Life’s Short, Talk Fast: Seven Years in Stars Hollow

Tomorrow marks a historic day for the internet and for Amy Sherman-Palladino fans everywhere. October 1st will be forever branded in our collective cultural memory as the day Gilmore Girls received it’s long deserved due, a revival in the form of seven glorious Netflix-streamable seasons. The moment the news of this impending miracle broke, the Internet shut down. People began announcing their indefinite withdrawal from the world,and planning sick days three weeks in advance. Grocery stores were stormed as people stocked up on bottled water, canned goods and impulse-bought chocolate in preparation for Hurricane Gilmore, during which they would feel no need to leave the comfort and safety of their couch ever again. There will be Chinese takeout, there will be pizza, there will be Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. The streaming gods have willed it so, and this is perhaps the one time I feel compelled to use #blessed unironically.

When attempting to explain this phenomenon to non-viewers, the words of Rory and Lorelai, spoken to television non-believer Dean, speak for themselves: It’s not just a show, “It’s a lifestyle. It’s a religion.” And when attempting to convey the gravity and intensity of my own devotion to the Gilmore clan, I found myself enthusing “This show is one of the best things to ever happen to television. This show basically raised me.” My friend, unversed in the Stars Hollow universe, naturally responded “I didn’t know that a show could do that.” Most shows can’t and were never meant to. But Gilmore Girls is not most shows, and in a lot of ways, Lorelai Gilmore has come to embody the surrogate mother, honest friend, and feminist role model girls of our generation needed in our lives and by our sides during our conflicted, adolescent early-2000s. She was and is the strong, sexy, pizza-consuming, independent, smart, flawed, witty woman we wanted to be in the world. To paraphrase Rory’s memorable graduation speech, she never gave us any idea that we couldn’t do what we wanted to do or be whomever we wanted to be. She filled our houses with love and fun and books and music, unflagging in her efforts to give us role models from Jane Austen to Eudora Welty to Patti Smith. As she guided us through these incredible seven years, I don’t know if she ever knew that the person we most wanted to be was her.

Back in the early 2000’s, and I would argue even now, it’s a pretty radical act to raise a single mother, pregnant at sixteen, to the status of role model. It’s a pretty radical act to accurately depict the harsh judgments and consequences for a flawed woman navigating the world without reducing her story to a mere sum of her mistakes. Lorelai never compromised her own values, she never lived by anybody else’s rules. We got to see her finish her business degree against all odds, re-establish a relationship with her parents (albeit a complicated one), run a successful inn, and raise an unabashedly brilliant, ambitious daughter. And we also got to see her paralyzed by grief over broken romantic relationships, equally enraged and wounded by her parents’ cruel jibes and judgments, and we got to see her after one too many shots of tequila. We saw her vulnerable and hesitant at the counter of Luke’s diner, confessing ” I feel like I’m never gonna have it. The whole package, you know. That person, that couple life. And I swear, I hate admitting it because I fancy myself Wonder Woman but I really want it.” But she was never diminished by these mistakes, failures, and doubts.  Instead, they gave me hope that I could overcome my own. Instead, they made her real to me.

Her past missteps and frequent struggles also gave her the ability to offer valuable, oftentimes hilariously on point, life advice without appearing self-righteous. She was the Dumbledore of dating advice, dispensing lightning speed one-liners that almost instantly became teenage girl survival aphorisms:

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It was Lorelai Gilmore who taught us that if men can name their kids after themselves, women can too. If you’re going to throw your life away, he better have a motorcycle. Saturday is the day of pre-rest. Booze is the adult milk and cookies. Sarcasm does not become you, but it can sustain you. And so it goes. But on a more serious note, she taught me about choices, about the possibility of good decisions emerging from bad circumstances, and about reconciliation, the art of rising above. She taught me how to laugh at life, even when it seems most bleak. And when she comforted, challenged, and encouraged Rory, it felt like she was speaking directly to me.

Like most intelligent, introverted, driven women of my age, I’ll tell you with pride and conviction that I am Rory. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that her impeccable taste in books guided my own reading more than any teacher or mentor’s recommendations. Thanks to her, I discovered the acerbic wit of Dorothy Parker and the sage letters of Rainer Maria Rilke. But Rory brought much more than savvy literary references into my life- she also brought the perfect combination of  grace, intelligence, and determination. And even though we as a fandom often get caught up in debating the merits and demerits of her boyfriends, she was so much more than another entertaining enactment of romantic love. She felt deeply, but she also wanted to write, she wanted to travel, she wanted to live and to achieve.  She graduated from her competetive private high school as valedictorian, she made it through Yale in one piece, and she ended the show as an innovative online journalist covering the Obama campaign. But like her mother, she was at her most interesting and relatable when she faltered and failed. Despite her seeming perfection and stability as a daughter and student, her moments of imperfection, from her fear of the words “I love you” in Season 1 to her epic pre-life crisis during which she steals a yacht, drops out of Yale, and becomes an active member of the DAR in Season 6, were strangely perfect in themselves.  Even at her most confused and frantic, she put things into perspective and amassed her own impressive repertoire of Gilmorisms. You can’t get into Harvard without wilderness skills. She may have spent the night in jail, but so did Martin Luther King. And above all, one does not simply talk about sex in front of the books. For shame, Lane.

