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The Nature of Being

rethinking the facts of life

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phili

Gilmore Girls Conclusions 1

Gilmore Girls’ context emerges from first and second wave feminism, which established certain presumed rights for women including in the spheres of political voting, education and employment. These successes have developed into postfeminism thinking which assumes all women’s rights have been pre-established, despite substantial contemporary structural inequalities. Women are marginally represented within national and international politics, and CEO positions; a gender wage gap perpetuates; women are over-represented in poverty, and; women experience the majority of sexual violence crimes reported. These facts represent only a component of contemporary women’s struggles, and do not begin to introduce issues for women of colour or in non-Western societies, or any transgender issues. However, Western media commonly ignores all feminist and gender issues, and chooses to instead offer a utopian recluse to audiences. Gilmore Girls follows postfeminist and neoliberal ideology by exhibiting empowerment of women only in labour and childcare successes, and not representing struggles of other spheres. Heteronormativity is maintained with rotating male figures replacing the father figure for Rory and the heterosexual partner for Lorelai. Heteronormative sexual experiences are also conservatized throughout Rory and her peers’ upbringings. And lastly, homosexual experiences are never represented, with the exceptions of a few ambiguous and mocked instances. Within the sphere of race, Lane and Mrs Kim constitute the most developed non-white characters, and the most substantial for analysis of racial issues. Lane and her few Korean peers all desperately seek to shell all remnants of Korean identity, and adopt American culture. The next generation of parents, on the other hand, are represented with fake Korean accents and as extremely strict and oppressive. The last sphere of inequality researched was class, which is again utopic in Stars Hollow. Lorelai’s individual hard-working traits moved her up the class ladder, when she removed herself from her parents’ world of excessive wealth. Any class below this very slight decline of Lorelai’s is never represented. Overall, the vast majority of non-heteronormative, racial and class identities are ignored by Gilmore Girls.

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Gilmore Girls and Its Context: (3) Absence of Racial and Ethnic Identities and their Tensions (pt 2)

Asian-American identity is finally represented by an exchange student from Seoul; Kyon, introduced with no last name. Mrs Kim acquires her essentially as a replacement for Lane after kicking her out. Kyon appears in just five, sporadic episodes. After the audience is first introduced to her in Season 4, we don’t see her again until Season 5. After this length, she appears in Luke’s Diner where Lane is working; hungry and weak, from Mrs Kim’s strict Korean diet. This scene initiates Kyon’s seemingly first encounter with American culture, introduced by Lane. Kyon’s actress was born in New York but in a fake Korean accent she asks; “What is this?” “Fries.” She loves them: “Welcome to America.” Later in the episode with more Diner food, Kyon prays grace for every ingredient. She also overhears Lane’s boyfriend Zach Van Gerbig asking her to see a band and have dinner with him. Consequently, Mrs Kim finds Zach on the street, starts hitting him, and yells:

You! You dirty, filthy devil boy! You will pay for this. You will burn in hellfire for this! You will swim in the sludge with Satan’s hell-dogs, and feed them your innards for eternity!… She’s an innocent girl. And you are a wild pig of filth! I know! I know all you do!

Lane is firstly angry Kyon got them in trouble but the bond they share, as second-generation Korean’s trying to fit into America, is stronger than her concerns about her Korean mother. As a result, Lane imparts her knowledge about ‘surviving’ as a Korean-American teenager: for instance that the “little machine in the television set that will tell her [Mrs Kim] what I watch” does not exist. “I can eat fries… I can watch the TV!… My head spins!” “Stick with me, kid, and I’ll have you wearing lip gloss within a month.” Throughout her remaining episodes, Kyon continues to Americanize her identity, and hide her new life from her Korean background. Overall, the encounters between Gilmore Girls and Korean representation remain within a context of utopian small-town America; where non-American racial identities, and thus racial differences, are hidden.

