White Awake by Daniel Hill, Free for CAPC Members
White Awake brings us back again and again, gently but inexorably, to the truths that we’re so unwilling to face, steadily prying our hands from our eyes.
Every other Wednesday in Cool Takes, S. D. Kelly offers a fresh reflection on hot topics by exploring the intersection of faith with high and low culture.
Last week the world learned that the Gilmore Girls — Lorelai, her daughter Rory, and Lorelai’s mother, Emily — are coming back to TV in series of 90-minute mini-movies produced by Netflix.
Netflix’s almighty, if creepy algorithm, the one that calculates the popularity of shows in its catalog by tracking what we watch according to demographic, has determined that a revival of Gilmore Girls would be wildly popular. Based on the barely-contained hysteria at the news of the show’s revival, the algorithm is correct: returning to Stars Hollow is a safe bet.Gilmore Girls‘ atmosphere is a sort of elegy: to small towns, to a sense of community, and to the passing of the WASP way of life.
The seventh and final season of Gilmore Girls aired in 2007, nearly a decade ago in real time and a generation ago in internet time. A lot has changed since then. Here in 2015 Barack Obama’s presidency is winding down — a fitting bookend to the final episode as Rory leaves Stars Hollow to cover Obama’s first presidential campaign — and the whole world seems a lot less charming than it did just a few years ago.
I never finished Gilmore Girls. I watched several seasons in reruns during my first pregnancy, leaving off somewhere around the time Luke found out he had a middle-school aged daughter — surprise! — from a long-ago relationship. Newfound fatherhood confused Luke to the degree that he was no longer certain he could fulfill his obligation toward Lorelai: which primarily consisted of conjugal visits, lots of coffee from his diner, and acting as an all-round handyman. This plot device, along with the arrival of my real-life baby, meant that I no longer possessed the leisurely sense of time the show required. As Rory and Lorelai chit-chatted at length about various boyfriend, parental and career dilemmas over styrofoam takeout containers of french fries, I grew increasingly irritated with the quality and quantity of their problems.
Yet I have affection for the Gilmores, having invested many hours of prenatal couch time in their lives. With all the hubbub surrounding the show’s return I thought I’d finally watch Season 7. Which means this last week has been a long, grueling slog punctuated by tender moments, random Stars Hollow festivals, phony-looking restaurant scenes, and lots of snarky comments and poor decision-making on Lorelai’s part. I am relieved to say that I have crossed the finish line and am now current on all things Gilmore, ready to be accelerated into our present time and speculate along with the rest of the internet: did Rory and Logan marry and make attractive babies with high-growth trust funds? Did Luke and Lorelai finally seal the deal on their eternal love, alluded to in their kiss in the final episode? Has Sally Struthers as Babette continued to be a depressing echo of her iconic character Gloria from All in the Family?
One thing I discovered in my Gilmore Girls binge: the show works better in retrospect. Gilmore Girls is as much a nostalgia piece as it is anything else; watching the show is like taking in an old movie where part of the fun is marvelling at shoulder pads and the overwrought set design. It offers a short trip back to what already feels like a better, simpler time, which is how the past — even the recent past — always looks from here. The show’s atmosphere is a sort of elegy: to small towns, to a sense of community, and to the passing of the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) way of life. Even as Lorelei mocks her upscale upbringing, every episode is built around an admiration of and longing for security, with privilege at its center. Lorelai’s business partner and best friend, Sookie, is a chef whose kitchen at The Dragonfly Inn is continually filled with a riot of neon-colored perfectly formed vegetables, a veritable cornucopia day and night. And no matter how much Sookie cooks, the food continues to multiply, like Elijah performing the miracle with the widow’s oil and flour. The abundance of food serves as a sort of wallpaper to every scene. Characters just eat and eat, with the largesse and sense of plenty never diminishing.
The conflicts depicted in Gilmore Girls are entirely domestic: a cozy, cosseted form of domesticity, references to Lorelai’s early hardships as a single mother notwithstanding. But still, most of the viewers’ conflicts, in this country anyway, are entirely domestic. We are not broadly troubled by war and rumors of war, and for most of us real poverty and suffering are abstractions at best. So why expect more from a show such as Gilmore Girls?
Well, I don’t. Generally-speaking, I don’t expect much from escapist domestic dramas and will watch any show that involves a couple of ladies in period dress chatting about whether or not Mabel so-and-so should be invited to tea. Gilmore Girls is squarely in this tradition: an updated version of classic domestic dramas such as Pride and Prejudice or Little Women. As an avid reader of these books and an enthusiastic viewer of their many film adaptations, I firmly believe the entire world can be contained in a parlour. Just not the parlours found in Stars Hollow.
Rory and Lorelai suffer mightily by comparison when placed side by side with the characters found in Austen’s domestic dramas. And it’s not because the elevated language in Pride and Prejudice makes the narrative’s characters seem fancier or smarter. For that matter, Austen has been subject to the same criticism leveled at shows like Gilmore Girls since her books were published, accused of ignoring real-world matters such as the Napoleonic wars in order to pour over the details of a single country dance. But the difference between the limitations of the narrative in Pride and Prejudice and the stories in Gilmore Girls is that the scope of the human dilemma was contained in Austen’s country balls: moral quandaries as far-reaching in their implications for what it takes to be a decent human being as anything that took place at Waterloo.
With Gilmore Girls, even if the moral dilemmas are the same as those found in the show’s literary predecessors, the stakes are always so much lower. It never seems to cost Lorelai or Rory very much when they fail, whether in their work or in their relationships. Life is more or less a moveable feast, no matter how many times the table is reset. Imagine if Pride and Prejudice were a miniseries about Lydia Bennett instead of Elizabeth. Episode after episode dedicated to depicting small rebellions, insipid conversations, casual sex, and inappropriate outbursts. Such a show would end up being one long exhausting portrait of a very limited human being.
Sounds like Lorelai Gilmore, our hero. But, in spite of her limitations, she is endearing and I want to know what has happened since we last saw her, sitting with Rory in Luke’s diner all those years ago, the day Rory left Stars Hollow. The last time we saw the Gilmores they were deep in conversation about the diner’s menu, discussing whether or not it was acceptable that the menu only contained words — maybe pictures were also necessary. This was moments before Rory was slated to leave, and just before Lorelai ordered a generous plate of food: eggs and toast, bacon and hashbrowns. And a stack of pancakes. Because no matter what may be happening in the world around her, nothing puts a dent in a Gilmore girl’s appetite. Maybe appetite alone is enough to make a revival of Gilmore Girls worth the trouble, a show for our time after all.
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