The Founding of Stars Hollow: Glassberg on Gilmore Girls Part one by Emily Esten

This post comes to the Stars Hollow Historical Society from Emily Esten, an MA Candidate in Public Humanities at Brown University. For more about Emily’s work, check out her website https://emilyesten.com and follow her on twitter @sheishistoric.

Everyone’s favorite close-knit community, Stars Hollow, Connecticut, thrives on small-town charm, tourism, and commemorating local history. The show presents two narratives of the town’s founding throughout the show’s seven-season run: 1) the star-crossed lovers meeting in the location of the town’s gazebo; and 2) the story of a Puritan family arriving in the seventeenth century. Regardless of their portrayals as true stories or imagined pasts, both narratives, which capitalize on myth and nostalgia to create a compelling story. From a public history perspective, the show’s depiction and commentary on Stars Hollow’s founding plays directly into concepts of nostalgia, memory, and commemoration in communities.

The first of these founding myths, the star-crossed lovers, appears twice onscreen through one of the many celebratory festivals celebrated in Stars Hollow, Connecticut. Featured in episodes S1E16 “Star-Crossed Lovers and Other Strangers” and S4E13 “Nag Hammadi Is Where They Found the Gnostic Gospels,” the Firelight Festival commemorates the town’s founding and namesake. Described by Miss Patty, the story states that star-crossed lovers snuck out of their homes and followed a band of stars to a spot in the countryside. “And there,” says Miss Patty, “waiting for her was her one true love who had also been led here by the blanket of friendly stars. And that, my friends is how Stars Hollow came to be and why we celebrate that fateful night every year about this time.” According to the story, the town commemorated the lovers’ meeting-place with the famous Stars Hollow Gazebo.

CW/Giphy

 

Outside of the festival’s significance to the game-changing storylines of Lorelai and Rory in both episodes, the myth lends itself to the storybook-charm of the Stars Hollow community. As Lorelai remarks in S1E16, this piece of lore and the corresponding festival create a sense of love in the air for the community. The trope of star-crossed lovers, common to literature and film, emphasizes emotion over rationality, destiny over free will. The key values promoted in the myth of star-crossed lovers play directly into the town’s portrayal in Gilmore Girls. Known for bonding together during regular celebrations of happiness, its heavy-handed involvement in the relationships of the Gilmore women, and constant pressure for total community involvement, the Stars Hollow community too emphasizes emotion over rationale in a love-conquers-all fashion. Reflecting Glassberg’s discussion of public history as political culture, Stars Hollow uses this myth to shape the community’s relationship to the town – that no matter what barriers present themselves, the community can bond together and envision themselves as members of this collective present and future. This myth, perpetuated through the annual festival celebration, shapes the town’s present-day activities and community participation.

In the same episode, characters also argue the particulars of the myth in regard to a bonfire held during the festival:

TAYLOR: No, no, Patty, you’re wrong. They built the fire to throw themselves on it when their families found them.

PATTY: Taylor, you’re crazy! They built the fire so that they could stay warm their first night here.

TAYLOR: Patty, I am the recording secretary for the Stars Hollow City Council, I think I know how my town was founded!

While the characters fail to come to a conclusion on the origins of the bonfire, this incident also showcases James Young’s idea of “collected memory” in action. Taylor Doose’s perspective places the star-crossed lovers’ story ending in tragedy; while Patty’s ending foreshadows possible hope or enduring love for the couple. In addition, Taylor attempts to use his political position as a form of expertise to triumph his ending for the myth. Both characters express personal stakes in the myth – Patty’s ending more romantic and nostalgic supports her role as a town matchmaker, Taylor’s ending gives the myth a more tragic twist to further the trope. In his attempts to debunk Patty’s ending, Taylor hopes to connect the history of Stars Hollow to literary romantic fiction like that of Verona’s Juliet. This negotiation over the festival’s importance brings the myth of the star-crossed lovers directly into public space through the presence of the festival bonfire.