References:

Chung, H. S. (2010). Escaping from Korea: Cultural authenticity and Asian American identities in Gilmore Girls. In D. S. Diffrient (Ed.), Screwball television: Critical perspectives on Gilmore Girls (pp. 165–185). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Stern, D. M. (2012). It Takes a Classless, Heteronormative Utopian Village: Gilmore Girls and the Problem of Postfeminism. The Communication Review, 15(3)

Gilmore Girls Conclusions 2: as a ‘Favourite Problematic’

Gilmore Girls is an overall portrayal of a white, upper-middle class, small-town suburban American society. From these limitations, audiences can derive much from the identities omitted. Sex, gender, race and ethnicity, and class are by definition excluded and marginalised from realistic conservative American contexts; which Stars Hollow serves as. Presenting this exclusion in popular media may be realistic, but it does not serve to advance its political discourse or contribute to ending the marginalization. Gilmore Girls also emerged within the context of the decade the 2000s, which must influence its limitations. One contextual factor for instance which may be critical, is the Global Financial Crisis. This had not fully affected America by the time of the show’s closure; and therefore may not yet have affected the utopic high wealth and low wealth inequality of the society portrayed. Still, during its running, Gilmore Girls occupied a privileged space of potential influence, with a progressive fan base of viewers as committed to Gilmore Girls as some were to feminist and other issues of marginalization. However, the show did not reach its full potential in this sense.

It did, however, reach its potential to entertain, humour, and bring happiness to its huge number of viewers. The actress of Lorelai herself has been quoted saying for every episode, “For the first 25 minutes, nothing happens. You just meet these charming people… You would never have that today! There would have to be explosions before the first commercial.” Gilmore Girls is a recluse, and a distraction from the viewers’ more realistic struggles. It also provided unique representation of a strong dominance of female relations, including mother-daughter and friendships, prioritised over heterosexual love stories. This has been precious particularly to female viewers and their female relationships. Lastly, the series ended with Rory conclusively choosing following her career path over a future connected with her boyfriend’s plans. Although once again constrained with neoliberal boundaries, its ending suggests the show’s commitment to transgressing women’s roles within nuclear families, to independent female empowerment.

Gilmore Girls is emblematic of the phenomenon termed; “Your Fave is Problematic”. This refers to almost all role models, celebrities or popular culture as, intentionally or unconsciously, contributory to dominating societal systems of injustice and oppression towards marginalized groups. However, this essay argues we may not have to deny enjoyment of popular culture. Those committed to feminist or other issues of inequality do not have to avoid all forms of pleasure from popular culture in order to be ‘the perfect feminist’, or the perfect social activist; nor must we preach guilt to our activist peers that they may not enjoy popular culture. Admittedly, this may not be the strongest stance against or rejection of societies’ perpetualised  sex, gender, race, ethnicity and class inequalities. However, as it is to work against these structural oppressions, it is just as critical to deconstruct and confront the systems which perpetuate them. This includes popular culture; and this must be carried out as opposed to rejecting, ignoring or not confronting them.

Further, the Gilmore Girls reunion was confirmed and began filming in 2016. This has the potential to reveal causes of its prior discriminations perpetuated. If its early-2000s context is the exclusive causality of its conservative marginalizations, then a future Gilmore Girls may progress beyond misrepresentation of cis-feminist, sexual, race, and class identities. The committed Gilmore Girls audience will await this potential progression.

References:

Oluo, I. (2015, March 31). Admit It: Your Fave Is Problematic. Retrieved from https://medium.com

Stern, D. M. (2012). It Takes a Classless, Heteronormative Utopian Village: Gilmore Girls and the Problem of Postfeminism. The Communication Review, 15(3)

 

Gilmore Girls and Its Context: (4) Utopian Class Mobility

The background of the Gilmore Girls family is rooted in the complete and utopian removal of class inequality – with the only exception as opportunities for upward class mobility. Lorelai and Christopher fell pregnant with Rory at age 16, and both sets of Rory’s grandparents are of a wealthy and high societal status. Ashamed, they both immediately pressured Chris and Lorelai to marry. However, absent from the reality of institutional and socioeconomic struggles that many single mothers face, Lorelai was able to become independent from both her family and Chris. The most prominent ways Lorelai developed independently from a teen mother to entrepreneurial business owner was, as the audience learns, through individualized traits. Again, the reality of structural constraints are absent from her life. These individual traits are also specific to American neoliberalism; it was the hard work, perseverance and self-determination particular to Lorelai as an individual that climbed her up the ladder of labour success. The Gilmore Girls context is a fundamentally American, neoliberal one. Within this, the feminist empowerment can be portrayed almost exclusively within the labour force; as upward class mobility.

