How Girls Took Over Gossip Girl's Throne, and What That Says About Us

Gossip Girl is to 2008 as Girls is to 2012.  

by Kate Hakala

Gossip Girl comes to a halt on December 17th, after six seasons of duplicitous scheming, barely-there couture, and "scandalous" teen sex. But as Gossip Girl's illusions of grandeur (as glimpsed through Blake Lively's legs) fade out, the real-bodied, awkward, emotional car crash that is Lena Dunham's Girls has taken center stage. How did two very different shows command the zeitgeist so thoroughly a scant four years apart?

Gossip Girl arrived in late 2007 and hit its stride in 2008, a year marked by the housing crash and the worst economic depression since the Great one. In the midst of this tumult, people wanted fantasy, glamor; the type of apolitical, inconsequential drama that the show promised and delivered. Consequently, it was talked about to death. New York Magazine called the "most awesomely awesome show ever." Eventually, though, it turned solidly into a soap opera (complete with back-from-the-dead twists), and on the eve of its demise, seems tacky, like something we've outgrown since high school.

If Dunham's characters are written at a gut level and uploaded to Tumblr, Gossip Girl's were written at dick level and sent to TMZ.

Girls launched this year to a nation in the midst of a muddled recuperation. Brunches, Bendel's, and Barney's aren't even a cold escapist comfort anymore; the public has spoken, and it wants a voice it can gripe with. Raw, invasive, and unnervingly reminiscent of real life, Girls was the most talked-about show of 2012, taking that title only four years after Gossip Girl, a show that was its polar opposite. Gossip Girl promised a look into the "the scandalous lives of Manhattan's elite;" Girls delivers "the assorted humiliations and rare triumphs of a group of girls in their early 20s."

Gossip Girl succeeded because it was coming off the suntanned high of creator Josh Schwartz's triumphant teen drama The O.C. and the high-water mark where the wave of wealth-porn reality TV (The Hills) broke. Girls, on the other hand, is building on the success of consciously bumbling, self-aware, mockumentary shows like Louie and Parks and Recreation. If Gossip Girl's were written at dick level and sent to TMZ, Dunham's characters are written at a gut level and uploaded to Tumblr. While both are purportedly offering an "insider" glimpse of something, and both chasing the holy grail of authenticity, they're doing it in different ways. Gossip Girl shows a glossy behind-the-curtain vision of the world we wanted to live in as we tottered towards a recession, while Girls shows us that behind other people's curtains, it's just as bad. Both are trading on different aspects of the Web 2.0: vicariously witnessing a world you'll never really know in one case; emotional, too-much-information oversharing in the other. 

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