Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Erika vs Gilmore Girls: Showdown in the Conversationdrome

I used to watch Gilmore Girls with my mother when it first came out. I think we, like a lot of mothers and daughters watching this show, wished we could be like Lorelei and Rory (bestest friends and, to quote the show, "freakishly bonded" parent and kid), when we were more like Emily and Lorelei--two people who loved each other because they were family but had no idea how to communicate despite their most earnest efforts, and just kept fighting. Which sums up the show pretty well for those of you who have never seen it: it's a comedy about mother/daughter relationships. I just finished re-watching it on Netflix from start to finish, so you all now get to be subjected to my thoughts on the matter.

First things first, here's some of what it gets wrong: There is not one canonical not-straight character in the whole series (although I will fight you that the town weirdo Kirk is bi but I'll get into that in the comments if anyone wants). The cast is very very white, although there are a few notable exceptions. There are characters who are supposed to be impoverished or struggling, yet everyone enjoys an asston of privilege, have nice homes, eat out constantly, and generally are never really shown leading a life that isn't upper middle class. The show is mainly about relationships, and while it started off being about non-romantic relationships it does develop a focus on it.

Its approach on pregnancy needs some detailing too. Lorelei Gilmore, the protagonist of the show, had her daughter, Rory, when she was 16. She then ran away from home and raised her on her own and boot-strapped her way to middle class. (Yeaaah. I mentioned this show is kind of classist, right? It has no earthly idea what anything below upper-middle-class looks like.)  The possibility of abortion for her (or anyone) is mentioned once in seven seasons, and quashed quickly and with disgust. It is not mentioned to her, but to her mother. We can assume that Lorelei wanted to have the baby, but at no point do we ever see her being offered an alternative. This is framed as having been the right call because her daughter is objectively perfect and if she did it then she wouldn't have her perfect kid! And her life is awesome now! Which is kind of nice in a way--it's a show that says over and over again "Fuck up. For glory. You can still fix it and bounce back."

In the last two seasons we see two women who are not happy to be pregnant. One is Lane, a newly wed and struggling musician who comes from a very religious household (though she mostly rejects that for herself) who gets pregnant on her honeymoon. With twins. She says, clearly, when she finds out she's pregnant that she doesn't want to be a mother. Not yet. Down the road sure, but right now? And with twins? But never does she think about an abortion, and never does someone else suggest it. Rory just tries to encourage her because she's sure she'll be a great mom! And who's ever ready for anything? They're twenty but, you know, have these kids!

The second is Sookie, Lorelei's best friend, co-worker, chef, and co-owner of a very successful small country inn. She is married with two children. After she gives birth for the second time, a nurse appears to take her husband for a vasectomy because, nope, she is done. Spoilers: He did not get the vasectomy, and he didn't tell her. At first there's no issue, but after some confusion about whether she's still on the pill she gets pregnant. She does not want to be pregnant. We see her freaking out, and Lorelai has to try and remind her of all the wonderful things about new babies to get her on board with the idea (The line "Think of that new baby smell" is used. I have never sniffed a baby; can someone who has weigh in here? Is this like people talking about eating babies feet?  Is it a 'new car smell' joke?) and slowly wins her over with "awww cute babies". I was cringing so hard I pulled a muscle in my neck in this scene. We do see her upset at her husband as an ongoing story line, which is a small mercy that cute babies doesn't fix all and also children are a huge deal. They eventually talk and resolve it, and then they're good, but this was huge to her. She was pregnant. She already had two kids. She did not want a third. Never does anyone say "You don't have to keep it", which distresses me. We have three instances of women who are pregnant who do not want to be, for very different reasons. Even if the answer each time was "No, I think I should keep the kid" clearly each time, it would have made me feel better. As it is, it made me feel like pregnancy is just... something that happens, and is ultimately a good thing because aww look at the little baby's itty bitty fingers!*

That is the bad. What do I like about this show? It is a show that at its heart is about women, relationships, and the relationships between women. In the early seasons this is specifically about mother-daughter relationships, and it isn't all sunshine and rainbows, but it isn't all doom and gloom, either. People fight, they make up, some relationships are happy and healthy, some are not! Emily, the grandmother, is downright abusive and manipulative at times (this eases up to cast her less as an antagonist and more as a real person as the show goes on). As the series progresses more romantic relationships become a central theme, but even then, the women around Lorelei and Rory remain important.