There are few instances when Lorelai’s unyielding perseverance is not quite enough to overcome obstacles throughout hers and Rory’s pursuits. Then, either the support of Stars Hollow or the wealth of Lorelai’s extended family can always be underlying depended on. Her parents, Richard and Emily Gilmore, are utilised in the beginning of Season 1 when over-achieving young Rory is invited to a private school. It’s extremely prestigious, but its huge cost is just slightly out of grasp for the middle-upper class Gilmore Girls family – until we meet Lorelai’s parents. History later repeats itself when, this time Rory asks Richard and Emily to pay for her Yale education. Their grandparents provide a convenient fall-back for Lorelai and Rory’s plot endeavours. Additionally, both instances stress that they swear to and follow through with paying back every cent. This ensures the audience is able to retain respect for them, over pity or perceived lowering of class for them.

Audiences do view instances of class warfare, emerging from the Gilmore Girls’ interactions with Richard and Emily’s world of wealth. For example in Season 1 when we first meet Chris and his parents, his father angrily criticises Lorelai, her pregnancy, and her employment as the Inn Manager: “If you’d attended university as your parents had planned, and as we had in vain for Christopher you might have aspired to more than a blue-collar position… I wouldn’t give a damn about you derailing your own life if you hadn’t swept my son along.” Any recognition of the male role in the pregnancy is omitted, but as a class analysis, his critique also reveals much about the high class positions within Gilmore Girls. Working in the service industry is, even as a Manager and prospective entrepreneurial owner, seemingly the lowest situation these characters could possibly imagine for someone. This unrealism of class utopia sets the audience up for the whole series; as no class below middle-upper are ever represented. The Gilmore Girls utopia extends throughout all realms of life, evidently including socio-economic class.

References:

Detmering, L.. (2012). “Good Breeding” and “Acute Discernment”: The Politics of Literacy and Family in “Gilmore Girls”. Studies in Popular Culture, 34(2)

Stern, D. M. (2012). It Takes a Classless, Heteronormative Utopian Village: Gilmore Girls and the Problem of Postfeminism. The Communication Review, 15(3)

 

Gilmore Girls and Its Context: (3) Absence of Racial and Ethnic Identities and their Tensions (pt 1)

Throughout the whole seven seasons, Gilmore Girls holds just five non-white recurring characters. One is Michel, and the others are Lane, and her mother Mrs Kim; the town’s mechanic Gypsy; and Oscar, Luke’s cook. However, the Kim’s are the only minority characters fully developed over the series, while the others are more background characters whom the audience engages little with. The Kim’s are a somewhat typical American-centric framework of Asian-American identity. Mrs Kim’s is the role of stereotypical Christian Korean mother; extremely strict, conservative and traditional. The second generation, Lane, was presumably born in America. She consequently adopts a somewhat postracial identity, rejects most aspects of her Korean culture, and desperately seeks to Americanize her identity. In Lane’s first appearance, she chooses to wear a “Woodstock” top, which she will later hide from her parents. She and Rory joke about her Korean mother’s intensely long-term plans to match-make her with a Korean future doctor. In the following scene, the strong bond between Rory and her mother begins to reveal; leading to the first of the audiences’ many comparisons between this, and Lane’s relationship with her mother. Further, Lane’s character recognises these comparisons for herself as well. Throughout many first episodes of Season 1, she experiences how “I get jealous sometimes” of her American best friend. “I mean, you seem to have this really great life going and I don’t really fit in there.” She’s explicitly referring to Rory’s American boyfriend, which Lane craves over her mother’s strictly Korean choices, as well as Rory’s close relationship with her family.