And not all the town’s citizens claim the Firelight Festival as the true story of Stars Hollow. As Luke Danes later remarks, “It’s a crazy festival based on a nutty myth about two lunatics, who in all probability did not even exist. And even if they did, probably dropped dead of diphtheria before age 24.” He goes on to suggest that the town’s name perhaps has an unseemly history of prostitution, and that the name “Stars Hollow” has its roots of bring.

 

 

CW/giphy 

 

In the moment, Luke’s frustration with the star-crossed lovers and the Firelight Festival comes from his own forlorn relationship experiences. Debunking the myth for Luke is self-serving – it would justify his own feelings around love. The presence of the myth in his day-to-day experiences and especially with the Firelight Festival creates an internal dissonance with which he struggles.

Though other characters criticize Luke’s cynicism, his complaint has historical merit. Including Luke in the larger conversation around local history and myth, the show both pokes fun at the mythical founding and its corresponding sentiment. But Luke also raises a more important question: what place does myth have in commemoration? To answer that question, one must review the act of commemoration in both episodes: the festival. Regardless of the celebration’s historical accuracy, the festival’s significance to town citizens transcends the myth upon which it is based. Sense of place is integral to understanding the Stars Hollow community – the emotional connections developed through the integrated social networks and places in the town. As Mayor Harry Porter presides over the festival in season one, he remarks that he met his own “true love, Miss Dora Braythwait” at the gazebo where the festival takes place.

CW/Giphy 

Tying his marriage to the myth of the star-crossed lovers, Mayor Porter ties public history/myth to his own personal identity. Over the course of the series, the physical commemoration of the gazebo creates a similar connection for many lovers and relationships of Stars Hollow – a place for engagements, first kisses, weddings, and declarations of love. With the gazebo’s connection founding myth of star-crossed lovers, the material culture commemoration of the spot places the myth center-stage as way to create a memory site of both cultural and communal value. Combined with the festival, the public commemoration activities within Stars Hollow make the myth accessible to its public.

However, for some citizens, the myth has lost all value in commemoration. In S4E13, Kirk Gleason takes over planning the festival. Hijinks ensue. Doing his best to respect the ritual and tradition of the ceremony, Kirk isn’t motivated by accurate representation of the star-crossed lovers’ story. Instead, his loyalty is to the town – to Taylor, who has stepped away for this year’s proceedings, and to prove his worth as an individual with such a major contribution.

For Kirk, the memory being commemorated is irrelevant; the ritualized commercialization of the event – down to the flaming batons and star-shaped hotdogs – becomes crucial. In its celebration of the town and its present community as well as commemoration of its mythic founding, the Firelight Festival shows how the myth and memory can, over time, contribute to the event gaining its own value and presence as a part of local history. G

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A Queer Eye on Gilmore Girls: Part Two

So, Michel is now gay. Hallelujah.

Is it that ten years after the show went off the air it became acceptable to have a gay character? Are we as watchers supposed to assume his bisexuality throughout the series, despite a lack of evidence that he was ever attracted to men? It is certainly possible that we can look at Michel’s character as emblematic of the many queer people that came out later in life, but as a queer woman myself, it leaves me aching a bit for the always openly gay character.

Regardless, we have a gay character on Gilmore Girls, and for that it is assumed that we should be grateful. However, Michel’s portrayal in the revival leaves something to be desired and only partially because his partner, Frederic, is only referenced in conversation and never seen on the screen. In finally portraying an openly gay character, Gilmore Girls once again embraces a stereotype, albeit a newer one: the couple who, once indifferent to parenthood, changes their minds immediately following marriage.

According to Michel, “before we got married, Frederic was more indifferent to children than I am […] Twenty minutes after I do he lost his mind. Now all he talks about is, ‘Guess who’s pregnant?’ or ‘What school district is it in? You have to live in a good school district.’”

