My data set includes one television episode (episode 19) from Season 5 of Gossip Girl, a show that is played during primetime—8pm on Mondays each week—on The CW. This is a primary data source that I collected from the television website, Hulu. Our group decided to split the most popular TV networks and choose one show each, played during primetime that we thought would lend to a good analysis of the representations of class. I used content analysis to illustrate just how these representations could affect class structures. “Content analysis entails a systematic reading of a body of texts, images, and symbolic matter . . .” (Krippendorff 2004). I chose this episode of “Gossip Girl” because I had seen it before, and I remembered it having good material to work with.
“Gossip Girl” portrays the lives of young adults (high school and college age) living on the Upper Eastside of New York City. This television series shows the constant consumption of very expensive clothes, food, events, etc. These characters live in extravagant houses and live the lives that no lower or middle class person could ever afford. However, this is an extremely popular show and I know from personal experience, people (no matter what their financial situation) are always trying to keep up with the latest trends and buy clothes that look like the outfits on these shows. People, including myself, never feel like what they have is good enough. There is always something we want, and once we get it, we want something else. This television show only adds to the push for a consumer world and strengthens the gap between rich and poor.
The majority of characters in this show age from twenty to twenty-five years old. This specific episode, called “It Girl, Interrupted,” represents this class as highly prestigious. A key pattern in this show is the display of the importance of material objects. All the characters, regardless of their age, own high-end houses, limos, clothes, and even run their own top businesses. The way that they eat, dress, talk, and act is highly sophisticated.
In this episode, Serena makes a comment to Lola that she can be the next “it” girl. Although Lola does not want to be part of the Upper Eastside social scene, she is quickly sucked into the life of glamour.
Lola makes it seem like she is a down-to-earth, simple, and a non-materialistic girl, but she still wears clothes and shoes that far outdo anyone in the lower or middle class. This further illustrates the gap between classes.
On a similar note, Serena’s friend Blair, known as “Queen B,” just gets a divorce from a Prince of another country. Serena makes a comment: “Are you ready to come back to us lowly civilians now?” First, this makes it seem like they are peasants in her eyes, and second, it gives the impression that royalty is so easily attainable (and disposable) for the upper class. There are constant reminders throughout the show that Blair is relieved to “finally” be free of the burden of royalty. However, the one thing she misses most is being a Princess and owning all the material things that came with the title.
“Gossip Girl” portrays the importance of race in the upper class. Another key pattern is that the show lacks any type of diversity, which shows just how television represents who should be a part of this class, and who should not. The characters in this show are all tall, white, beautiful people. One of the only people in this show that is not Caucasian is Blair’s maid. The use of a Latin American woman as her housekeeper reinforces stereotypes that are already very apparent in the world. We internalize these stereotypes so that they soon become normal and part of our ideologies.
Television is often seen as solely a form of entertainment, however, as we have learned in this class and from this project, media has a huge effect on people and representations of class. Primetime television feeds people the same representations over and over again. The importance of wealth and the consumption of material things are portrayed in many shows as being the secret to happiness. Americans watch hours and hours of television every week, and although class seems to be a sensitive subject for people to talk about, representations of class in the media reinforce certain stereotypes, which in turn becomes part of who we are as a culture. “These choices do much of the work of naturalizing particular social arrangements which serve particular interests, so that in time they may come to seem like the only possible or rational arrangements” (Cameron 124). The concepts and ideas we see on primetime television become part of who we are as individuals and as a community of people.
FOR THIS EPISODE SEE: It Girl, Interrupted
Alper, Loretta. “Class dismissed: How TV frames the working class.” 2005. https://media.lib.washington.edu/html/uwonly/mediactr/mef/classdismissed.html
Cameron, D. (2001). Excerpts from Working with spoken discourse (pp. 123-129, 137 140). London: Sage Publications.
Krippendorff, Klaus. Content Analysis: An Introduction to Its Methodology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2004. Print.
Mantsios, Gregory. “Media Magic: Making Class Invisible.” The Social Construction ofDifference and Inequity: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. Ed. Tracy E. Ore. New York, NY: Mc-Graw Hill, 2009. 88-96.