In Season 4, Lane’s mother makes her move out over tensions about Lane’s rock band, and we meet her cousin Christine as she helps her move out. Both girls are extremely sober, meek and submissive around the Korean relatives. However alone together Christine transforms, relating to Lane as an Americanized second-generation of oppressive Korean background. Surprising after the girl we met scared surrounded by Koreans, Christine’s dialogue is extremely fast, beginning with: “No female Kim has ever moved out without getting married.” Then a reference to hiding possessions from parents leads into a string of Western culture references. This summarises Gilmore Girls’ interlocking between Korean-American identities, and portrayed oppressive Korean backgrounds:

I love the floorboard thing! It’s so “Hogan’s Heroes!” I wonder if I can pull up the floorboards at my house. Have you heard of the Libertines? What about the White Stripes? Is it over for them? What about Zeppelin? I’m getting more retro. What’s a good Zeppelin? “II,” “III”? “III”‘s got “Stairway to Heaven,” right? Man, it’s like a funeral down there. I thought my mom was harsh, but your mom makes the guy from Joy Division look like one of the Teletubbies.

References:

Chung, H. S. (2010). Escaping from Korea: Cultural authenticity and Asian American identities in Gilmore Girls. In D. S. Diffrient (Ed.), Screwball television: Critical perspectives on Gilmore Girls (pp. 165–185). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Stern, D. M. (2012). It Takes a Classless, Heteronormative Utopian Village: Gilmore Girls and the Problem of Postfeminism. The Communication Review, 15(3)

Gilmore Girls and Its Context: (2) Heteronormativity

While Lorelai raises Rory as a single working mother, the 2000’s sitcom ensures a modified nuclear family unit, with the addition of much of Stars Hollow’s society contributing to Rory’s child-raising. Luke Danes of Stars Hollow’s Luke’s Diner plays a particularly significant role. Over the series he operates as a father figure to Rory, as well as a friend, ‘Mr Fix-It’, and on-off love interest for Lorelai. Rory’s biological father, Christopher Hayden, simultaneously fulfils the father role periodically. In this sense, Gilmore Girls maintains the heteronormative nuclear family ideal. Additionally, resulting from the heterosexual love triangle between Luke and her conflicting on-off relationship with Christopher, Lorelai is seemingly unable to sustain relationships with other male characters. This has several implications about both the availability and independence of single women.

Conservative ideals are additionally enforced by the heteronormative sexual experiences, exhibited in numerous instances. In the middle of Season 3, Rory’s school friend Paris Gellar is rejected from her deeply sought after Ivy league admission, at the same time as losing virginity. She and the audience experience the two as related. Rory as her counterpart has not yet had sex for the first time, and she is concurrently accepted into three Ivy league universities. Furthermore Lorelai overhears Paris and Rory discussing this and hearing her daughter’s virginity confirmed, she declares “I have the good kid”. Later in Season 4, Rory consciously decides to lose her virginity to her married ex-boyfriend Dean, causing strong conflict and anger from her mother. Gilmore Girls idealized conservatism about the sacrilege of the ‘first time’ and the institution of marriage – no matter how flawed Dean’s was. This was prioritised over shaming the diversity and imperfections of teenager’s sexual choices. Then in Season 5, Lane and Rory problematize that Lane’s upbringing demands she won’t have sex with her boyfriend until they’re married. Lane says “You’ve already had sex with two different guys. All within a one year period.” Rory responds, “Okay, you’re making me sound a little slutty”; Lane does not disagree. The first time Lane has sex is on her honeymoon; and she finds the experience unpleasant, and immediately falls pregnant with twins. These pivotal interconnections with heterosexual experiences convey messages which deny sexual freedom, and reject the reality of non-normative, diverse sexual experiences.

The prominence of seemingly non-nuclear, but nevertheless conservative heterosexual relationships, is mirrored by a concurrent absence of homosexual representation. Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino never confirmed Lorelai’s employee Michel Gerard’s sexuality, but presented it as intentionally ambiguous throughout the series. This created prominent debate among fans about the character’s exact sexual orientations; casting unnecessary attention on external perception of individual’s sexual choices. The only other character of perceived non-heterosexual orientation is Lorelai’s night manager Tobin, although he only appears in a few episodes of the whole series. He is intended as the most overtly ‘feminine’ male character; exclusively through his taste, style and vocal expression. Incidentally, he shares a fiercely rival relationship with Michel. Michel fears “He weasels his way into every area of my life… He wants to replace me. – As what? – As everything. He wants to replace me in my entire life.” What “every area of my life” refers to is unspoken, but may be interpreted as the one ‘effeminate lead’ for Gilmore Girls.

