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Posts Tagged ‘pop culture’

Gilmore Girls seems to have a reputation for being in a certain demographic. A very female demographic. Which is particuarly interesting because, according to Wikipedia, for its first four seasons (which I would argue are its strongest), it ranked first in the 18-25 demographic for women and second in the 18-25 demographic for men. Meaning, people really liked it regardless of gender.

That being said, one of my male friends was embarrassed to admit he’d watched and enjoyed the show. Another one scoffed at the idea of watching it because it has “girls” in the title, so it obviously wasn’t for him. I think maybe it has an (undeserved) reputation for being like a Lifetime movie, something that would only appeal to women (and yes, there are all kinds of problems with that statement).

Of course, this tension is not universal. There is also the guy I was dating last year who was watching through the series and would tell me his thoughts on the episodes. And the popular two-guy podcast Gilmore Guys, hosted by one guy who loves the show and one guy who had never seen it before.

I started watching Gilmore Girls for the first time several years after it had concluded, when I was in the process of getting a divorce. I loved it at that time, and will probably always love it, because the show centers around Lorelai Gilmore, a (off-and-on) single woman in her 30s (she’s 32 when the show starts and 39 when it ends) who is not mostly defined by her relationships with men. She is smart, she is stylish (sometimes), she is assertive, she is ambitious, she is very good at her job and eventually becomes a successful entrepreneur, and her most important relationship throughout the seven years of the show is not a romantic one with a man (although she has those too!) but with her daughter. And as a smart woman in my 30s who didn’t want to define myself primarily by my relationship to men, I found watching stories of this fictional woman’s life vastly reassuring.

But as I continued watching, I came to realize Gilmore Girls is more than just a reassuring reflection for me. It’s really funny! (In an absurd way, which is my favorite.) It’s a smart, witty, show with a fast pace, a quirky style, and tons of pop culture references. It brings its characters and its setting of the idealized but bizarre small town of Stars Hollow (which is a character in and of itself) into vivid being. And it happens to center around the lives of a mother and daughter.

gilmore girls still

Yesterday, I read Penelope Trunk saying, “Men don’t need to see themselves reflected back to themselves in a relationship. They need to see themselves reflected back as some sort of hero. Women want to see themselves reflected back as being competent in relationships.” She goes on to say this because most women want kids, and it won’t be relatable for them to watch other women putting a career before family.

One of the reasons I love Gilmore Girls is because, while what Ms. Trunk says may or may not be true on a wider scale (and if it is true, it’s because of what our society raises women to value, so if our pop culture changed, this truth would most likely change as well), I know that I personally love seeing myself reflected back as some sort of hero. Who wouldn’t like that? Why can’t I be a hero and care about my relationships all at the same time? And it is a joy to watch a female character in her 30s be so competent, successful at business, and with a full and fulfilling life.

Also, it’s great to see other people, including women, who aren’t super competent at relationships (which Lorelai patently is not). Not only does that provide much-needed drama to sustain a longer-running television series, but come on! Relationships are difficult. None of us is perfect at them. And it’s affirming to see that lack of perfection reflected back in our media. In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown says that feeling like we’re not alone and that our personal experience is relatable and not unique to us is very important for shame resilience. Which is one reason why what the media portrays (and does not portray) is so critical.

Ultimately I’d like to see all kinds of characters reflected as heroes in media: female and male and non-binary genders, white people and people of color, young people and old people, straight and gay and bi people, people who are the same as me and people who are different from me. I want to see people being great at relationships and I want to see people who are messing up at relationships. I want to see warm family connections and I want to see troubled ones. I don’t really want to see absolute perfection because flaws are what make characters–and more generally human beings–interesting and three-dimensional and who they really are.

So dislike Gilmore Girls all you want, but dislike it because of its flaws as a show: the mess of seasons six and seven, the way it’s depressing to watch Rory descend into the dystopia her mother had escaped a generation before, the inconsistencies of the world, the way it deals with economic and class privilege. Dislike it because you don’t like watching dysfunctional family relationships or because it’s not a show centered around mysteries or action or whatever genres really engage you.

But don’t dislike it because it’s a show for women. It’s not, no more than Sherlock or Star Trek are shows for men (to mention two other shows I really like).

It’s a show for everyone.

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I only realized in the past week or so that yes, on the whole, I prefer TV shows to movies.

This is a strange about-face for me to make. I was the roommate who, in freshman year of college, fought hard to prevent having the TV in the living room. I came from a household where we watched TV pretty much every night, usually for 3-4 hours, and I was sick of it. I became sick of it before I went away to college, and I’d hide out in the back room practicing music by the hour, reading lots of books, and whiling away my remaining time playing backgammon and Hearts with a computer AI.

But now, I find when I get to choose between a TV show and a movie, I am more likely to select a TV show.

I prefer TV shows for the same reason I prefer novels. I am what I call a character reader; I get pulled through a story because I am invested in the characters’ lives and development. World building I only care about if it is so off as to be distracting. Plot I care about more. But it is the characters who breathe life into the experience for me. And TV shows allow a lot more space for character development than most movies

But perhaps more importantly, I was listing my favorite shows and found that all of them feature either a female lead character or ensemble casts with plenty of female characters. Which is something that can be hard to find in the movies, which too often have the token female character or the two female characters who never even talk to each other. (Thank you, Bechdel test, for helping me systematically notice this.)

In fact, these days I tend to choose not to watch TV shows that have a male lead character as opposed to an ensemble cast. (The exception to this is Sherlock. My love for Sherlock Holmes is greater than my irritation at the low numbers of female characters in the show.)  I was never interested in Dexter or Breaking Bad. A serial killer who the audience is supposed to be okay with because he chooses his victims carefully? A teacher who is a drug dealer and brings his student and family with him on his downhill plummet? Ugh. Both of these shows have their merits, from what I hear, but they are unappealing to me. Plus in the current culture, neither of those characters, anti-heroes at their finest, could have been female, simply because they aren’t likeable enough in their conception. Ugh again.

No, instead I have an endearing love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Not so much love for Angel.) I enjoy the ensemble casts of Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones. (Yes, GoT women tend to conform to types, but at least they exist as main characters, and their stories, horror and all, are illustrative of what it’s like to lack power and agency due to gender and the different ways they are forced to strive for power in spite of their genders simply in order to survive.) I rewatch Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls. I watched every episode of Gossip Girl, and I’m catching up on Vampire Diaries.

Murray Close/Lionsgate Publicity Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen.

Are these shows perfect? Not by a long shot. But at least I get to watch women doing stuff and being a real part of the story. Perhaps with the box office successes of Catching Fire and Gravity, I’ll get to watch more women doing stuff in the movies too. Maybe they can even do stuff together. Maybe Frozen did well enough that next time, I’ll get to watch a female snowperson sidekick/comic relief, without any sexist jokes being involved.

And in the meantime, I’ll be sitting on my couch watching Buffy.

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