So…. In the last few months I have finally surrendered to the time-sucking vortex that is Netflix. I grew tired of listening to my friends talking about these amazing shows and endlessly watching movies and so, I joined the club. I have found myself binge watching shows that were cool ten years ago that I never watched but wanted to see what the fuss was all about. One of those shows was Gossip Girl.
Don’t stop reading.
Yes. I know. It’s not the most sophisticated of shows (but is delightfully sultry and addictive). But I’m going somewhere with this. I promise.
So, after a couple of months of compulsive watching and Chair shipping (Ed Westwick *sigh*)
I found myself at the end of my journey until someone enlightened me that it had been inspired by a book. A series actually. By Cecily von Ziegesar. Obviously, I got curious and my local library stocks the whole series (Never heard of Asimov or Tolstroy but Gossip Girl, oh yes) and thought I’d try book one.
As it happens, I also have another book open on my Kindle at the moment. The seminal-now-it’s-a-classic The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald and I found myself hopping between the two and I noticed something.
They are actually kinda similar. Different ultimate story-lines but the “social commentary” element is pretty like-for-like.
I’ve been having a long standing debate with a fellow writer about changes in modern literature and how different books and writing are viewed now to how it was back when authors like Fitzgerald were writing so I thought it would be fun to compare two such different tellings of such similar worlds. The classic vs the modern. So here goes…
(Oh and spoiler alert. I’m going to have to reveal who Gossip Girl is so if you don’t want to know, look away now)
Gatsby: “Nick becomes drawn into the captivating world of the wealthy and — as he bears witness to their illusions and deceits — pens a tale of impossible love, dreams, and tragedy.” (Quoted from IMDB).
Kinda similar right? A nobody telling the stories of the crazy and wild world of the extraordinary elite.
Winner: Draw. Who tells it better? Neither and both. Gatsby is a world of jazz and champagne. Gossip Girl is more Beyonce and yoghurt on the Met steps. Each draws you into the world it is exploring. Gatsby is more artistic and so wins on drawing the world around you but Gossip Girl is more immediate, putting your feet on the ground right in the middle of the world, shooting for vibe rather than visuals.
Both offer a scathing and yet almost lustful commentary on the (often) ridiculous and scandalous lives of the rich and endowed. Neither book is outright scathing. Instead, they use exaggeration and (often) ridiculous characters to throw a spotlight on these worlds and moreover the people in them. In this respect, both screen adaptations are somewhat less concerned with the commentary element so are discounted for this round.
Winner: Gatsby by a mile. Gatsby has some beautiful quotes and observations about the world while Gossip Girl is a somewhat shallower novel. While Gatsby will make you sit back and ponder, Gossip Girl will just make you wonder why anyone would ever want to know any of these brats.
What is the world of the rich and pompous without a few parties…
Did I say “few”?
Oh and that’s just season one.
Winner: Gossip Girl. Gatsby has some stunning parties but they are all very same-y. Gossip Girl offers everything from débutante balls to burlesque clubs, saints and sinners to pool parties.
Tv/Movie vs Book:
(I know a LOT of you will disagree with me on this but) These two books are rare exceptions where I actually prefer the screen adaptations to the written ones.
Welcome to two books where just about every character is 100% dislikable. Technically the point. We are supposed to be judging these people and their indulgent lifestyles but if you ask me, both works take it a little far.
Jay Gatsby/Serena Van De Woodsen
The unknown. The intrigued. The ‘it’ character. The one with the mysterious past. The one everyone wants to know and is at all those wild parties (often hosting them), is always at the centre of the of all the love triangles and the one everyone is always gossiping about. They are also both effortlessly beautiful and catch eyes in any room they enter.
And trust me when I say, the rumours around Serena (particularly in the book) are just as wild and varying. To quote: “You got kicked out of boarding school because you are a perverted slut who made marks on the wall above the bed in your dorm room for every boy you did. You have STDs. You were addicted to all kinds of drugs and busted out of rehab and now you’re dealing your own stuff. You were a member of some cult that killed chickens. You have a F!?! baby in France.” As Serena smoothly replies “Wow I’ve been busy.”
Winner: Gatsby. In the movies, its a close race. Both actors are stunning, and the characters are pitched well drawing the audience in, and a lot of the ridiculous elements of the gossip girl rumours are tamed down. However, book vs book, Gatsby is definitely the more intriguing character. Serena just comes off as shallow, dull and spoilt to the point I am actually fairly indifferent to ever find out what she actually did “last summer”.
Nate Archibald/Daisy Buchanan
Continuing on my gender-bender theme. Meet the love interest for above. Five key features. 1. Blonde. I don’t know why but this type of character always turns out to be a blonde. 2. Taken. Nate is Blair’s guy and Daisy is Tom’s wife. Cue love triangle. 3. Rich. Well obviously. 4. They are inherently “good” characters. They have the sweet, innocent façade thing going on that hides a wilder devil just waiting to burst free. In love too young and now looking to explore something more akin to passionate.
Oh and 5. Dislikable. Again, I much prefer the movie versions to the books versions. Actually in fairness, Daisy isn’t dislikable (in my opinion) so much as bland. Even in the hands of Carey Mulligan she came out very wishy-washy and that classic soft-spoken, annoyingly giggly, “oh I love him so” character. Nate is just dislikable. In the show, Chace Crawford does his best to inject some life into the character to make him more than “the hot guy” but in the book, he’s as weedy as the smokes he’s constantly dragging on.
Winner: Euck. Neither.
Gossip Girl: aka (spoilers) Dan Humphrey/Nick Carraway.
Struggling writers. Broke. Drawn into this world they are naive to and somewhat sceptical to. The outsider commentator. Funnily enough, in the book Dan is somewhat different. She describes him as a skinny, vampish, sour and somewhat snipy teen with some serious attitude issues and an addiction to Serena that borders on stalkerism. He is only redeemed in his devotion to his little sister. In the book, he and Serena deserve each other. Honestly. The self-obsessed floozie and the sour stalker. And (at least in book one) while he is into obscure arty things, no real mention of being a writer. However, TV show Dan and Nick could be twins (Penn wins, sorry Tobey).
Winner: Nick. On the book anyway. Dan if we are considering the movie/tv show.
Which brings me neatly to the most important category:
Gossip Girl sucks. There. I said it. It ranks down there with some of the worst written books I have ever read. It absolutely stuns me that a publisher put it out in the state its in. It reads like a twelve year old wrote it (albeit a sex-obsessed twelve year old). There is no finesse, no artisty. It jumps about as it feels like it with no real flow. It honestly reads like a bad diary. It is the epitome of everything I hate about modern commercial fiction. There is no sign of any poetry. No descriptions (beyond listing the designer names on the labels which FYI doesn’t count). The dialogue is un-inventive and constant. It is just sex, scandal and go-go-go.
Gatsby on the other hand, is beautiful. It famously has some stunning quotes from it but all in, it is a breath-taking piece of art. THAT is what true writing. Even if like me, you find the story neither engaging nor dull but just somewhere forgettable in between, you must read this book to enjoy Fitzgerald at his best. If you ask me, this is one book where the writing is 100% let down by the story.
Winner: You kidding right? (Gatsby)
So who wins? Classic or Modern…
An overwhelming 4:1 to Gatsby in the book department. Chalk up a win for the classics.
Let the debate begin…
You know you love me… xoxo Maxi