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

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

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!

Sores and Boils Alley: Founder’s Chic and Colonial Interpretation in Gilmore Girls

kirk

WB / Via fanpop.com

In episode 6:6 of Gilmore Girls Welcome to the Doll House, Town Selectman Taylor Doose brings colonial reenactors to a town meeting to share his new idea: change Stars Hollow’s town street names back to their historic 18th century roots. Loralai is fiercely opposed to the idea because the Dragonfly Inn’s street name would change back to Sores and Boils Alley, something unattractive for potential guests. But Doose and other townspeople mythologize the 18th century as truly “historic” and so even unflattering 18th century street names were preferable to 20th century constructions.

This was only one example of an obsession with Revolutionary and Colonial history by town selectman Taylor Doose. There is the annual Revolutionary War reenactment, even though no battle took place in Stars Hollow and a fixation on objects slightly related to George Washington during the development of the Stars Hollow Museum. But Doose, and other town residents felt that history mildly related to the founding fathers or slightly  connected to the Revolutionary War was more important than the 20th century history that led to new street names or any history about women, people of color, or the working class. In fact, there is no interpretation of race in any of the historic sites and museums (even though https://gilmoreblacks.tumblr.com/ has shown the African American presence in the show). And the only mention of a “historic” woman, is when in episode 5:11 Woman of Questionable Morals, it is found that the Revolutionary War battle was avoided because a “woman of questionable morals” had sex with the general to avoid battle. Women’s history was only important to Stars Hollow when it involved the Revolutionary War and sex.

This depiction of “historic” reflects broader cultural emphasis on the Revolutionary War and the founding fathers, at the expense of more inclusive or impactful histories.

 

Welcome to the Stars Hollow Historical Society

This is the project of a group of graduate students in history at Temple University and the University of South Carolina. We have decided to combine our love of public history and Gilmore Girls by cataloguing ALL of the references of public history/heritage tourism in the series. We will be writing posts on our favorites: possible topics include founder’s chic in Stars Hollow, literary tourism and the Gilmore Girls, Queer identity and reenactment, etc etc. If you have an idea for a post or submission, please contact us.