Is this added for the humor of Michel rearing children? Possibly, but I find it entirely unnecessary. For one, many gay couple chose to never have children. However, one finds that in television portrayals, they almost always chose to procreate. Perhaps gay men are less “dangerous” when they assume the role of father and husband, fulfilling heteronormative ideas of relationships. And of course, that leaves out the problematic reversal assumed of child-free people, gay and straight: they will eventually change their minds and come to understand that being a parent is the best thing they will ever do!

The only example of a prominent child-free couple in Gilmore Girls is Babette and Morey, and their child-free status is turned into a running joke about their relationships with their cats and gnomes. Even Paris and Doyle have children in the revival, and who would have seen that one coming! (Don’t even get me started on Rory’s big reveal at the end). I suppose I digress a bit, but still…

Why can’t Michel and his partner Frederic (who, to borrow a line from Rory herself, may be Michel’s Snuffleupagus), challenge the heteronormative relationship structure that has been placed on even queer couples in television? Can’t we have a strong couple that chooses to remain child-free? Or am I asking too much of even a ground-breaking show like Gilmore Girls? Perhaps I am: just look at the conversations regarding a Taylor’s sexuality…

Literary Tourism and Gilmore Girls

Image result for a tale of poes and fire

Tell Tale TV/CW

It’s no secret that the literary nature and constant references to books is one of the most loved element of Gilmore Girls. Just google Rory’s Book List and you will find Buzzfeed posts and quizzes devoted to it, blogs from fans attempting to read all 339 books and even a decades old WB site encouraging fans to read. This kind of literary fanaticism isn’t common in most TV shows (and I, as a young teenager, attempted to read Rory’s book list-I will never forgive her for that Ayn Rand suggestion).

But I’m also interested in the literary tourism, both implicit and explicit, found throughout  the series. This isn’t necessarily traditional literary tourism to birthplaces and house museums-but literary tourism of all kinds.

I’m thinking about Rory’s first trip to Harvard with Loralai, where she visits the enormous Harvard Library and panics about not having read enough. Or the much told story of the time she visited the Mark Twain House with Dean’s girlfriend Lindsay, who bought a magnet shaped like Mark Twain’s head.

On trips to New York, Lorelai and Rory made the touristy pilgrimage to the the Strand (which led to my own pilgrimage to the Strand at 18-and the John Waters tote bag to prove it).

One of my favorite instances of literary tourism in the series is The Poe Society visit in “A Tale of Poe’s and Fire.” Filled with men dressed up like Poe,  recitations of the Raven, and a ton of Raven related jokes, Lorelai and Rory mock literary tourism while near constantly participating it in themselves.

I’m not simply interested in the literary trips made by characters in the show, but by the literary pilgrimages, both physical and intellectual, Gilmore Girls has inspired.

Image result for rory book new york

Seventeen/CW

Data Visualizations of a Deeply-flawed Dataset

Having spent some time adding to The Big List, I wanted to make some use,or at least some sense, of it. So I set out to make some data visualizations from it.

First, this is a hugely unscientific dataset. I have been the major contributor, which means that the list has evolved with my whims. I have missed things. I have privileged certain categories of things over others. For instance, I’m writing a piece about Luke’s adaptive reuse of the diner, so I paid extra attention to any scenes where he talked about the process of turning his dad’s hardware store into a diner. Emily Gilmore’s involvement in the DAR is mentioned frequently but with almost no additional content, so I have rarely noted it. Early on I listed literary references, since they seemed public history adjacent. Then I didn’t. So there was quite a bit of data clean-up to do.

Data clean-up

Here are steps I took to prepare my spreadsheet:

  • Limited the entries to the first three seasons of Gilmore Girls as I’ve been the most thorough with those
  • Removed several extraneous entries (literary references, panning shots of buildings without character involvement)
  • Changed “Lorelai ‘Rory’ Gilmore’” to “Rory Gilmore” and “Lorelai ‘Named Her Daughter on Demerol’ Gilmore” to “Lorelai Gilmore.” Those names were funny when I created the form, but it made for a visual mess. This change has now been made to the Google Form too..
  • Went through the incidents I’d added to the spreadsheet and added a few characters that I hadn’t previously included on the Google Form (e.g. Andrew). They’re now on the Form for future additions.
  • I came up with six categories of public history incident that each data point fit into (e.g. Antiques, Reenactment, etc.). These categories are the least objective part of this project.

