I started watching “Gilmore Girls” the summer before my senior year of high school, but I only made it to season three. I went into it expecting a comfort show with feel-good vibes and witty conversation; an easy-to-follow show that I could watch to de-stress. While it started that way with all the small-town charm, it only took a few episodes for me to start disliking Lorelai and Rory (the mother daughter main characters), and only two seasons to swear off the show entirely. With the consistent lack of acknowledgment of Lorelai and Rory’s privilege, issues of racism and the creation of unrealistic expectations for women, I found it difficult to engage with the show at this age where I understand its glaring flaws.
Lorelai and Rory are presented as being low-income, with Lorelai working as an inn manager and being estranged from her incredibly wealthy parents. However, from the first episode, it’s clear that Lorelai and Rory’s lifestyle could not put them further from this initial presentation. While Lorelai’s parents’ level of personal involvement in Lorelai and Rory’s lives varies throughout the show, they are constantly present as a financial safety net for both of them. They pay for Rory to attend her prep school and also for her to attend Yale. Lorelai is too proud to admit this, but it’s clear that when push comes to shove and financial support is needed, Lorelai’s parents will always be there, a privilege few to none low-income families have.
The hardest thing for me as an Indian American was not just the lack of cast diversity but also the anti-Asian rhetoric embedded in the show. Mrs. Kim, Rory’s best friend’s mom, is heavily stereotyped and shown as an “Asian tiger mom”. She is extremely strict with her daughter Lane, trying to prevent her from pursuing her rock star dreams, pushing her to be romantically interested in Korean guys and ultimately forcing Lane to lead a double-life full of secrets. While the immigrant parent-child relationship is always complex, with differing values coming into the mix, this portrayal of Mrs. Kim leans into every negative stereotype. She’s constantly compared to the “cool mom,” Lorelai (who has her fair share of issues with her own mom and daughter), and while she does ultimately become accepting of Lane’s goals, her initial villainization is hard to watch. Besides the stereotyping, racist dialogue makes the show hard to watch. At one instance, Rory says she’s ordering Indian takeout and her mom complains that it will “stink up the whole house.”Later on, Jess (Rory’s boyfriend at the time) makes a similar comment saying that after ordering Indian takeout they will have to “burn the house down”. Disparaging comments like this about the food that I’ve grown up eating are hurtful, and to have the “stinky Indian food” trope brought up time and time again in an effort to be funny is disgusting.
Something that is made clear about Lorelai and Rory from the start is that they are independent and are going to do what they want. They carry this attitude into everything they do, including how they eat. They’re always eating out and ordering in excess quantities (I mean 2-3 entrees per person) and then jumping on anyone who questions their habits. They both refuse to exercise, don’t eat fruits or veggies, yet somehow remain effortlessly thin – setting up unrealistic expectations for anyone watching, but especially for the young women the show targets. To me, it seems like the writers of the show tried to counter diet culture by taking Lorelai and Rory’s habits to another extreme. At the end of the day, what is portrayed is unrealistic and unsustainable, and it would have been nice to see the writers translate the everyday nature of the show into the meals as well. It’s hard to identify with Lorelai and Rory because it’s impossible to live the way they do and also look the way they do. A more realistic depiction would probably have made me dislike them a little bit less because giving them average habits would have made them a little more like me. One of the writers on “Gilmore Girls,” Amy Sherman-Palladino, has also been criticized for the lack of body-size diversity in her shows “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Bunheads.” In response, she stated that she doesn’t do “message shows” and she doesn’t give a “flying f—” about eating disorders.
As we enter October, “Gilmore Girls,” which has long been romanticized as the fall show, will experience a surge in popularity again. To many, Gilmore Girls is a way to inaugurate the cozy fall season, but we have to be able to recognize its underlying issues. The show was created in a time with far less acknowledgement and discussion about discrimination and stereotypes, but modern criticism of it is necessary. When we understand the issues that exist in prior media we are able to push for greater representation in what is produced today.