‘Gossip Girl’ relies on Univ. stereotypes

When Gossip Girl protagonist Serena van der Woodsen declared on Monday night that she wanted to take Yale’s “Great Hoaxes in Archaeology” lecture, 13 students watching the show in the Saybrook TV room erupted in applause.

“That was the best class ever!” one girl yelled. “I took it last semester.”

A passing reference to the Blue Book, however, may have been one of the few similarities between Yale College and the glossy, high-drama world of backstabbing socialites at Manhattan prep schools. Compared to the somewhat more realistic attempts made by the Gilmore Girls crew — complete with the Whiffenpoofs singing on Parent’s Weekend, for example — Gossip Girl’s rendition was riddled with myths, especially with regards to college admissions.

Yalies crowded into residential-college common areas and TV rooms around campus yesterday to watch the latest episode, titled “New Haven Can Wait,” of the hit one-hour CW drama. The episode centered around the characters’ fall pre-frosh weekend on Yale’s campus — or at least, under an ivy-strewn archway resembling Yale. Although the plot of Monday night’s episode alluded to Skull and Bones and the Harvard-Yale football game, many students said they were disappointed with the misleading references to Yale. Instead of bringing the filming cast and crew to New Haven, Gossip Girl producers chose to film the episode next door to their original set in Manhattan, at Columbia University.

Yale Licensing Manager Denise Castellano said the University never received any inquiries from the producers of Gossip Girl about filming on Yale’s campus. If they had, University officials would have asked for a copy of the script before they approved any requests to use the campus for filming purposes, Castellano explained.

Students interviewed said last night’s installment of Gossip Girl was especially erroneous in its portrayal of the Yale admissions process.

In the episode, three of the main characters met privately with the Yale dean of admissions, but the real admissions dean, Jeff Brenzel ’75, said such meetings could never have occurred beyond the realm of the television series.

Brenzel said he does not counsel students or conduct evaluative interviews, although his role, like that of any admissions officer, leads to conversations with candidates regarding Yale or the application process.

“I don’t do any interviews of applicants or potential applicants, so I’m not in the position of advising anyone,” he said over the phone Monday night.

While admissions officers are expected to answer students’ questions, he said the office does not arrange for any private counseling sessions between admissions officers and students.

He also said the admissions office gives no preference to any school groups over others.

But last night, the show’s rivals Blair Waldorf, played by actress Leighton Meester, and Serena, played by actress Blake Lively — students at an elite private school ­­— backstabbed and bribed their way to get an invitation for a dinner party hosted by the dean of admissions. Sporting designer suits and revealing necklines, the wealthy seniors schmoozed with administrators and professors throughout the evening.

“I certainly do not hold or attend private dinners for candidates,” Brenzel wrote in a follow-up e-mail Monday night.

In the spirit of Gossip Girl mania, Jonathan Edwards freshman counselor Katie Zimmerman ’09 said she and three other freshman counselors threw a Gossip Girl-watching party in their suite for all the freshmen in their college. Zimmerman said she has been an avid watcher of the show since it began in the fall of 2007, but this week’s episode fell short of what she had anticipated. After the initial wave of freshmen left halfway during the episode, Zimmerman said the remaining five students in her suite did not seem to notice the differences between Yale and the Gossip Girl version of the University during the rest of the show. But after three years as an Eli, she said it was hard to ignore the discrepancies between fact and fiction.

“It didn’t bring out the Yale that we all know and love, but instead just used stereotypes about Yale,” Zimmerman said. “And all the characters were just focusing on getting in [to Yale].”

On the whole, she concluded: “It was kind of a failure.”

Zimmerman said she was surprised by the numerous disparities between the fictitious and the real-world Yale.

In reality, the Dean of Admissions does not send out exclusive invitations to ritzy early-admissions soirees. Skull and Bones does not tap pre-frosh. And under no circumstances do high school students approach Yale upperclassmen with romantic propositions.

But perhaps it’s still up for debate whether, as Serena put it, “Yale is for overachieving bookworms and preppies.”

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