Yes, the people responsible for the books pitched to adolescent girls really are as vapid, grasping and amoral as you’ve always suspected. Or, as Emily Nussbaum would have it, the “surprisingly sophisticated” Gossip Girl books, about a collection of bitchy Manhattan private schoolgirls “with money, a sense of entitlement, and all of Manhattan in which to exercise it,” actually provide “teenage girls across the country” with a “stirring fantasy of freedom and an equally stirring fantasy of conspicuous consumption.”
How, you ask, did these girls get so lucky? Nussbaum explains how one of Manhattan’s private school alumni came to write Gossip Girl.
In response to this dim market [i.e., the fall of Sweet Valley High], the company repositioned itself to meet the new business model head on. During a meeting, someone suggested they exploit the newly powerful Internet by launching an anonymous “Web mistress” — call her Gossip Girl. Leslie Morgenstein, the president of Alloy Entertainment, sheepishly acknowledges that the original idea was not for a book per se but a viral marketing hoax: Alloy would concoct a Website, seemingly written by a teen Hedda Hopper, and once the site got “buzz,” launch projects by that invented author. The plan was quickly abandoned. “It was too complicated, and too easy to get caught,” Morgenstein says. Instead, the company presented its book proposal in e-mail, at a time when few publishers checked their in-boxes. It got only one bite, but it was a hard one: Cindy Eagan, now executive editor at Little, Brown. “It was the first e-mail submission I’d ever heard of,” she says. “And I was intrigued by the name. Who doesn’t love gossip?”….
At the time, the project had no plot or specific milieu. Von Ziegesar decided to set it in the world she knew best, the Constance Billard School (a ringer for Nightingale-Bamford), and she created an ensemble of distinctive New York types: the effortlessly lucky blonde, Serena; her envious brunette “frenemy,” Blair; and a cohort of preppy stoner boys, sardonic Williamsburg artists, and rumor-spreading wannabes — a Greek chorus of the cafeteria table. The books themselves would be narrated by Gossip Girl herself (or himself), an anonymous blogger with a gimlet-eyed take on the world around her. Or him.
In my dreams, the collegiate follow-up series kicks off with a book titled All the Girls at Bennington Laid End to End.