Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Rory Gilmore: A Character Study

Rory Gilmore is one of the most beloved (up until five days ago, that is) characters on television. She's the epitome of Little Miss Perfect in most people's eyes, and the debates about her love life have raged constantly for the last sixteen years since her show debuted.

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life changed a lot of that public sentiment. People were furious that she hadn't conquered the entire world by age 32, that she didn't have her life "together", and the "I Hate Rory Gilmore" thinkpieces have been churned out at an alarming rate.

(Honestly? Lots of us don't have our lives together by 32. Especially on TV. TV is full of 30-somethings trying to get their lives together.)

All those people, though? They weren't paying attention.

Rory Gilmore was always awful. She's the character we should hate to love (I'll admit it - I root for her a lot. I also root for her mother, who is also awful, but in different - albeit related - ways).

Let's go through the list, shall we?

Rory Gilmore gets into a prestigious private school that her mother cannot afford. She does not qualify for a scholarship, and even at sixteen in a household where ends had to be in constant danger of not meeting, she didn't think once about how to pay for Chilton. Her mother grovels and gets the grandparents to pay for school. Fine. I've got no problem with people accepting help, especially when it is for something as important as an education.

But then? Rory decides she doesn't want to go to the prep school (for which she surely put in a lengthy application, did interviews for, paid a hefty application fee, etc) because a boy talked to her.

A boy that just moved to town talked to her. They aren't dating. They aren't in love. She doesn't even know his last name. But she wants to throw away this thing she's obviously been working towards for a long time. (Oh, and btw, she lives in a town the size of a postage stamp - school is NOT the only way to talk to a boy)

That's all in the FIRST EPISODE. So our dear, perfect Rory has displayed a shocking amount of immaturity, selfishness, and misplaced priorities all in the first episode.

But, she's pretty and she's smart, and she's sixteen and we assume she's still learning how to human, so all is forgiven.

Over the course of the next seven years she will:

- Cheat on her boyfriend emotionally
- Cheat on her boyfriend for real
- Do some typical teenager stuff that no one ever seems to think is normal because Rory is special (ditch school and go to NYC, yes?)
- Have sex with her married ex-boyfriend. Repeatedly.
- When that marriage ends, and that guy decides to be with Rory, she will lead him on and treat him badly and ignore him
- Hook up with a guy who made it clear he does not want to be her boyfriend, leading another guy on in the process
- Try really hard to cheat on her long-term boyfriend
- Turn down a marriage proposal, but expect the boyfriend to hang around anyway

That's just her love life. The show's creators have long complained that everyone is so emotionally invested in Rory's love life, so maybe it would be more fair to focus on her scholastic and career performance, yes? Okay, so over the course of seven seasons, this is Rory's scholastic and work record:

- She gets into the private school, starts to fail immediately, but gets to stay because she is given a boatload of extra chances and privileges that everyone claims are impossible and no one is ever given

- She writes for the school paper and does a good job of it, so far as we can tell (Yay, a good thing!)

- She runs for student government, even though she has total disdain for it

- She gets into Ivy League schools (after her grandfather pulled strings to get her an interview and hinted at bribing the admissions committee, after her headmaster pulled strings to get her a special meeting with an alumnus, and after her grandparents agree to give her the money to pay for all this)

- She writes for the paper and does a mediocre job of it (her pieces don't get picked up, she almost doesn't make it into the freshman group of writers, her pieces get cut or panned, etc)

- She starts failing her classes and has to drop at least one during her freshman year

- During her three college summers,  she doesn't do real internships or work-study or part-time freelance writing. Instead, she galavants around Europe with her grandmother, plans a bunch of parties, and then sits around and mopes that she isn't in Asia with her boyfriend (he has a Real Job and she's pissed about it)

- She gets an internship (after her boyfriend's daddy pulled some strings) at a local paper and spends her time making coffee and setting out notepads, rather than writing or reporting or learning anything genuinely useful in her chosen field

- When she is told that she didn't do well in her internship, she quit school, quit writing, committed a felony, ran away from home, and committed herself to being a very dedicated underage drinker

- She gets back into school somehow, gets back on the paper somehow, and then is given the editor job because of Plot Reasons (she's unqualified, she doesn't have proper seniority, and everyone sort of murmurs that it makes sense because they're sick of thinking about it)

- She does save the paper one night, but that's actually her boyfriend's hard work and know-how (probably picked up at an internship that his father helped him get, now that I think of it) that she takes credit for

- She turns down a good job because she thinks she's too good for it

- She skips grad school applications because she doesn't think she needs it

- She writes for an online "zine" (because this is 2007 and we were still using the word "zine") about how everyone else is rich and privileged and then she is given a job as an on-the-road reporter for a senator (who turns out to be Barack Obama, but that's not something the show's creators could have predicted)

So, in her professional life, she's handed a ton of extra privileges, favors, and advantages and yet she quits and gives up and squanders every opportunity she's given. She is offended when someone has the audacity to call her less-than-perfect and doesn't drop her dream job at her feet.