Here’s the spreadsheet I was working with: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B18B0BNttgywSTBxV2VGS1F2Qlk

What to Chart ?

Now I had to figure out how to display my data. I have a bunch of incidents that involve multiple characters over three seasons (65 episodes), categorized into six categories. I could create a bar graph for each character’s mentions (Figure A). That was a start.

 

I thought about how to use a timeline to show the distribution of these incidents but couldn’t quite make it work in my head and none of the timeline tools I saw provided any solutions. I could do line graphs showing character’s references per season, however (Figure B).

 

I also wanted to show how involved certain characters were in certain categories. For example, Taylor is involved in a lot of incidents of various kinds, but he’s also involved in nearly all of the reenactment activities. Mrs. Kim is usually involved in discussion of antiques, but she’s not involved in all of them (Figure C).

 

And the categories I identified? How do they compare in frequency? (Figure D).

 

The Tool.

I wanted to make several simple charts and I found that Beam (venngage.com/beam as you can see in the watermarks below) suited my needs. A simple spreadsheet interface worked well with my very small sample size and my er…hands-on approach (meaning I manually counted stuff). There are many better visualizing tools, but this one was simple.

Charts!

So what, if anything, can we learn from these visualizations?

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Figure A

This one’s kind of interesting. I ordered the x-axis according to the number of episode credits on IMDB.com, which gives dimension to a couple outliers. Taylor Doose, Mrs. Kim, and Andrew (who is pretty far down the IMDB list) all have high public-history-per-appearance rates (of course). Lane Kim, on the other hand, despite living in an antiques store, rarely actively engages with the past. However, this last conclusion is a bit misleading because the first six characters are all in every episode of the show. If Lane gets shifted over next to Sookie (who appears in only one fewer episode), she doesn’t seem like such an aberration. Factor in that the four Gilmores and Luke enjoy far more screen-time in each episode, and Lane and Sookie seem closer to the Stars Hollow norm.

eac58b2c-dc61-4eab-b406-a7efaf9aa405 (1)
Figure B

This chart probably has a lot more to do with the flaws in the data sample. Going in to my latest run-through, I was really psyched to document every minor public history occurrence. By Season 2 I’d found a good balance of watching and making notes, and by Season 3, well, I was mostly multitasking with other stuff I had to do. Alas. I imagine, however, that a more thorough sample size (help me out people!) over seven seasons might reveal interesting ebbs and flows in the characters’ (and writers!) historical consciousness.

fed36f7e-2684-4fb2-90f0-bb27f7cade6d
Figure C

This is the simplest chart here, but it still manages to be a bit misleading. If I’d logged every instance of Mrs. Kim selling an antique or every scene set in the story, the red portion would be much larger. Instead I limited myself to scenes where Mrs. Kim engaged with her customers about issues of authenticity or provenance. On the other hand, I was less picky about other antiques references. I also elided a scene (in this study) in which guests at the Independence Inn chatted about antiquing simply on the grounds that no major character was involved. Future analyses could take a more broad definition of antiques. Or perhaps leave them out altogether. I included them because I see them as an engagement with the past a la the respondents to Thelen and Rosenzweig’s 1990s survey. Thoughts?

aa850b9e-a648-43f0-95f1-ba359828a7b5
Figure D

These categories are so broad as to be almost useless. Within Reenactment, I’ve included pretty much anything with costumes and a notion of the past. Tourism and Museum are interpreted very loosely. Antiques, I’ve discussed a bit above. Miscellaneous is, well…

And I mentioned up at the beginning that I’m working on a piece about Luke’s adaptive reuse of the diner building, which goes pretty far in explaining the number of data points there.

Not sure that this break down is worth much, but a larger sample size with narrower categories might reveal some patterns or tendencies.

Conclusion?

