and a gift to watch it all. It’s so sweet I just might shed a tear.