Give Me Rich TV Sociopaths, Or Give Me Death
My answer, in short, is yes. While the diversity of the new Gossip Girl’s cast is to be commended—especially since many, including actor Yin Chang, who played Kelly Yuki on the original, have noted its insufficient and flawed representation of characters of color—I hope the reboot won’t dispense entirely with Gossip Girl’s tradition of semi-lovingly skewering the lifestyles of the Manhattan elite. After all, as the writer Zoé Tsamudzi recently noted on Twitter, social media is replete with über-rich people attempting to atone for their privilege-related original sins; isn’t the joy of a show like Gossip Girl that it eschews all such posturing, allowing the viewer a keyhole glimpse into what it’s really like to be young, rich, and terrible in New York?
If you’re wondering whether it’s possible to present the upper echelons of New York wealth without sacrificing diversity or cultural sensitivity, allow me to point to the HBO series Betty, whose second season premiered on June 11. One of the first season’s best surprises came when Indigo (Ajani Russell), a too-cool-for-school weed dealer and amateur skateboarder who tries hard to pass herself off as just one of the gang, is revealed to be a New York rich girl whose mother works in real estate. Russell’s delivery of the single word “SoHo” when asked where she’s from—spat out with obvious reluctance—should serve as proof that it’s still possible to mine humor from the antics of wealthy Manhattanites; they just don’t all have to be white.
Shows from Arrested Development to Succession have succeeded at presenting visions of familial wealth and power precisely because they don’t shy away from highlighting their entitled protagonists’ foibles and character flaws; after all, does anyone really want to see Arrested matriarch Lucille Bluth quit drinking, give up her furs, and start being nicer to her children? For that matter, what would Succession look like without scenes involving rich people covering their eyes with napkins to eat ortolan? Isn’t there room for a world that balances guilty-pleasure wealth porn with nuanced and thoughtful series about people who don’t fly private or engage in boardroom power struggles?
Not every show can be Succession, of course, and to try to recreate its signature blend of genuine pathos and near-sociopathic richesse would be akin to capturing lightning in a bottle. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sort of hoping for the new Gossip Girl to hew closer to Succession than, say, 13 Reasons Why. I’m of the school that believes must-see scripted TV has a responsibility to be representative and inclusive, but not necessarily instructive; and really, don’t we learn as much from satire as we do from morality plays, if not more? I guess what I’m saying is, bring on the stiletto heels and luxury Ubers, because I’ve got some professionally attractive and devastatingly rich teens to hate-watch.
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