I think the first two charts have the most potential. Cross-referencing either of them with characters’ share of the screen (unfortunately, no one on the internet has dedicated their life to this task) could yield some interesting conclusions. I suspect (without any evidence to back this up) that the latter seasons, in which Rory spends quite a bit of time away from Stars Hollow, would contain fewer public history-ish moments. If we quantify by duration, however, I suspect that “A Year in the Life” would rank high, given the length of “Stars Hollow: The Musical,” which could be fodder for a dissertation or at least a witty blog post.

The most important takeaway, however, is that these sorts of references are hard to quantify. They don’t really make good data. So while I will encourage you all to contribute to The Big List (and feel free to recommend changes to the Google Form), I think that will ultimately be more helpful as bookmarks for scholarship along more qualitative lines of inquiry.

The Prostitute in the Story: Part One

My colleague previously examined the addition of a prostitute to the story of the Battle of Stars Hollow in the Season 5 episode “Woman of Questionable Morals,” wherein he made some brilliant points about elitism. But, what else does this episode tell us? Today particularly I am wondering about what his character means as far as women’s history.

It is telling that when evidence of the participation of women is uncovered, it is in the role of sexual objects. The prostitute herself is defined specifically by her gender and sexuality, as is shown by the reenactors’ reference to her “feminine wiles.” As this “woman of questionable morals” is the only female character in the Battle of Stars Hollow, she is our only example of a woman in history. While I am quite happy to argue that her participation may have been vital to this fictional battle, and her story is one of strength and courage, she is still defined by her sexuality. In tying a historical female character’s directly to her sexuality, “Woman of Questionable Morals” serves to emphasize a woman’s worth as that of a sexual object. The gendering of such an approach should be apparent: could you imagine the same role existing for a man?

As far as the plot goes, I couldn’t imagine the episode suffering from the addition of a different female character, maybe a “Molly Pitcher” of sorts. Don’t tell me that Taylor and Kirk couldn’t manage to make that just as weird and wonderful. Such a character would exist independently of her sexuality – a right afforded to all of the male historical figures. Then again, perhaps it is fitting, considering the long and tangled history between the military and prostitution…

A Queer Eye on Gilmore Girls: Part One

As a young woman in my mid to late 20s, it seems almost natural that I grew up watching Gilmore Girls. In a household where I was allowed only two hours of television a week until I graduated high school, I spent one of those hours with Lorelai and Rory in Stars Hollow. Like many of my peers, I wished I could be a part of that strange little community that resided entirely in Amy Sherman-Palladino’s head. But if I had, I would have been the only queer resident of Stars Hollow.

Looking back on it today, it is easy to understand the lack of LGBT residents as a function of the time: after all, when Gilmore Girls aired (2000-2007), the only television show geared towards teens that had a queer character was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In later interviews, Sherman-Palladino explicitly stated that the character of Sookie was originally a lesbian, at least until the networks heard the idea. So, as was common in the 2000s, instead of a strong queer character, the community was left with Michel: a seemingly stereotypically gay man who resided firmly in the closet. Not exactly the role model we were looking for.

In the years after a television show with the kind of following of Gilmore Girls has gone off the air, people have a tendency to look back on it as representative of the time period in which it aired. Popular culture is used as historical evidence of a time in distant memory. What impression will Gilmore Girls give of our time with queerness written out of the story?

Gilmore Girls, Sylvia Plath, and Mental Health Stigma

plath

WB/Thought Catalog

Sylvia Plath is among the most referenced writers in Gilmore Girls. Plath is acknowledged as one of Rory’s favorite writers throughout the series and Rory is frequently shown reading Plath. But even more common were quips by Lorelai about Plath’s depression and suicide, reinforcing the stigma of mental illness prevalent on the show. In episode 3.3 Lorelai and Rory discuss Rory’s college applications:

LORELAI: You can evaluate a significant experience that’s had an impact on you…or you can write about a person who has had a significant influence on you.

RORY: You?

LORELAI: Or one of your authors, Faulkner or…

RORY: Or Sylvia Plath.