New Rory Gilmore, in the Netflix revival, is exactly like Old Rory Gilmore.

New Rory isn't job-hunting. She's waiting for her dream job to drop into her lap.

New Rory isn't in a relationship. She's galavanting around and content to be a weekday mistress (flying back and forth on his dime, most likely) (if not, then she's living off the trust fund her grandparents had mature on her 25th birthday)

New Rory isn't any different than Old Rory. This is what makes good TV - we see her potential, and we want her to live up to it. We connect with something in her: her pop culture obsession, her dreams, her "plucky spirit and can-do attitude". We want that to blossom into something more. We want her to see what she has - a family that loves her and will support her no matter what, a man who knows what she needs and will push her to get there, friends who allow her to be human, and a talent for writing something she's passionate about - and be grateful for those things. Be grateful and then turn them into something more.

We want character growth.

And this is where people were disappointed in New Rory. She didn't grow as much as we wanted her to. But here's the thing: If all that growth happened off-screen, during the intervening years, then we wouldn't have a chance to watch it. We would be watching boring old married people settled into their lives. That's a different show altogether.

I argue that we finally see Rory make changes. The final four words (which weren't really surprising, right? We didn't need all the spoiler warnings, did we?) have forced her to be more pragmatic, and we watched that happen all along the way.

She's still a terrible journalist (The Atlantic did a fantastic rundown on this), but everyone has admitted that she's a talented writer. She needs to be grateful for what she's got and take it and run with it.


  1. 100% agree with you. I was rewatching before the reboot and realized the first time around I didn't really catch how terrible she is. How she is at 32 fits with who her character is. Lorelai was pretty terrible as well. Who dates their kid's teacher? You do not do that! I actually liked Lorelai better in the reboot.

  2. Yep, this is all true. I'm actually starting to think that Gilmore Girls was ahead of its time- deeply flawed protagonists are a big thing now, but they weren't in 2000.

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  4. Rory's about as successful in her career and love life at 32 as I am, so yes, she definitely has flaws. Still, like you say, she can probably string a sentence together, she does date guys and she does apply for jobs. She hasn't given up yet.

  5. I agree. Originally, I did not have the option to watch the show in order as I worked at night. More recently, I caught the original series on Netflix and I really do believe Rory is a terrible character and I feel as if that is the intent.

    On one had, she is driven and she meets the expectations placed upon her by everyone invested in her success - she manages to work her way through Chilton as one of the top students in her class, despite her short comings walking into the scenario (transferring from a less rigorous school, her inability to game the social status and deal with the mean girls, her quiet tendencies she carried over from her prior education).

    The only person who seemingly called her out was her friend Lane who made it obvious on a few different occasions that Rory was being self-centered and was rarely there for her anymore, as the ultraBFF.

    On the surface, teenagers do make many mistakes and also can be self-absorbed - this is part of growing up, but it seems as if Rory herself is set up to never be allowed to experience the ramifications of her mistakes. For instance, she was asked to tutor Jess by Luke. They were left unsupervised, despite Lor's "spidey sense" about the scenario, and Rory not only folded to Jess' want to meander instead of studying, but let him drive her car. After he demonstrated he was not a serious driver, she elected to continue allowing him to drive her car, and it was crashed. The entire town, including her mother, took it upon themselves to instantly brand Jess as some sort of bandit and destroyer of lives. Yes, Rory tried to take her share of the blame and share her story in the matter, no one was willing to listen or consider her side because she could not fail and is the product everyone built up to be perfect.

    Additionally, Lorelai herself saw many of these terrible scenarios build and though she could have better intervened, she also carried the mentality of Rory being too big to fail. Even when Rory was left to her own devices to solve a problem, some how someone had a hand in saving her. She was also manipulative and a liar from the start. I think the only genuine moment she had in the whole series was talking to Luke and letting him know it was not Jess' fault the car crashed.

    I think she was portrayed equitably as the product of her environment. Her behavior reflects all the shady emotional tools the adults in her life use against each other, with a smattering of "society" breeding. One would have hoped she had all the tools to succeed as a go-getter, especially since she was invested in saving herself in the last season, after talking to Jess, who pulled himself together without the help of the village Rory had supporting her. So, we are left with the Mary Tyler Moore version or Rory going into action on Obama's campaign, and we come back to broke, disorganized, lack of will, tarty Rory who has lost all of her moral compass and makes no effort to seek viable employment, lacks her prior hobbies, and is wandering from door to door trying to find someone who can tell her who she is, while creating a burden scenario for everyone previously invested in her life who are ultimately too busy to drop everything and deal with her crap, because she is an adult and not the precious caterpillar they are hoping to turn into a Monarch.

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