So let's talk about how the show handles its three notable characters of color. Rory's best friend in the world is Lane Kim, who's mother is a Seventh-Day Adventist. I am not terribly versed in Korean stereotypes, but I suspect they're played with by how often Lane says things like "Koreans do things like X" and there is a lot of kimchi. Mrs. Kim, Lane's mother is incredibly strict, and in the early seasons when Lane is young and living with her Mother still (I believe she's widowed, but it's never made explicit) we see Lane living under a very strict regime. She can only date Korean boys from church (who her Mother approves of) and their dates will be escorted. No chocolate or carbonated drinks in the house. No make up. Only approved music and clothes. We see Lane hiding reams and reams of cds in her floor boards to listen to at Rory's, we see her having a second bedroom set up in her closet which is her "real" room. She secretly joins a band. Her Mother eventually finds all of her illicit stashes and throws her out of the house. They eventually make up.

Despite all this, the show never vilifies Mrs. Kim. She is an antagonist, she's kind of scary, but she has motives that make sense. She ultimately loves her daughter and consistently does what she believes is best. Later on we see her shift to more middle ground stances as Lane gets older and more independent. Most of her strictness, her coldness, her rigidness is based within her being a Seventh Day Adventist, not Korean.

The other character of color is Michel. He is the concierge at the inn Lorelai and Sookie run, and a snooty French man. His character leans heavily on a lot of the prissy French man stereotypes or gay man stereotypes (strict diet and exercise, loves fashion, very "metrosexual"), but he is straight (or bi and never shown to be interested in men) and played by a black man. His character is very one-note, but at least they didn't opt to use stereotypes based on his race?

The lack of racial and sexual diversity sucks, but there are women of different ages, different body types, walks of life... Sookie is played by Melissa McCarthy. We have two other regular, reoccurring characters who are larger. We have aggressive type A "I will stab you in the throat to get my way" women, we have sweet kindergarten teachers, we have women who are a bit or both or a whole lot of neither. I love the wealth of women in this show, I love that they are (for most of the series) friends who care about each other. I love that the show is clever and never makes fat jokes. I love that fat women are shown as worthy of love, sexual attraction, and get to be happy. I love that it has antagonistic but not villainous women**. It all just feels so... novel to me. This is what it takes to make me happy you guys. "Here are a bunch of reasonably well written women" and I will binge watch 7 seasons. I hunger, ok? I admit it.

If you are looking for a comedy/drama that has a lot of relationship drama but never stuff that has you screaming "OH MY GOD JUST TALK TO THEM YOU JERK FACE", I highly recommend it. If you have any other recommendations for shows like that, toss 'em to me, I need something new to watch now.

Sound off in the comments for things you want to see me write about (movies preferred, but I'm not ridged) or things you've been enjoying yourselves lately (or yelling at). Tune in next week for Will's suffering!

*Ok, I get the baby finger thing. They are absurdly tiny. Like, how do you even get fingers that tiny? Cheat codes, probably.
**Save for early Paris, but she stops like halfway through season 1 I think?


  1. New babies smell really really good or really really bad there is no middle ground. Whenever they are not pooping or peeing the tops of their heads are one of the nicest smells. I think there are a number of contributing factors.

    1) This is all assuming you enjoy the smell of fresh clean people skin, it has a smell, I think (and apparently most people think) it is a very nice smell. Babies smell like that all the time, because they cannot get sweaty and dirty yet. They just lay around being warm and clean.

    2) Baby cleaning products smell nice. They all have a very light neutral scent because babies are delicate and can't handle stronger smells and cleaning agents. So baby powder, baby oil, baby shampoo, baby wipes, all pleasant things to smell alongside warm skin smell.

