Last week, Rabia and I took large amounts of joy at taking stabs at Gossip Girl, especially this whole “3SOME” thing we were convinced would never come to fruition. When it did — if you didn’t see the episode, Vanessa, Dan and Olivia decided to act on the “experimentation” aspect of college and get busy — we groaned a little, and puked in our mouths, a lot. This is in part because, as I’ve stated before, I have some allergic reaction to watching Hilary Duff on my TV, and in part because Dan and Vanessa having sex is just too great a combination of all the judgmental superiority complex in one bumping of uglies without the world imploding.
(As a side note, can you imagine how freakin’ self-satisfied their tool of a “free love” child would be? He or she would emerge onto the world, already safe in the knowledge that he or she was better than everyone else in the world. I already loathe and yet am fascinated by this non-existent fictional child. Anyway.)
It was also kind of boring, which is why it was no fun. We were ready to write Gossip Girl off for this, but then I was reading Jacob Clifton’s recap of the episode on TelevisionWithoutPity.com. Clifton, by the by, is not only a million times more eloquent a TV writer than I’ll ever be, but in my opinion, the absolute best there is, even if he seems to go off on tangents a lot.
Clifton, however, made this point (using Anya Marina’s cover of T.I.’s “Whatever You Like” as a tool of textual analysis):
“The unbelievable glee and luck and gratitude shifting across Dan's face, the surprise Vanessa feels when her body flows to this like water, the strength Olivia feels for finding a cliff and choosing to jump off: This is what sex should be like, every time. Like a gift you didn't even earn, in a wilderness country without any laws at all, when you realize nobody is watching. And of all the dumb reasons to have sex in college, especially for girls, this is it: All of them. Taking the implication as the idea that everybody has a threesome in college is ludicrous, but all of us do this. And spend the rest of our lives trying to get that feeling back again: When you could have whatever you like.”
First off, I’ve been listening to Anya Marina’s song on constant repeat. But if you know me, you know that this issue — the grey areas of sex and consent, where sexual agency, or rather, the decisions that you or I or he or she makes about sex, as an autonomous, individual, as an I, versus when those decisions are determined and regulated in part by outside factors, like our families, our social networks, our fears of being determined or even our rebellions against that — is a hot topic for me. (AKA: It’s my thesis. Gossip Girl recap doubling as research? For shame.)
Thus, Clifton’s point is really interesting — was the Dan/Vanessa/Olivia moment so puke-worthy because the three of them are so puke-worthy? Or did it make me squeamish (can’t speak for Rabia here) because it was too much of a mirror? I don’t mean that personally, but I mean … Clifton points this out too, but I think the reasons why Dan and Vanessa make me (and a lot of us) uncomfortable because they’re just so damn real, in all of their hypocritical EGO (to Chuck’s first season ID and Blair’s Superego), judgments and insecurity. Whether you’ve had a threesome or not, whether you agree with Clifton or not, what we saw was not overtly sexual at all, so much as weird, and that was because it was a fairly mundane, and yet simultaneously SUPREMELY important, private moment. There’s a reason why those things happen behind closed doors.
But this idea of the freedom behind the act, that, maybe even because Hilary Duff wasn’t supposed to be long for GG, that they were safe in their decision, and that, primarily, they were making a decision instead of playing blind into their own self-destructive patterns (Cough, Serena, Cough, but we’ll get to that in a second) … that concept is pretty powerful, and I think, pretty realistic.
There are all sorts of people who would disagree with me that choosing to have sex is an act of independence, autonomy and empowerment. Chuck Klosterman in fact goes out of his way in Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs to state that his biggest problem with sex liberation and second wave feminism of Sex and the City, was the identification of sex with power:
“Whenever I see TV shows like Fox’s defunct Ally McBeal or HBO’s Sex and the City, I find myself perplexed as to how this is sometimes viewed as an “advancement” for feminism, it seems to imply that it’s empowering for women to think like all the stupidest men I know (myself included) … The consensus is that the double standard is wrong, so—therefore—we should all have sex with as many people as possible, regardless of our gender.”