Lastly, Sherman-Palladino has stated about Lorelai’s best friend, “Sookie was originally supposed to be gay”.[1] However, she pointed to network executives as not approving it. This is perhaps reflective of the context of the timing of the show’s release. She has suggested: “By the time ‘Gilmore’ had been on a year or two, that shit was starting to drop right and left… You know, today everyone would be gay”. Sherman-Palladino referred to increased homosexual representation in mainstream media by the mid-2000s, after the show’s release. However regardless of any genuineness intended by this statement, Gilmore Girls has failed to represent any spectrum of sexualities beyond its perpetuation of heteronormativity.

References:

[1] Duca, L. (2015, June 6). ‘Gilmore Girls’ Michel Wasn’t Necessarily Gay, But Sookie Was Supposed To Be. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

Stern, D. M. (2012). It Takes a Classless, Heteronormative Utopian Village: Gilmore Girls and the Problem of Postfeminism. The Communication Review, 15(3)

(1) Gilmore Girls and the Postfeminism Context

Gilmore Girls has been produced and consumed within a context of so-called ‘third wave feminism’. First wave feminism is said to have begun in the mid-1800s, during which time a Seneca Falls convention as one of the first of its kind was held, to focus on women’s legal rights to own property, sue, form contracts, and vote. Increased women’s activism work followed, expanding to public sphere demands for education and access to middle-class jobs. The consequential fight for the women’s vote concluded in the 1920s. First wave feminism made significant gains for women, including growth of education opportunities, entry into previously all-male professions, some legalisation of equal pay, and some availability to contraception and abortion. Feminism is then said to have re-emerged in the 1960s in its ‘second wave’, in the context of rising identity politics and ‘new social movements’.  The first wave gains acted as conditions to aid the continuation of feminism, and its second wave is characterised by continuation of these rights. Further, realization grew about women’s ‘personal’, ‘private’ matters as politically-determined, and components of a larger system of patriarchal practices. Finally, feminism developed to a third wave around the 1980s. The Western movement became increasingly intersectional; recognition rising about oppression of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity and class as interlocking. Importantly for Gilmore Girls is the development of feminism within the distinct context of technological development, popular culture and post-modernism. And critically, Western women within this third wave distinctly know more entitlements to equality and self-determination, which previous generations of feminists fought for.

This last development has led to the rise of postfeminist ideology, which theorises first and second wave gains eliminated the need to continue the political movement. This is also related to representation in media and popular culture; which are to postfeminism spheres of empowerment and success for women. Gilmore Girls intersects with these postfeminist theories in a number of ways. Firstly, the emphasis on female relationships and independent, strong female lead roles can suggest women’s empowerment. The leads Lorelai and Rory Gilmore are intensely close and dependent on each other, which remains as the men in their lives come and go. They are portrayed as a non-nuclear family, as Lorelai raised Rory alone. She also creates her own successful, entrepreneurial career at the same time, by managing and eventually owning her own Inn. Further, a significant amount of the town’s small businesses are owned by women. Such aspects of the show exhibit empowerment of women based on success of the liberal feminist issues labour and childcare. They are presented as a postfeminist norm, absent from the reality of gendered struggles for such accomplishments. The women of Gilmore Girls exist in a fictional, small suburban town; seemingly a utopia, within which the female characters face no oppression based on their sex.

The remaining blogs will deconstruct this context of Gilmore Girls’ postfeminist utopia, through examining its intersection with heteronormativity, race and ethnicity, and class. With these intersections, Gilmore Girls serves as a critical illustration of feminism within a context of popular media and culture; and of both contemporary political gains and challenges.

References:

Dicker, R. & Piepmeier, A. (2003). Catching a Wave: reclaiming feminism for the 21st century. Boston, USA: Northeastern University Press

Kemp, S. and Squires, J. (1997). Feminisms. New York, USA: Oxford University Press

McRobbie, A. (2013, June 3). Angela McRobbie on the Illusion of Equality for Women. Retrieved from http://www.socialsciencespace.com/

Nicholson, L. (2010). Feminism in “Waves”: Useful Metaphor or Not? New Politics, 12(40)

Stern, D. M. (2012). It Takes a Classless, Heteronormative Utopian Village: Gilmore Girls and the Problem of Postfeminism. The Communication Review, 15(3)

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