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The Case for and Against 'Gilmore Girls'

Is the beloved show classic escapist Americana or just bullshit?

by VICE Staff
Nov 25 2016, 5:00am

Photo courtesy of Netflix/Gilmore Girls

Point: 'Gilmore Girls' Is Classic Escapist Americana

Gilmore Girls is a show about people like me: WASP types (I'm half Jewish, but whatever) who live in cocoons of white privilege and sometimes speak at an unnecessarily rapid pace about private schools and literature and movies while pretending that's as far as the world's problems go.

In other words, it's classic escapist Americana. And the show's revival may be the perfect holiday elixir for all the white liberals out there who are sad that Donald Trump was just elected president.

When Gilmore premiered in 2000, the comically quaint (and fictional) place in which it's set, Stars Hallow, reminded me of Kent, the Connecticut town where I visited my grandmother as a kid. Lorelai (Lauren Graham), a single mom who has strayed from the path laid out by her Mayflower mother, is fiercely devoted to her daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel), whom she had at 16 and raised alone after running away from home. With their blind spots and weird caffeine habits, the duo often reminded me of the strong women in my own family, who worked hard and built lucrative careers (even if they had a massive head start in a bunch of important structural ways).

Sometimes, the show's whiteness is a distraction, of course. The most serious danger posed by life in Stars Hallow is excessive quirkiness. The second most serious danger is arguments over what to do with the large amounts of money your relatives have and whether you should feel guilty about it. And there aren't many people of color on the show, except* for characters like Lane (Keiko Agena) and her stereotypically strict, ultra-Christian family, which is a whole other deal.

But the show isn't supposed to be some kind of rich tapestry of America. It's a window into just how strange it can be to grow up rich and white in the Northeast. Gilmore has a genuinely interesting wit and verve and frenzied pace about it—there's nothing quite like Rory and Lorelai having a collective fit about a boy or admission to Yale. Debutante balls and private golf clubs may be experiences available to only a tiny fraction of Americans, but they're fascinating nonetheless. If you like Whit Stillman movies, you will probably like Gilmore Girls.

To be honest, I never finished watching the show's initial run (a lot of people say it went downhill in the last season or two). But after an election season defined by Donald Trump's flagrant appeals to white resentment, the much more polite, refined racism of Lorelai's mother Emily (Kelly Bishop, who basically steals the whole series) presents a welcome distraction from a terrifying reality.

Matt Taylor

Counterpoint: 'Gilmore Girls' Is Bullshit

I must admit that, when I binged on Gilmore Girls recently, I couldn't stop. It's mesmerizing in a way: the color palettes, Lauren Graham's beauty, the idyllic sets. It's incredible that a TV show can fake its quality by working a few basic tricks in post-production.

But I don't understand the fans who praise the writing, revolutionarily "feminist" angle, and acting—are we even watching the same show? Stars Hollow is a facade that forces its charm on you with an unseen chorus of "la la la"s.

It is a brochure for a happy-go-lucky dream life that doesn't exist. Gilmore Girls perpetuates the idea that white kids raised by single moms—Rory ends up reporting on Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, and April Nardini turns into a science whiz—will grow up by default to be the kids you always wanted. Meanwhile, in the heartbreakingly stereotypical Christian Korean Kim family, Lane (who was also presumably brought up by a single mom) ends up pregnant with twins and nowhere near achieving her unachievable dreams. The show's supposed feminism is wishful thinking; it's a feminist fantasy for whiny white people.

Later seasons attempt to redeem this with letting poor, voluntarily sheltered Rory go off the rails by sleeping with her married ex-boyfriend, Dean, then convincing her filthy rich boyfriend Logan to steal a boat with her. The attempts to portray Rory as flawed and sometimes a "bad egg" are laughably disingenuous, especially factoring Alexis Bledel's painfully shit acting: She can't even portray boredom well.

Yes, the show had some redeeming qualities. Melissa McCarthy's Sookie St. James was revolutionary in that she was never defined by her weight; nice-looking guys had crushes on her without it being some sort of comedic device à la Pitch Perfect 2. (ll of this was undone, however, by Lorelai and Rory's perennial fat-shaming. Additionally, the entire basis for their "quirkiness" was that they ate a lot (despite almost never eating onscreen) and didn't put on a single pound. The way in which skinny white women are represented in Hollywood truly is magical.

Apparently desperate to fill up 45 minutes of airtime, creator Amy Sherman-Palladino rammed the show full of references that weren't actually that obscure. You watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer? So did millions of others! Lorelai named her dog Paul Anka! How funny, or something! The show aged in the same way Garden State and 500 Days of Summer have, meaning like skim milk left out on a hot windowsill. This charming indie paradise wasn't so dreamy and unique after all. Yes, we get it. You like Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, Big Star, and references to cult Canadian sketch shows. I'm not entirely sure what I was supposed to be impressed by.

Sarah Sahim

*Because of an editing error, a previous version of this story suggested Lane was literally the only person of color on the show, which is inaccurate, but just barely.

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