Why Dan was the true snob of Gossip Girl
There he was, an awkward, bumbling scholarship student at St. Jude’s Preparatory School for Boys, surrounded by the upper class elite.
Intelligent and sensitive – and with a disarming line in self-deprecation, Dan Humphrey seemed the epitome of uncorrupted righteousness.
He stood for humility, honesty and integrity, and had a clear sense of right and wrong.
And then, slowly but surely, he became tarnished by his dealings with those conniving schemers that inhabit the Upper East side, and had to go over to the dark side in order to survive.
Or at least that’s the story Dan tells himself.
And that’s the problem with Dan – he really doesn’t have such a fantastic grip on reality…
The truth is that his wealthy peers on the Upper East Side didn’t judge him for his background (Blair Waldorf is the exception, but we’ll come on to her a little later) but he judged them for theirs…
Dan certainly judged his girlfriend at the time, Serena van der Woodsen, for her wealth and privilege. Now, you might say – so what? Why should Serena have so much?
But remember, she didn’t choose it, she was born into it.
It is no more her ‘fault’ that she is upper class than it is Dan’s that he is ‘merely’ middle class.
(Although given his outraged indignation about his lot in life, you would think Dan was actually poor… For the record, Dan, poor people can’t pay thousands to send their kids to private school and they don’t live in gorgeous lofts in Brooklyn, nor do they own an art gallery.)
Remember too, that Dan isn’t judging Serena because he has better values or because he wants wealth and privilege to be more fairly distributed…
No, the surprising sting in the tale is that Humdrum Humphrey is envious. He wants all that Serena has for himself.
You’ll therefore forgive me if I don’t consider Dan and Serena to be one of the greatest love stories of our times…
Because when you think about it, it is Dan’s resentment of Serena’s power that causes one of their breakups.
Anyone else remember Dan trying to climb out of a hotel lift because he couldn’t cope with the concept that Serena (as a resident of that hotel), might have the power to get them out of that stuck lift?
As Vanessa (another character who is fairly pickled in hypocrisy) observes: Dan wanted “in” even more than Jenny did.
But where Jenny is honest and owns her ambition, Dan pretends he is too good for it all. He doesn’t want to attend fancy parties, he hates all that stuff…
But there he is at every event (Dan would go to the opening of an olive), and he also makes it his habit to fall for every wealthy powerful woman in his vicinity: Serena, Blair, and Olivia Burke.
Did he ever see these women as real people? Serena he sees as shallow ‘It girl,’ Sabrina, while Blair he puts on a pedestal and worships.
Yes, Dan was kind to Blair during her low point, but so was her faithful servant Dorota, and Dan is such a snob that he didn’t even have to be paid to act like Blair’s hired help.
In reality, Blair had to choose Chuck Bass over Dan because at least he sees her as his equal.
When you think about it, Blair was literally the only person in his peer group who actually thought him lesser because of his background, and Dan rewards her by falling in love.
(Quick question: Do you think Blair would have gone there if Dan hadn’t first become a celebrated writer? No, me either.)
He doesn’t mind Blair treating him badly but perhaps that’s because it’s what the lower classes deserve, right Dan?
So although he falls in love with Blair – is it with Blair? Or is it what she represents?
Class. Status. Wealth. Power. Privilege.
Was Dan like Jay in The Great Gatsby; seduced by a glittering world beyond his reach?
Well, the short answer is yes. We know that he calculatedly wrote himself into that world by creating Gossip Girl yet he never really could see Blair or Serena, he never could see past the glitz and glamour that so dazzled him.
That’s why he depicted Serena as a shallow ‘It girl’ and not as a kind big sister or best friend. (She was both.)
He still marries Serena, even though his heart was clearly stolen – and kept – by Blair.
Talk about marrying up to better yourself in the world…
Serena had her flaws, but she was never a snob. Dan was. He was full of self-contempt for his (relative) poverty and class – it never remotely bothered Serena.
