Shhh: I’m a Black Woman who Watches Gilmore Girls

I was Rory Gilmore. I spent 9th grade at a high school where I was woefully unchallenged. Like Rory, I transferred from that school to a rigorous college prep high school (complete with knee-length multicolored skirts). I was an outsider who couldn’t quite figure out how the privileged system worked, at first. I too had my sights set on the Ivy League and eventually realized those dreams. I struggled my first year at Princeton by taking on more than I could handle, and even took part of a year off. For me, like Rory, reading was as natural, as necessary, as breathing.

Gilmore Girls was the family-friendly show that I could watch with my mother, as we both wished our relationship was more Lorelai and Rory and less Emily and Lorelai. I took pride in understanding more and more of the show’s obscure pop culture references with each round of reruns on Netflix. It never occurred to me to be frustrated by the stark lack of diversity on the show. The differences between Rory’s privileged suburban life and my ‘hood and poverty-adjacent life did not bother me; I ignored them in order to solidly place myself in her world. 

When news of the revival hit the internet, I responded with squeals and over-the-top Facebook statuses filled with exclamation points. It was meant to be a reunion with old friends. I built it up in my mind to be everything I wished seasons 6 and 7 (after the departure of Amy Sherman-Palladino) would be. I imagined Rory and Paris conquering the world, harnessing the passion and focus of their Chilton days, and directing it with the maturity of lessons learned. 

I reflected on the various ways that I still was Rory Gilmore: Since the series ended in 2007, I have become a freelance writer and gotten an MFA. I’m a writer, like Rory. I’m an Ivy League graduate, like Rory. When I sat down with a friend I met at the VONA/Voices workshop to binge watch the revival, I went into it with the hope that it would be the mirror I had imagined the show was. 

Admittedly, my hopes were, dare I say, a bit ridiculous. It was unfair, and yes, maybe even naive to expect that Rory—with her white, upper-class Connecticut background—would reflect my life back to me. I have changed—I am Rory Gilmore, but not. In the years since my first Gilmore Girls viewings, I have seen myself in Grey’s Anatomy’s Miranda Bailey, How to Get Away with Murder’s Annalise Keating, Scandal’s Olivia Pope, and Queen Sugar’s Charley Bordelon West. Black women in media like Shonda Rhimes and Ava DuVernay have spoiled me with strong black female leads, and challenged me with deeply flawed, complicated, real characters. 

The Rory of the Gilmore Girls revival felt like a caricature of the original taco-loving, backup bookhaving Yalie who wrote beautiful sentences about cement. The “new” Rory was intentionally rootless and flighty. Where was her work ethic? Where was her fire? In the beginning, she sits at the kitchen table with Lorelai in the middle of the night and tells her mother she has lots of “irons in the fire.” When I heard this, I leaned forward and thought, “me too, girl, me too.” But in fact, she had essentially zero irons in the fire and little idea how to go about finding said irons. 

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In Gilmore Girls’ second season, Rory’s first assignment for The Franklin, Chilton’s school newspaper, is to report on the repaving of the school’s faculty parking lot. Paris gives her this assignment in the hopes that it will make Rory miserable and bring her no recognition. Instead, Rory declares, “I’m going to write the greatest piece on pavement you’ve ever read.” And while balancing her heavy class load, other extracurriculars, and boyfriend, she finds time to immerse herself in research and produce a “bittersweet piece on how everyone and everything eventually becomes obsolete,” as The Franklin‘s faculty advisor says in praise. When I first saw this episode as an ambitious high school student, I vowed to be just like Rory, to have such focus and resolve that even the scariest of mean girls cannot stop me from striving for excellence in every task I approached, even if the task seemed small. I even joined my school’s newspaper in the hopes that one day I’d write an article with similar flair.

In the Gilmore Girls revival, however, Rory has changed. She approaches an article for Condé Nast with little of the fervor she brought to the parking lot piece. She falls asleep while interviewing one source, and she decides to have her first one night stand with another source. I watched these scenes with near dismay. She seems more concerned with her outfit and traipsing to London than with building a solid career as a freelancer. I know from my own experience that because of the freelance lifestyle, which is often vacillating between feast and famine, it is necessary to aim for more work than is necessary. Pitches get ignored, and articles, like Rory’s fictional article in The Atlantic, get cut. But instead of sending out multiple pitches or even having ideas to toss around in meetings with editors, Rory relies on one half-baked ghost-writing assignment (with no contract in place).

In the week since I binge-watched the new episodes, I have pondered a singular question: what ruined Rory Gilmore? I’ve thought of her like I would think about a real person, someone I knew in high school—where did our paths diverge? When did she hop off the train and start wandering in the wilderness? The only thing that seems to come to mind is that, unlike in the early years of Chilton, Rory of the new Netflix episodes fully embraces the privilege Chilton, Yale, and the Gilmore name afforded her. Unlike Olivia Pope, she does not have to be “twice as good.” Rory can afford to fly to London whenever she wants, comfortably couch-surf, and, as a beginning freelancer, work on only one pitch at a time. She can take what was essentially an unpaid internship at 32 years old. Her life, and the people in it, do not force her to maintain her work ethic, so she doesn’t. 

All this happened alongside the bizarre instances of racism and fat-shaming

Now, when people ask if I watch Gilmore Girls, I will say yes, but only after a moment’s hesitation. I feel like I’ll need to explain: I was the old Rory Gilmore, but I’m not the new one. The show has changed a lot, I’ll say. I was young, I might add, defending my younger self while I wonder if they are judging me, thinking that I am condoning what was essentially a celebration of a certain kind of white, heteronormative privilege.

The Gilmore Girls revival was for me what I imagine many people feel when attending their ten-year high school reunions—disappointment and confusion mixed with a bittersweet nostalgia for who we used to be. In my early years of high school, Rory gave me someone to look up to. She was the visible, pop culture representation of who I was trying to be; this told me, subliminally, that my goals were possible. Despite the shift in my perspective on the show, I’ll still remember Rory of the early Gilmore Girls years fondly, even if I wouldn’t be friends with her now.  

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Jasmine Wade Jasmine Wade is a writer and instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her short stories have appeared in Drunken Boat, TAYO Literary MagazineLunch Ticket and others. She teaches community creative writing workshops at Liminal, a feminist/womanist writing space.

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One Response to Shhh: I’m a Black Woman who Watches Gilmore Girls

  1. Her life, and the people in it, do not force her to maintain her work ethic, so she doesn’t. Yes! I’ve been thinking about what ruined Rory too, and this puts it so well.

    I think there also may be an element of former-gifted-kid syndrome: growing up with adults constantly spinning out elaborate fantasies about your potential, nay, mandate to Fix The World, inspired by your being good at spelling or whatever, can make it hard to reconcile being merely ordinary as an adult. Some of Rory’s behavior seems to me like a strategy for avoiding that acceptance. She can’t fail if she doesn’t try / considers the opportunity beneath her / disastrously fucks up (you can’t be mediocre if you gloriously crash and burn!)

    That said, I think if this was the show’s point, they could have done a better job of making it clear that her problems are caused by her own dysfunction (something they do better with Lorelai). I’ve never been totally clear on whether the Palladinos/writers/etc know that Rory is terrible, or if they’re just like, “Yeah, this is what cool people are like.”

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