When Gossip Girl’s privileged group of Manhattan students first flounced onto our screens in 2007, the social media landscape looked very different to how it does today. Twitter was in its infancy and Instagram didn’t even exist, let alone the horde of selfies, gifs, memes and ageing apps that would later come tumbling out of Pandora’s proverbial box.
The cult phenomenon, which ran for six seasons between 2007 and 2012, was based on the best-selling books of the same name by Cecily von Ziegesar. It made stars out of newcomers Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, Chace Crawford and Ed Westwick, as members of a wealthy clique of New York teenagers from the Upper East Side. Joined by the Brooklyn-residing scholarship student Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley), the group’s every waking moment was broadcast to their peers by Gossip Girl, an anonymous blogger whose posts revealed many of the gang’s deepest, darkest secrets.
Gossip Girl’s identity was kept a mystery right up until the very last episode when (spoiler alert) Dan – the perpetual outsider often referred to as “Lonely Boy” – was revealed as the eponymous blogger – to mass controversy and many a raised eyebrow.
This week, it was announced that Gossip Girl is getting a reboot that will be set in 2020 – “eight years after the original website went dark”. Helmed by original executive producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, and one-time showrunner Josh Safran, the reboot will focus on a new generation of high-school students who are “introduced to the social surveillance of Gossip Girl” when the old site is mysteriously restored.
The new series promises to address how social media has changed in the intervening years, but surely social media is what killed Gossip Girl in the first place? By the time the show ended, the idea of one blogger had ceased to be a concept. The power had already been redistributed to the masses, who were taking to their laptops to post anonymously on public platforms and share every aspect of their lives themselves. Gossip Girl, which practically predicted the rise of the internet troll, can no longer claim to be “your one and only source to the scandalous lives of the Manhattan elite”.
Even if the majority of us wouldn't identify as online trolls, Dan’s self-appointed role as Gossip Girl was to serve a twisted kind of justice, basking in his own sense of righteousness in the process. Surely this is something that everyone on social media has been guilty of at one point or another.
As Jon Ronson, author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, commented in his 2015 TED talk: “The great thing about social media was that it gave a voice to voiceless people. But we are now creating a surveillance society where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.”
So how exactly will a Gossip Girl reboot work in the social media age? The original was essentially an early warning of the real-life ramifications of trolling, and of endlessly sharing every detail of people’s personal lives online.
A 2018 study found that teenagers in the US spend almost half their lives – 45 per cent – online "almost constantly". 72 per cent use Instagram, 69 per cent have a Snapchat account and more than half are on Facebook. A separate study that same year reported that 60 per cent of teenagers feel pressure to look "perfect" on social media, while even more have raised concerns about the impact these platforms have on their mental and physical health.
Considering what a phenomenon it was, and how hundreds of thousands of teenagers were able to relate to those characters regardless of how privileged they were, maybe this Gossip Girl reboot is arriving at just the right time.
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