In fact, his relatively lowly status didn’t even bother that seeming embodiment of upper class entitlement, Chuck Bass.
In reality, Chuck doesn’t judge people based on wealth (or class, race or gender) as he consistently demonstrates throughout the show (look out for an upcoming video that explores Chuck’s psychology).
Perhaps it’s because Chuck is the only New Money member of their circle, but he abhors ingratitude and expresses disgust whenever anyone wealthy complains about their status in the world, whether the protestation is real (Nate Archibald) or phoney (Carter Baizen).
No one is more aware of the benefits of their position, no one enjoys them more, and no one is more conscious of how much other people would like to be in their shoes than Chuck Bass.
This is a topic for a future article but suffice to say, Chuck dislikes Dan due to his and Dan’s own failings.
Chuck fears that Dan is a better person than he. And in season 1 his fears are absolutely correct. Few people are worse than sexual assaulter Chuck in Season 1.
He enters our consciousness as little more than a flat caricature; an arrogant, self-indulgent, violent sex pest.
By comparison, Dan is charming, witty, and endearingly awkward and unsure of himself.
Chuck’s initial hostility towards Dan is also borne of jealousy. No one loves more passionately than Chuck Bass. And the prospect of losing his best friend, Nate, to Dan, genuinely terrifies him.
Chuck is a person whose only company during his neglected childhood was the hired help. He had a competitive father who could barely stand to be in the same room as him and a mother who abandoned him at birth.
As a kid, there were no birthday parties, or birthday presents for Chuck, just a cash injection into a savings account.
We learn that he would sit in a hiding place as a child and watch the world go by, unnoticed by anyone.
No wonder then that Chuck cannot risk losing the only human connection he has; that one delicate ray of light that Nate represents in a world that is otherwise pitch black.
After all, he hasn’t yet begun his romance with Blair, who becomes “the lightest thing that ever came into my life.”
Dan comes from a pampered and cosseted world of loving (albeit separated) parents and a supportive little sister. It is snobbery alone that makes lucky Dan envy Chuck and his unhappy peers.
When Dan hangs out with Chuck in order to surreptitiously write about him, Chuck’s reaction to him ultimately reveals that his antipathy towards Dan was not based on snobbery.
Chuck feigns or feels disinterest in him initially, but once Dan shows him loyalty (by defending him in a fight), Chuck is so hungry for the possibility of real friendship that he shares his deepest and darkest secrets with him.
We all see how stung Chuck is when he realises that, yet again, he has been betrayed.
As for Dan, it cannot be ignored that he is the definition of entitled.
Dan thinks he is entitled to end up with Blair…
This assumption is based on his notion that he is still a better person than Chuck by Series 6: “I don’t want to live in a world where Chuck Bass gets the girl,” is his plaintive cry.
As a writer, how he could have missed the extraordinary character development of Chuck Bass unfolding right in front of his eyes only serves to demonstrate how self-absorbed Dan is.
Look how vengeful Dan becomes when he doesn’t get everything he wants...
Never mind that his father marries the monied Lily van der Woodsen and Dan therefore gets to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle.
Never mind that he does get to date Blair for a time (until they both cheat on each other) and that he writes a (moderately) successful first book.
Dan doesn’t think he’s won until he has made all of his wealthy friends afraid of him.
His behaviour comes from a place of envy. And yet Dan has no right to be envious.
For as Chuck observes, it’s Dan’s fault that he is an outsider. He hangs onto that status even when he is clearly very much inside (dating the elite, living like the elite and becoming part of the literary elite).
And why does he do this, I hear you ask…
Because he wants ALL of the benefits and none of the guilt.
He wants all of the spoils and none of the judgement.
He wants to condemn a world he clings to.
In short, he is the ultimate hypocrite…
And that is why Dan has been so unpopular, and that is why he should be.
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If you’ve come to the end of this article and you still don’t think Dan’s a snob, it’s time to debate your view in the comments field below…