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I could soliloquize endlessly on the numerous virtues of Stars Hollow and it’s inhabitants, rambling on and on about each individual character and the life lessons I’ve carried with me from our time together.  I could devote an entire paragraph to the fact that in addition to depicting the most dynamic mother-daughter duo to ever grace our screens, Gilmore Girls also brought to life some of the most memorable and complex female friendships in television history, from Rory’s evolving relationships with Lane and the infamous Paris Gellar to Lorelai’s steadfast attachment to her business partner, Sookie St. James.  Boyfriends, exes, and absentee fathers may come and go throughout the show, but female friendship, support, and solidarity remains the  central fixture in the Gilmore landscape, ensuring that I have never underestimated its power in my own.  Of course, each Gilmore love interest deserves their own Rory-worthy pro and con list. And I shouldn’t neglect the contributions of the small army of quirky small town characters: Kirk’s creative careers, the Town Troubadour’s casually meta appearances, Taylor’s bureaucratic power trips, Mrs. Kim’s terrifyingly intense Seventh Day Adventism, Michele’s deliciously quotable sarcasm, and the Town Loner’s indecipherable protesting (my own personal favorite) all deserve their own tributes. And don’t even get me started on Emily Gilmore: No one can throw shade with such biting sarcasm and precision, and her drunken, skirtless scrambling through her own basement window will forever be wonderful (for context, in case you don’t know, Emily Gilmore is Rory’s rich, upright grandmother). But even many paragraphs and articles on the specifics of my intricate emotional attachments to each character later, the elusive core of what makes this show so timelessly great still evades description.

Beyond its incredible cast of diverse, evolving personalities, beyond its intelligently subversive humor and its impressive catalog of cultural references, and beyond even its feminist leanings, Gilmore Girls made it its business to capture the endless variation and possibilities of human interaction. It made us care about the growth of families, friendships, and romantic relationships and it made us care deeply, because it never stooped to simplify and it never ceased to surprise. From the unexpectedly awkward and endearing moments of family bonding,

to perfectly nonchalant acts of aggression and family tension (Lake-pushing is Luke’s chosen expression of love),

to leaps of faith that challenge you to grow (never forget, Logan taught us all to let it go before it was cool),

Lorelai and Rory walked me through every stage as we simultaneously learned to live, learn, and love in the world. Where they lead, I will follow.  Now excuse me while I go count the minutes til midnight.

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4 responses to “Life’s Short, Talk Fast: Seven Years in Stars Hollow

  1. It’s funny. My daughter and I loved and laughed our way through seven seasons of Gilmore Girls. But, there was one moment that gave us pause. Well, actually two (the teach a “retarded kid to play softball” line), but I’ll leave that for another time.
    It’s amazing how so many people, including the writer here, do not realize the origins of the saying “great white hope.” It was coined out of hatred, anger and fear. I think “Rory” was many things: kind, hard-working and intelligent. And as the writer here points out — she was wonderfully flawed as well. However, the fact that her mother described her as a “Great White Hope” in an effort to comfort her is disturbing to say the least. A great white hope is expected to be a defender of the white race. The first great white hope was a call out for a fighter who would take on and crush African American boxer Jack Johnson and help regain white pride back in the early 1900s. So by saying this to Rory, Lorelai is literally referring to her daughter as someone who it is hoped will crush people of other races and keep the white race strong and superior. I’ve noticed Rory referred to as “The Great White Hope” on several other blogs, as well, and in several other articles. Very interesting that writers keep
    boiling her character down to this particular descriptor. It’s disappointing and very telling. And it makes one sadly wonder why this particular line stuck. I expected more from Amy Sherman-Palladino, a clearly well-read woman who created (in all other aspects) such a fun and wonderful world in which to escape.

    • Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Paula. I definitely did not realize the disturbing historical origins of the phrase (for some reason, I was under the mistaken impression that it was some sort of reference to “Moby Dick”). My ignorance, however, does not excuse my re-use of such a problematic association, and I have removed the quote from my article. Of all the phrases and epithets used in the series, I’m not sure either why this particular one stuck, but I’d much rather use a less offensive descriptor for one of my favorite characters.It’s usage in the show at all, especially in the context of offering comfort, is deeply saddening. Thank you again for taking the time to explain.

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