Critically Rewatching Gilmore Girls
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Dick Cavett expressed his appreciation for rereading. According to the author and former talk show host, “We’d all have been better off to have read half as many books. Twice.”
I’m inclined to agree with Cavett – at least in part because I had to visit dictionary.com multiple times to decipher his interview, and I tend to look upon those with robust vocabularies with an oft-inappropriate level of reverence. I have also personally benefitted, though, from giving several books the ol’ double take.
Rereading the first Harry Potter book in French, for instance, boosted my confidence in my foreign language skills: after completing it, I realized I could take on (and even enjoy) a text published in something other than English. I also experienced a phase not too long ago wherein Sylvia Plath’s Ariel never escaped the confines of my backpack. In an attempt to understand the complicated author – and perhaps myself – I spent hours pouring through poem after poem. During a particularly long spring break, I even attempted to memorize a few. (Fun icebreaker: ask me to recite The Couriers).
Rereading, it appears, has some value. But what’s to be said for re-watching?
As I embarked from New York for my fall semester in Paris, I vowed that I would limit my Internet usage while abroad. After all, I’d presumably have access to Netflix for many years to come, but only to the River Seine and Centre Pompidou for a handful of months. Then the aforementioned streaming service released Gilmore Girls, and my resolve crumpled like a paper crane in the hands of a petulant four year old. Over the course of an exceptionally dreary November-December, I devoured the first two seasons of the series, all of the episodes of which I had seen before. Several times.
I can remember the first time I heard of Gilmore Girls: I was probably seven or eight, and had been spending time with my neighbor – a girl two years my senior who I thought unfairly cool. One day, sitting regally atop her beige bedroom carpet was a disc jacket for one of the show’s seven seasons. My interest in the program piqued – if she thought it worth watching, I certainly would too – I began to observe a new ritual with religious fervor. Every weekday at 5pm when the show aired, I took a seat inches from my puny living room TV, ready to follow the program’s every plot twist and turn.
Before long, I forgot that my neighbor had first introduced me to Lorelai and Rory Gilmore: I formed a relationship of sorts with the two characters that superseded a transient childhood one. Soon after starting the series, I began to deeply admire Rory, the show’s beautiful and brilliant protagonist, who aspires to attend Harvard (she later settles for Yale). As a shy, brainy kid, I hoped that if Rory had it all – straight A’s, an Ivy League acceptance letter and a cute boyfriend to boot – I could, too. I similarly looked up to Lorelai, realized by actor Lauren Graham, whose fashion sense and confidence I hoped to emulate.
Ultimately, I paid rapt attention to exchanges between the mother-daughter pair, and often attempted to research the pop-culture references they traded during their mile-a-minute dialogues. As a result, I learned about everything from The Brown Bunny to Nico to Jane Austen.
Given that Stars Hollow’s wacky band of characters had such an influence on my development, I looked forward to re-watching the show like I might reread a favorite book: as an opportunity to enter into conversation with a younger version of myself. Since returning home from Paris, I’ve nearly finished the series and after re-viewing it, I realized that the show’s influence on my development may not have been as positive as I’d have liked to imagine.
Like most media, Gilmore Girls has significant, problematic elements. For one, Stars Hollow, the Connecticut town where the show takes place, is shockingly white. The series features only one man of color, actor Yanic Truesdale, whose character Michel is one of the show’s few to never enjoy a love interest. Story lines involving Rory’s best friend Lane, a Korean-American woman, also tend to capitalize on stereotypes about the restrictiveness of immigrant families. Notably, my white privilege allowed me to ignore these upsetting representations when I watched Gilmore Girls for the first time.
Gilmore Girls handles issues of sexuality no better than those of race and ethnicity. In Season 3, Episode 16, Rory’s “frenemy” Paris has sex for the first time. Soon after, she is rejected from Harvard, her dream school. Her disappointment apparently affecting her ability to distinguish between correlation and causation, Paris has a televised meltdown wherein she suggests the timing of her sexual debut had a direct effect on the fact that she received a small envelope. Of course, this is ridiculous, but the show does indirectly suggest that Rory is better adjusted than Paris by virtue of the fact that she is a “virgin.” Rory, unlike Paris, gets into Harvard. Furthermore, when Rory’s mother overhears her telling Paris that she has never had sex, her mother can’t hold back a smile. She murmurs at once to no one in particular and to every girl watching, “I have the good kid.”
Finally, it’s been emotional for me to consider the effect that Gilmore Girls’ anti-gay jokes probably had on my adolescent self. I identify as queer, and it wasn’t until college that I admitted it openly to friends. For a long time, I harbored a significant amount of guilt. Gilmore Girls, I think, reinforced that negative feeling: throughout the show, which I watched almost daily, “gay” is used as a derogatory term. Lorelai Gilmore makes several jokes at the expense of lesbians, for instance, prompting her mother (portrayed as a stodgy woman with little sense of humor) to chastise her, chiding: “There’s nothing funny about lesbians, Lorelai.” I agree, but Gilmore Girls seems to suggest the contrary.
Ultimately, I recognize Gilmore Girls for what it is: a part of my childhood; an often smart, funny program; and a show that, like many others, has major problematic elements. From my re-watch of the show, I’ve taken away two main things. For one, I need to do my part to push for better representation on television and in movies of non-dominant identity groups. It’s also my responsibility to be critical of the media I consume and support. It’s these reminders that make me believe re-watching a show can prove just as valuable a learning experience as rereading a book.