Abby W. let us know about a disturbing scene in this week’s episode of the TV show Gossip Girl. The scene depicts an interaction between two individuals, Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf, who have turned into one of the show’s anchor couples that fans root for, always ending up together again despite their on-again off-again nature. In this episode, they’re off again and Blair has been dating someone else (a prince, of course). According to Zap 2 It, earlier in the episode, Chuck apparently humiliated Blair by talking about their prior sexual escapades in front of her boyfriend’s mother. She then goes to Chuck’s penthouse to tell him that her boyfriend has proposed to her, leading to this scene (warning: though he doesn’t hit her, if you’re sensitive to images of violence, you may want to skip the video):
So after publicly humiliating her by referring to her sexual past, Chuck tells Blair “you’re mine” and that she can’t be with anyone else, grabs her and throws her onto the sofa, and when she reiterates that it’s over, he ends up punching a window and injuring her with flying glass. And yet, in an interview with E!, one of Gossip Girl‘s executive producers says that this shouldn’t been seen as abusive behavior. In fact, if there’s anyone to be worried about, it’s Chuck:
I think it’s very clear that Blair is not afraid in those moments, for herself. They have a volatile relationship, they always have, but I do not believe—or I should say we do not believe—that it is abuse when it’s the two of them. Chuck does not try to hurt Blair. He punches the glass because he has rage, but he has never, and will never, hurt Blair. He knows it and she knows it, and I feel it’s very important to know that she is not scared—if anything, she is scared for Chuck—and what he might do to himself, but she is never afraid of what he might do to her.
More importantly, whether or not Blair supposedly feels frightened is irrelevant to whether this behavior is, in fact, abusive. But disturbingly, after discussing this scene, the interviewer goes on to say:
Ah, Chuck…He’s such a classic romantic hero, like Rhett Butler, sort of strong enough that you can stretch him pretty far.
He’s always had that Gothic thing, and those guys are always imbued with a dark side in addition to their vulnerability about their girlfriends.
It’s a disturbing example of the way that controlling and violent behavior by men toward the women in their lives is often depicted as evidence of passion that the female character totally accepts (they just “have a volatile relationship,” so it’s “not abuse when it’s the two of them”). Chuck’s repeated mistreatment of Blair (apparently last season he promised his uncle he could have sex with Blair as part of a business deal) is excused (he’s drunk, and really upset about whatever he learned about his family!), and in fact, his inappropriate behavior is romanticized by the executive producer and the interviewer. A man who publicly humiliates his girlfriend, uses her sexuality as a pawn in business deals, and leaves her injured from flying glass when he finds out he’s losing control over her (not to mention tried to force a 14-year-old girl to have sex with him in the very first episode of the show, back before we were supposed to find him lovable) is still referred to as a “classic romantic hero” who should not be seen as abusive or scary.
In fact, the promo for next week’s episode reinforces the message that Chuck is acting like this because he needs Blair so much that he falls apart without her, and individuals with nefarious plans are intentionally using this knowledge to get to him. So Chuck isn’t abusive; he’s a fragile victim who just loves Blair too much for his own good:
This is particularly disturbing given that the show is popular among teens, many of whom experience abuse in their relationships but are unsure how to deal with it or whether it “counts” as abuse. These types of representations of normalize such behavior, excusing the men who engage in it and giving the message to women that being treated in such a way isn’t a major warning sign but, rather, evidence of a man’s deep passion and vulnerability.