The Arty Semite

Jews, Reality and 'Gossip Girl'

By Eitan Kensky

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, two real-life Jews who recently appeared on ‘Gossip Girl.’

This year, Gossip Girl introduced at least four new Jewish characters: Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Isaac Mizrahi and Rachel Zoe. There is also the unseen character, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose trans fat ban and restaurant calorie count are presumably what keeps the cast of the show lithe enough to fit into their increasingly ridiculous outfits.

The fact that this sounds suspiciously like the New York we live in — if not the New York we ever get to see — is the biggest problem facing Gossip Girl right now. Since 2007, the show has chronicled the romantic vicissitudes of a group of Upper East Side teenagers and the eponymous gossip website that fuels their jealousies. The characters started out in high school, but they’ve since matriculated to NYU and Columbia, where they regularly threaten to engage in dangerous liaisons with the faculty. While summarizing Gossip Girl’s dizzying number of plots is impossible, the average storyline looks something like this: Couple A is threatened by Intrigue A but survives to reach Intrigue B. They dissolve and separately form couples B and C. Eventually Intrigue C results in the re-constellation of Couple A.

For over a year Gossip Girl was filled with Jewish characters and Jewish storylines (Intermarriage! Passover!), but now they’ve all disappeared. The only Jews still on the show are real people making cameos, which is problematic because the last thing anyone wants from Gossip Girl is a reminder of reality. Gossip Girl is a universe where teenagers can banish other teenagers from the city and reasonably expect that their excommunication will be enforced; the last thing we need is to see New York Observer owner Jared Kushner and to start wondering why his newspaper hasn’t ruthlessly crushed the characters’ social climbing.

If anything, however, the Jewish characters have always amounted to an unfortunate intrusion of reality into Gossip Girl’s fictional world. They were people who actually seemed to care about the feelings of others and who wanted to resolve their conflicts without resorting to revealing embarrassing secrets on a blog. Even the much detested Aaron Rose (John Patrick Amedori), was too believable, refusing to drop everything and fall in love with Serena (Blake Lively) the moment he met her. They had to write him off the show; for all of its frequent love triangles and partner swapping, Gossip Girl expects that everyone will always be in a committed monogamous relationship.

And it was Jewish reality that, sadly, ruined the Passover episode. While the principal cast was busy balancing lies, secrets, and pretending not to be the waiters, the show’s principle Jews were trying — and failing — to have a Seder. The episode even starts out with Blair (Leighton Meester) bragging to her stepfather Cyrus (Wallace Shawn) about her new-old boyfriend, and the society functions they attend, with Cyrus barely able to feign interest as he chops carrots for dinner. The only thing he’s worried about is Passover. It’s good that he’s currently off the show, since every time I see him I can barely resist shouting “Conceivable!” at my TV. His presence points to the fact that there are other things (like God and brisket) that matter, even within the show’s universe.

Which needn’t be the case. Gossip Girl takes place on a mythic Upper East Side, where the walls of gentility have never been breached, and the goings-on of its high school scions is the leading news of the day. Just as we aren’t upset when John Cheever’s swimmer fails to encounter a Jewish family in Westchester, or when the gentiles in an Isaac Bashevis Singer story fail to rise above the level of archetypes and plot devices, we shouldn’t worry about the fact that Gossip Girl is largely devoid of Jews. The show needs to stay as far away as possible from verisimilitude in order to be enjoyable.

Gossip Girl still features many of the guilty pleasures that made it fun in the first place: Blake Lively’s name is still an adverb, and the breathless opening credits still rip off the “Maybe it’s Maybeline” commercials. But it needs to leave our New York. As long as Gossip Girl tries to incorporate the financial crisis, religion, or other elements of the real, we won’t be able to suspend our disbelief, and we’ll worry instead whether it is mimetic enough. So if Gossip Girl is going to continue running around Columbia, it should resist having Orthodox students wandering its campus. Pretend Columbia is on the Upper East Side (or better yet, Greenwich), and leave the Jews to their similarly mythic West.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Television, Wallace Shawn, Rachel Zoe, New York Observer, Maybe it's Maybeline, Michael Bloomberg, Leighton Meester, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Isaac Mizrahi, Gossip Girl, Eitan Kensky, Blake Lively

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.