LORELAI: Hm, might send the wrong message.

RORY: The sticking her head in the oven thing?

LORELAI: Yeah. Although she did make her kids a snack first, shows a certain maternal instinct. (Episode 3.3)

For Lorelai the literary quality of Sylvia Plath was undermined by her depression and suicide. She says listing Plath as an influence “might send the wrong message” as if connecting to an author with depression, or having depression, makes one less worthy of acceptance to college. The value of Plath’s writing was undermined for Lorelei because she was “crazy” and reflects a broader fear of “being crazy” by the characters on the show.

For Lorelai, reading Sylvia Plath was a necessarily depressing, unsettling experience, much like attending a party hosted by Chilton students. Lorelai said:

Lorelai: Madeline’s having a party.

Rory: I’m going to go.

Lorelai: You’re going to a Chilton party?

Rory: Yes, I am.

Lorelai: Honey, why don’t you just stay home and read The Bell Jar? Same effect.

She makes light of Plath as a literary figure, because of her depression and eventual suicide. The Sylvia Plath references are part of a broader stigmatization of mental health on the show. Frequent jokes about mental health issues, alongside Loral’s disapproving reaction to Rory attending therapy, make the show hostile to those dealing with mental illness (including many of the show’s viewership). While both Lorelai and Emily show growth throughout the series and end up seeing a therapist, even then they are working through the idea that they shouldn’t be in therapy and that it isn’t for them.

One of the more innocent remarks Lorelai made in Season 4, Episode 13 was “hey, did anyone ever think that Sylvia Plath wasn’t crazy, just cold.” Yet again Lorelai defines Plath by her suicide and not be her writing, considering her crazy.

Even though Sylvia Plath was one of Rory’s favorite writers, the jokes made by Lorelai throughout the series define Plath by her suicide attempt and contribute to the stigma against mental health issues throughout the series. 

Call for Submissions: Gilmore Girls and Public Humanities

The Stars Hollow Historical Society blog is excited to announce that we are accepting submissions of blog posts and longer essays on Gilmore Girls and for public humanities broadly construed.

Our project, Stars Hollow Historical Society, seeks to track public history, heritage tourism, and public humanities references in Gilmore Girls. This includes public history and literary references, amongst other things. We are calling for people to add references to our google spreadsheet, as well as submit blog posts or essays on public humanities issues in Gilmore Girls. Blog posts should be  around the 500 word mark and engage with the public humanities broadly construed (history, literature, art, academics, etc). Some potential post ideas include literary tourism in Gilmore Girls, Rory’s book list and the literary canon, the Stars Hollow Museum. Please submit either pitches or full drafts to holly.genovese@gmail.com or through the contact form on our blog!

Brave Men and a Woman of Questionable Morals: Elitism and the Battle of Stars Hollow

Stars Hollow is a town that hopes to attract visitors through its various historical and heritage-based tourism initiatives, yet it is also extremely insular, with a select group of individuals wielding disproportionate influence. The historicity and elitism of the town combine in the annual reenactment of the “Battle of Stars Hollow.”

We are introduced to the reenactment in “Love and War and Snow,” episode 8 of season 1. At the town meeting, Mayor Harry Porter announces the upcoming reenactment. While he asks for volunteers, it is not clear that interlopers are welcome. The knowing nod that grocer Taylor Doose gives the man sitting beside him suggests that the reenactors among the crowd are already known to each other. Furthermore, the reenactment calls for a limited cast. As local restaurateur Luke Danes puts it “Twelve guys stood in a row, all night, waiting for an enemy that never showed; they got stood up, they should’ve been wearing prom dresses […] have any of you ever considered the fact that you’re glorifying a war we fought so we could keep land that we stole?”Read More »

The Big List

It’s time to make a list.

I’m making a list of all of the public history (and more broadly public humanities) moments on Gilmore Girls and I need your help because there’s seven seasons and a Netflix original and the dialogue is, well, dense. Also, you will probably catch stuff that I don’t.

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