The Trouble With The Gilmore Girls

Only a couple more weeks until the Gilmore Girls return in four brand new episodes on Netflix. But who are the Gilmore Girls, I hear you ask. Well, it’s a popular American dramedy (drama-comedy, yup, that’s a thing) that ran from 2000 to 2007 and now they’re coming back. The ‘girls’ themselves are Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. Lorelai is a single Mum who was shunned by her rich parents when she became pregnant. Rory is her daughter. They live in the kooky town of Stars Hollow where all manner of daily adventures take place. It sounds like a recipe for success – not one but two female protagonists and a supporting cast of likeable, if kooky, characters. Indeed, it was a success, a huge success, and people all over the world enjoyed watching Lorelai and Rory talk at an incredibly fast pace and remain in great health despite diets of takeaway food.

However, scratch beneath the surface and the kookiness takes on a darker hue. For starters, the supporting cast is one of stereotypes – there’s Manuel (correction, his name is Michel, I was mistaking him for the stereotyped waiter in Fawlty Towers and compounding the stereotype – sorry), the one black and homosexual character who is a smörgåsbord of tokenisms; there’s Sookie, Lorelai’s co-worker and the token ‘larger’ character whilst nearly all other characters are slim and conventionally good-looking (she’s also played by the epic Melissa McCarthy who was tragically underused). There’s Kirk the ‘oddball’ character who is frequently mocked for finding it difficult to socialise. There’s Lane, Rory’s nice Asian friend, but never going to be the star of the show. And there’s Lane’s Mum who is all sorts of offensive cultural generalisations. And don’t forget Paris, the ambitious and intelligent one who regularly gets mocked for being ambitious and intelligent, unlike Rory whose achievements come naturally and without fuss. Meanwhile, if you wish to find other diverse characters, e.g. bisexual, lesbian, transgender, ethnicities besides black and asian, non-Christian, this is not the show for you. But this isn’t new, shows like Friends and How I Met Your Mother also fall foul of these tropes.

However, I think the biggest problem is that the Gilmore Girls are presented as normal – Rory and Lorelai are presented as the great bastions of normality around whom all other characters are presented as weird offshoots. Yet these ‘girls’ are not normal. For one Lorelai gets to have her cake and eat it with regards her wealthy background – she simultaneously accepts handouts from her parents whilst decrying said privilege. She hands these views down to Rory who we witness in one episode paying a guy $20 so she can sit under the tree he’s sitting by. There are other trees! Rory also never learns how to do her own laundry, a useful plot device to see her relentlessly driving from Harvard to Stars Hollow to hang out and talk fast with her Mom. The ‘girls’ also enjoy mocking their fellow townspeople, making offhand jokes about genocide and ebola, and generally belittling the lives of others. Yet these ‘girls’ are the moral core of the programme and I think that’s a little problematic.

Other problems include the replacement of plot with endless talking – Rory talks to her current boyfriend, Rory talks to Lorelai about talking to her current boyfriend, Lorelai talks to Sookie about talking with Rory about her talking with her current boyfriend. Of course, what would be interesting if Sookie then talked to the current boyfriend and we discovered they were having an affair together – but that would constitute plot rather than talking. Then there’s the soundtrack, composed of a singer chanting monosyllables like ‘la’ and ‘da’ over and over again as the scenes change. However, the saving grace of the Gilmore Girls is Emily, Lorelai’s mother. She is a rich, snobbish, conservative bigot and regularly complains about other people, who she treats largely  as means to satisfying her various ends. But she is consistent in her views. At least we know where we stand with Emily (ideally, far away), she’ll be rude to her staff and she’ll complain vociferously at restaurants whereas Lorelai and Rory are too busy trying to present as ‘women of the people’ when really they’re more like Emily than they care to acknowledge (I guess Emily would unashamedly vote Trump whilst Rory and Lorelia would vote for Hillary but not necessarily campaign against the structural injustices of neoliberal capitalism).