    3) Milk breath. Babies don't eat onions or garlic, they don't have gum disease or tooth decay (or teeth). The air coming out of a baby is about as nice smelling air as you're likely to get out of a living creature. (From the top end, anyway)

    4) It is acceptable to sniff them. There's maybe a few other adults you're allowed to smell, but they smell like armpit half the time and perfumey things and people do talk about how nice the people they're involved with smell sometimes. Sometimes you let an older kid sit on your lap and their hair is in your face, but they're tired enough for that stuff at the end of a long hard day of getting sweaty and dirty and eating cheese puffs. Not ideal. But holding a fresh warm baby up by your face and making cooing noises at it and smelling it's wispy baby hair is socially acceptable.

    None of this is a good reason to have a baby. Or even hold and smell a baby. There's always a chance you will end up with one of the really really bad smelling moments.

  2. About the pregnancy thing, I've been watching Eureka lately, and its mostly a show I adore. Except very early on (like, second episode), this woman who dies in episode 1 is actually discovered to be a clone of her husband's real wife, because he wanted a child and she didn't. She is naturally horrified and doesn't want anything to do with him or his kid, but the female lead pressures her immensely to adopt this 10 year old boy who she has never met because "You're flesh and blood". It really kind of.. creeped me out.

    I love mother/daughter bonds a lot, though I'm not so much into this type of show, though all the stories I write center around such bonds. I can never really get into the 'slice of life' type shows.

  3. I could never watch gilmore girls because of the soapy camera work...that filter bro, why!? You bring some interesting points up about it though, it might not have been the horror I considered it. My recommendation is still Reservoir Dogs, I'm super excited to hear another feminist's opinion on it.

  4. I binged on Gilmore Girls as well, all 7 seasons, last fall/winter. I had seen a few episodes when it was on air but not very many. I liked a lot of the same things you did: all the women, all kinds of women, with all kinds of relationships with each other. I found the mother/daughter relationship between Lorelei and Rori alternatively awesome and horrifying. But what rang true to me was Lorelei's flashes of immaturity as a parent and in her relationships with men. I've worked with teen parents and yes, becoming a parent can be a very maturing experience, but it can also slow down maturation in some areas.

    I loathed Emily and Lorelei's father. They were portrayed as immensely self-centered, classist and un-empathetic people. Of which there are many in the class they were supposed to be from.

    Lastly, yes, the cast was very, very white.

  5. Aaaaugh! I know exactly what episode you're talking about, because myself and a friend pretty much ragequit the series over it. I hated how everyone's like "so, you're going to have a happy family now, right?" No. No. This woman didn't want kids, why should she suddenly take care of this stranger's kid that she had no idea existed? Who cares if they're technically related? Also, why would the kid want to be raised by someone who looks identical to his mom but is really a total stranger? That's also extra creepy! But the show did not address any of this and just went blood relation = instant connection, it was awful.

    I might have been able to handle how bad that episode was, but the next episode also had horrible consent issues with selective memory-wiping, and I just couldn't get over it. I felt like the show was bringing up too many problems in their pursuit of a 'lol science adventures!' show, and since it didn't address any of them, I couldn't enjoy the silly tone the show as aiming for.

  6. A slice of clone filled, coercive parenthood laden life...

  7. The early episodes were the worst by far. The show didn't really find its groove until season 2.

  8. Ehhhh, that may be true, but I kind of don't care? I'm the kind of person where if a show doesn't catch my interest by episode four or five, I'm out. There are too many good shows for me to sit around and wait and wait to get to the good parts. The other thing is that I'm a very character-focused viewer; if I don't care about the characters, no amount of plot can convince me to keep watching. And I just wasn't interested in any of the Eureka characters.

  9. Well, I was really agreeing with you that the early episodes had a lot of bad stuff in it like that.

  10. Oh. Gotcha. Sorry. I've had a lot of people nagging at me to watch some shows I bailed on because "it gets better later!" so it was kind of a kneejerk reaction.

  11. I tried watching a few episodes from later still really didn't feel worth it. I don't know, the writers seemed a bit more self-aware but they didn't go far enough? It was a really shame it had alot of elements I normally like.