Season one of Gossip Girl was scandalous for a number of reasons, not least of which was its ad campaign. More than just highlighting bored prep school kids with bank accounts and sex drives that needn’t be hemmed in by parental lecturing, episode one wasted no time in delving right into the issue of rape. And who better to play the part of predator than lothario and cad Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick) himself? Except, well, the show didn’t really make too much of an issue of it. When Chuck gets all aroused amid Serena’s (Blake Lively) sadness over being ostracized by high society, he “does her the courtesy” of giving her a grilled cheese sandwich from his hotel’s kitchen. Leering at her as she enjoys that hint of truffle oil (this is the Empire, for fuck’s sake–no plebe sandwiches here), Serena ends up having to shove him off of her after he suggests, “If you’re looking for a way to thank me, I’ve got a couple ideas.”
The fresh allegations amid an endless heap of sexual assault cases coming to light in Hollywood have further accented just how normalized predatory behavior has been not just since the dawn of the casting couch, but on many shows of the WB/CW’s golden era, Gossip Girl being the most glaring example. For the pilot that establishes the tone of the entire narrative sees fit to shrug off Chuck’s lust for rape as mere “antics.”
In Kristina Cohen’s graphic description of her rape at Westwick’s Hollywood home in February of 2014 (maybe he needed to take his rage out on someone for his fledgling career post-Gossip Girl finale in 2012), she rehashes, “I was woken up abruptly by Ed on top of me, his fingers entering my body. I told him to stop, but he was strong. I fought him off as hard as I could but he grabbed my face in his hands, shaking me, telling me he wanted to f— me. I was paralyzed, terrified. I couldn’t speak, I could no longer move. He held me down and raped me.”
In the typical knee-jerk reaction of denial that most men have been flimsily “retaliating” with, Westwick responded, “I do not know this woman. I have never forced myself in any manner, on any woman. I certainly have never committed rape.” Just because Kristina Cohen has only been in a handful of middling series (one unfortunately named A Girl’s Guide to Blacking Out) and TV movies doesn’t mean Westwick can claim the Mariah Carey “I don’t know her” defense. And if the authenticity of his concluding act of sexual assault in the very same episode of Gossip Girl in which he also tries to have his way with Jenny Humphrey (Taylor Momsen) is an indication, it should only be a matter of time before he goes the way of James Toback, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner et. al.
“Will C end up with a new victim?” Gossip Girl narrates–a fact made all the more horrifying when we retrospectively realize that Jenny’s own brother, Dan (Penn Badgley), is the one detailing the scene, as though equally as nonchalant and unfazed by his sister being attacked. When Dan and Serena rescue Jenny from the rooftop of rape, Chuck dismisses any sense of shame by insisting, “It’s a party, things happen,” as though we should all go about our business and except violation as par for the course of female existence. But this isn’t the early aughts any longer, and the majority of women aren’t going to stand for stepping aside quietly after a ravaging of their body has occurred. In short, if there was a Gossip Girl movie, Blair would be filing for divorce right now.