This argument, in a sense, says that while the role has reversed, the agency is still out of women’s hands — now we’re performing based on an outside force telling us that’s what were supposed to do if we’re modern women. It’s not necessarily wrong, and it’s come up before in GG: last season, for instance, when Serena’s slimy artsy boyfriend (not Dan), Aaron Rose, brought his ex girlfriend in for a guest appearance … this was the girl who apparently slept with every guy on the first date, in order to stick it to the man, or something.
But that’s not what’s going on here. If this threesome thing is supposed to stand in for “sex in college” — which fits, since the only characters who actually operate on a level where college matters are Vanessa, Dan and Olivia — then the risk of the moment, and the reward of the song, is this supposed absolute freedom; or this post-feminist decision to have sex, primarily, because you can. Maybe because it starts as a big F U to those naysayers who regulated you in high school, but in the moment, itself, all the performance falls off and the ultimate power, or fear, is this realization that the decision is no longer happening as a statement or a challenge, but just because you want it to.
This may not be indicative of college, or the way GG is looking at college … but then compare it to the other “threesomes” of the night, or the other women in this episode: Jenny’s major battle this episode is defining herself, or thrusting off her old label as “Brooklyn.” I’m not a New Yorker, so these location-statuses don’t make much sense to me. But Jenny’s major battles for her independence are often completely unsexual in their acts (at least by her choice) … and yet at the same time, are defined by the men around her. And yet tonight, she gains her independence by finding the right male status symbol, and then when he fails, finding another. A romantic or sexual relationship doesn’t matter, what matters is asserting her identity. Jenny, as far as we know, is still a virgin (I’m pretty sure she and Nate only made out a few times); both times she came close to having sex, she was put in really compromising positions by the men around her (first Chuck, then Asher), which she had sort of knowingly walked into in order to gain status and approval by her social circle. Jenny’s decisions are circumvented by Eric, thinking he knows what’s best for her; by Blair, pissed off enough to try to get even; and random usurpers, all around. Jenny is in high school.
Serena lives and breathes every day on this show as a sex symbol; pretty much everything about her has to do with that. And the show doesn’t help by putting her in the most boob-baring, ass-barely-covering outfits ever. She also often acts like she’s nothing more than a viewer of her own life, sort of standing by and watching as self-destruction happens without taking ownership of what is happening. Serena is not in high school (she never was, in a sense); she’s not in college either. She’s supposedly out in the “real world.” Serena is spiraling towards the inevitable affair she’s going to have with Tripp. Even her whole, “Oh, I’m just showing up to his office at 2 in the morning to resign,” is clearly her closing her eyes and taking steps towards this whole thing. Serena has a hard time taking ownership of her decisions, a lot of the time; or maybe it’s actually that she’s this really powerful force that never moves while everything else spins around her. I don’t know. I just know that in this case, she seems to be walking with her eyes willfully closed. Serena is, pretty much, screwed. Serena is not in high school, or in college … she’s trying to manage the “real world,” without being willing to force herself out of her usual cycles. Just because something’s self-destructive doesn’t mean it’s safe. Serena is all of us seniors in about six months.
These are sort of reified, and confused, analyses. But I’m still listening to “Whatever You Like” on repeat, and I keep thinking about what is actually going on with this 3SOME – aside from obvious advertising. Most of you probably just think that Gossip Girl is a fun diversion for an hour; you may even think it’s shit. But I think Gossip Girl is one of those shows, masked as senseless drama, but when it’s done well, it’s spectacular, and it speaks more to class and gender issues for young women (and men too) than pretty much anything else out there these days, except Skins.
That’s not to say that the “freedom” of the D,V and O threesome isn’t going to have major consequences, or that tonight isn’t going to get blown to hell (if the previews are to be believed). That’s also not to say that the whole scene was a curious combination of boring and nauseating. I wasn’t kidding: We puked, a lot. But if there are two competing narratives of sexual agency, right now, with Twilight serving as a complete rejection of any personal agency or responsibility whatsoever — letting the big man dictate what you do, and making sure your safe, “spider monkey,” or whatever — then this “Whatever You Like” option is its competition, a really, oversimplified version of third wave feminism. Feminism, in this instance, which applies to girls, yes, but men too: a sort of creepy, soulful, suggestive invitation: All options are open, you can go wherever you like (space), you can have whatever you like (possession).
… But yet, no one is saying: “You can do whatever you like.”
But enough of my babbling. On with the show!