“My life is basically planned. First I will go to Harvard, then I will be a business head of a genetics firm, and then at forty, I will have a husband and two girls…I will do anything it takes to get into Harvard,” declares 17-year-old Nightingale-Bamford student and NYC Prep star, Camille Hughes. While Camille’s Ivy League bound ambitions are not too different from that of the other brilliant girls at her elite prep school, what makes Camille stand out is that she and her family seem to think that doing “anything it takes” might entail playing a key role on a reality show in order to gain admission.
Enter: NYC Prep, the Bravo produced reality TV show chronicling the lives of six affluent high school students that call Manhattan home. From the overt references to characters on Gossip Girl such as the headband-wearing Camille to the cold and fashion-forward PC, it seems like the producers may have asked the cast to act like the characters seen on GG, but perhaps a deeper internalization of the popular, CW television program had already taken place for these college-bound juniors and seniors (not to mention the thousands of other teenage fans).
Throughout the second season of Gossip Girl, one of the main issues the teens faced was the college admissions process, and Blair and Serena fight both coyly and physically over acceptance into Yale University, Blair’s dream school. Serena, whose top choice is Brown, decides to interview at Yale in order to seek revenge on her frienemy, Blair, who maliciously sends Serena down the runway in a dress that Jenny Humphrey designed. Humiliated, Serena says to Blair, “I’m just tired of trying to hold myself back, so I don’t outshine you…From now on, I’m going to be who I am, and if you can support that and not be threatened and competitive, then great. If not—” Serena then walks away towards a future of limelight, tabloids, and Ivy League schools leaving her once best friend in the dust.
See the rest of this scene here & some of the girls’ other college related feuds here:
Keeping to her promise, Serena outshines Blair during her interview at Yale. “I have to say your application is most impressive, Ms. Waldorf,” states Blair’s interviewer at Yale, “there’s just one thing I’d like to know. Tell me something about you that is not in that packet.”
“Not in there?” Nervously asks Blair.
“Do you like to drive race cars? Can you cook authentic Szechuan? The young lady before you told me a delightful story. She was in a fashion show. Just for fun,” states the interviewer.
“I know I must sound rather traditional in comparison to that young lady, but isn’t tradition what that Yale is all about?”
“Well, yes, but we are trying to change that image. Too stuffy.”
See the rest of Blair’s Interview here:
In the very next scene, Serena is seen talking to Chuck discussing how she has been invited, instead of Blair, to the dean’s house for dinner, an event that could potentially get Serena “on the short list for early admission.” Indeed it does, for Dean Baraby calls Serena stating that he would “like to issue a press release that you came up to visit our glorious campus.” This and Serena’s acceptance over Blair in “You’ve Got Yale!” essentially tells Gossip Girl viewers that in order to succeed and go to Ivy League schools one must not only “be different” as the famous Coco Chanel quotation implies, for one must also be a Page Six regular and an18-year-old socialite.
This 21st century born insecurity states that only those who obtain fame, fortunate, and the media’s attention will be successful, and this fear is manifested in characters like Camille Hughes. In order to escape a fate akin to Blair Waldorf’s (“Just because Yale is lost doesn’t mean I’m going to a non-Ivy, reading Beloved six times, and experimenting with lesbianism,” Blair says of attending NYU), Camille decides to follow Serena’s limelight exposed example and star in a reality show. In doing so, she taints the Nightingale-Bamford name, forcing Dorothy A. Hutcheson, the head of the school, to send out an e-mail to parents and alumnae stating that Nightingale had nothing to do with Camille’s escapades. Hutcheson wrote that, “We counsel our girls to avoid such exposure, knowing that best intentions are usually subsumed by a media machine that too often simplifies the many facets of a Nightingale education into a shallow and stereotypical view of independent schools.” Shortly there after, it came out that Camille and her family had decided to look for an alternative education, and to date Hughes is enrolled at the Professional Children’s School in New York City. While one Nightingale representative indicated that the school was “‘expecting her back this fall’…some school-community members whispered that she was politely asked not to return.” Regardless of whether Camille was kicked out or not, New York Magazine’s Chris Rovzar seems to think that, “Either way, being on the reality show, and attending PCS, very well might end up hurting Camille’s chances of getting into Harvard. But considering that the school accepts only about 7 percent of its applicants, this all may just add up to an excellent, comforting excuse as to why Tufts ends up being the school for Camille in the end.” Here, Rovzar is paying tribute to an episode of Seinfeld where Elaine states that she went to her safety school, Tufts, much like Blair’s matriculation at NYU after hazing a Constance-Billard teacher.
Thus, it seems plausible that Camille Hughes’ “will-do-anything-to-get-into-Harvard” attitude ironically encouraged her to take part in NYC Prep, the source of her downfall in the end. After all, Gossip Girl’s college-related episodes such as “New Haven Can Wait” and “You’ve Got Yale!” aired during the fall and early winter of 2008-2009, which means that these were the most current episodes of Gossip Girl to date when NYC Prep was being taped. (The first episode of NYC Prep aired on June 23, 2009, and it can be implied that Bravo shot the show about six months in advance.)
While this is one example of how television shows like Gossip Girl might be negatively impacting the youth, there are of course many others. Young women might be mean to one another in order to be more like the manipulative Blair or they might diet in order to be as skinny and beautiful as Serena. These teenage dramas tend to imply that they are “reproducing the distinctive form of the original, make a likeness which is true to life and yet more beautiful” (Aristotle, 30). In other words, shows like Gossip Girl attempt to glorify celebrity, glamour, thinness, and popularity in the daily lives of “Manhattan’s elite,” whilst belittling scholarship, kindness, and other “dorky” activities associated with the lowly Brooklyn scene, and as a result, their self-conscious, insecure, youthful, and sponge-like viewers internalize their idols’ actions and mimic accordingly in a reverse “mimesis” fashion: instead of a show imitating nature, nature instead mimics the imitation. While not all Gossip Girl influences are as easily tracked as Camille’s attempts to act like Blair and Serena, it seems that Gossip Girl and shows of its kind might be blurring the line between fiction and reality contaminating the minds of the American youth in the process.