Now, I realise I might as well stop blogging given that I’ve just criticised one of America’s national treasures but there is something I must admit to – I kinda love the show. I have watched an awful lot of episodes (although not all, which is my disclaimer for this post containing any factual inaccuracise) and seen Rory and Lorelai eat far too many pancakes at Luke’s cafe, go to lots of kooky town events and bicker with various partners. Like erosion, their incessant waves of chatter have gradually worn away at my coastal defenses and for some unknown reason I actually find myself caring about the people of Stars Hollow. So, yeah, I will definitely watch the new episodes and shudder every time a character is tokenised but also cheer when Rory and Lorelai achieve great things. I love those Gilmore Girls…or should that be Gilmore Women?

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2 thoughts on “The Trouble With The Gilmore Girls

  1. Tamara Spitzer November 15, 2016 / 1:56 pm

    “Meanwhile, if you wish to find other diverse characters, e.g. bisexual, lesbian, transgender, ethnicities besides black and asian, non-Christian, this is not the show for you. But this isn’t new, shows like Friends and How I Met Your Mother also fall foul of these tropes.” – yep, I think many of us ‘liberals’ who watch the show have realised this, but right to point it out! I think you’ve been unfair to Lorelai in painting her as using her family’s priviledge while criticising it..she left home as a teen and made it on her own, with the help of her ‘adoptive mother’ (can’t remember her name) who taught her how to run an inn… The role the grandparents play in Rory’s life – paying for parts of her education while maintaining a relationship via weekly dinners – is a role they take on willingly and Rory finds mentorship in them (well, mostly her grandfather). The only time Lorelai herself gets a form of financial help from her parents is when she takes an insurance plan with her father’s company, which doesn’t usually do small businesses like hers. But she pays for it… And I actually think you’ve left out the one thing (apart from the quote above) which is most problematic to me: the GG’s views on casual sex. When Rory starts hooking up with Logan casually at first, I found Lorelai’s judgement so offputting. And the fact that Lorelei had asked Rory to give her a heads-up when she was planning to sleep with someone for the first time was so wierd to me. It’s quite a conservative show in that sense (again,all the more understandable why it’s so popular in puritanical America).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert November 15, 2016 / 3:26 pm

      Hi Tamara, thanks for your comments, very interesting!

      Ok, you got me! I have not watched all the series and do not know all the ins and outs of the Gilmore Girls’ lives. You highlight that there is much to celebrate in Lorelai’s character such as her intelligence, reslience, resourcefulness and compassion, and it’s great that these things get space in a television series. And, boy, do we need more TV shows about brilliant women doing ace things to challenge the endless sexism and misogyny we’re forced to watch. I would certainly add that there are times when Rory and Lorelai’s behaviour can be quite selfish but that’s fine – we can all be selfish and we are all entitled to having rounded, multi-dimensional characters, especially female characters on televsion. And I couldn’t agree more about Lorelai’s weird behaviour around Rory’s sexual activity!

      However, my main point in this blog, as you picked up on, is the lack of diversity and the tokenisation of minorities, and also that because Lorelai and Rory are the protaganists then other characters’ weirdnesses are contrasted to them. For example, Rory v. Paris as explained in this ace article, http://www.vox.com/culture/2016/11/7/13486672/hillary-clinton-likability-problem-gilmore-girls-dawsons-creek-paris-geller-rory-gilmore-joey-potter

      And whilst you point out that many ‘liberals’ may baulk at the above I don’t hear many of them pointing it out. Of course, I haven’t read all the blogs and articles about Gilmore Girls but more often than not I hear people leap to the defences of shows like GGs rather than acknowledge the flaws as well as the good bits. I wish more people spoke up on behalf of minority groups and their representation in popular culture even if they are not part of those minority groups. As a white male I am more than represented in GGs but as a queer male I am not and it’s left to poor, overworked Michel and the regularly terrible lines/limited air time he’s given to represent the queer community (of course, there may be other LGBTQIA characters I don’t know about because I have not watched all the episodes or that some of the characters are part of the LGBTQIA community but never mention it so it never has to enter the script or the plot). Our TV shows will only get better and more exciting the more diversity is represented and represented well and GGs is a clear step forward in this direction but there is still far to go and whilst much of what we’ve got is good that doesn’t make it good enough. And I reckon Rory and Lorelai would agree with me. Maybe even Emily but she’d take more persuading.

      Like

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