Mothers and Daughters: Watching The Gilmore Girls

Curator's Note

I wait until late in the semester to tell my students that I was a loyal viewer of The Gilmore Girls. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I like this show about the strong relationship between a single mother and her self-sufficient, smart, determined daughter. My feelings about The Gilmore Girls may be partly based on its genre. The program was a serialized melodrama detailing the characters’ personal lives. The Gilmore Girls, in many ways, epitomizes the often-denigrated women’s program. My relationship with the show is actually more complex, however. It questions my self-image as a media literate scholar by pulling me into its ideological messages about motherhood. The bond between Lorelei and Rory Gilmore is what drew me, the mother of a young daughter, to the program. The Gilmore Girls didn’t show the child rearing years that I was experiencing. We didn’t see Rory as a moody preschooler. Nor did we see Lorelei as a tired working mother. (In fact, very few television shows actually feature preschool children in anything other than cute, comedic roles.) Rather, The Gilmore Girls began when Rory was 16 years old. It showed the rosy results of a casual upbringing that required nothing more than love, friendship and trust. The Gilmore Girls told me that being a good mother is something that I can figure out along the way. In time I too can raise a self-sufficient, smart, determined girl who likes me. Watching The Gilmore Girls, I get pulled into the ideological trickery of television. I am presented with an idealized mother-daughter bond that doesn’t exist but I still want very much to believe that it might. In the end, am I simply a cultural dupe because I want my mother-daughter relationship to be as ideal as those of (some) TV families?


I love GGs too and am actually a bit surprised that you would hesitate to share your feelings about it. It was so much beloved by critics as Quality TV. Anyhow, what I really wanted to comment on was the performance of taste in the classroom, which is something I think about a lot. I like to make a point early in the semester of establishing that my own taste is broad and sort of random. I let students know that I watch MTV and American Idol and sports and HBO, indie films, Hwd blockbusters, etc. I get especially quizzical looks the day we watch and discuss Laguna Beach, a show I really admire in lots of ways. I wonder what the benefits and costs are of our different approaches to taste when teaching TV and other media. I think it's important that students understand that my approach to media studies is not really about judging anything good or bad--that we are analyzing rather than evaluating--and I try to always make my own taste seem like a matter of a personal preference ("I like it") rather than objective judgment ("it's good"). But of course, these phrases probably sound the same to many of my students, and evaluation is probably inevitable anyway...

I find it interesting that, so far, the two entries in the "guilty pleasures" theme week here at In Media Res both involve relationships between parents and children. My entry features a scene from Contact that represents an idealized version of rapprochement between a daughter and her long dead father as symbolic of a possibly similar coming to terms between a more advanced civilization and ours. Of course, in my guilty pleasure I took the child's subject position, but as a father of a daughter I too have a vested psychical interest in this sort of fantasy of perfect father-daughter relationship. Barbara's post suggests that the guilt that I feel for fixating on this particular media object - as a cable TV object as opposed to a cinematic one - is partially due to the critical reflex that we, as scholars, are compelled to enact when confronted with the world - even as we practice in everyday life to be rather ordinary people inhabiting our roles as parent, friend, crossing guard, what have you. I hope the rest of the week's postings find guilty pleasures in media that depict the relationships between mothers and sons, brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles (how far should this extend?).

I also find my "guilt" about GG interesting because I proudly announce at the beginning of class that I love Highlander: The Series and Stargate SG-1. I tell my students this to make the point that we shouldn't talk about good and bad since everyone has a different idea about good and bad and that's not the point of media studies. And, I certainly don't even think that GG is a bad show. It's my reaction to it that surprises me. Although I get caught up in many tv shows, I have a critical distance from them that doesn't seem to exist as much for the GG. I wonder if we all have shows/movies like this.

For years I've taught serialized melodrama that rates even lower on the cultural respectability scale than GG. I'm talking about daytime soap opera. And I've had the inevitable newspaper articles written about it that I put in the category of "Can You Believe What They Teach in College These Days?" Students assigned to watch TV?! Unbelievable! One thing that intrigues me about Barbara's comments is the way she has tapped into GG's mother-daughter narrative, which, of course, was the show's main attraction. It made me wonder if she had had the opportunity to watch it with her own mother or her own daughter. When I teach soap opera, students (mostly women, but not always) frequently tell me of their experience watching soaps as children with their mothers. That viewing situation seems to me to be a highly privileged space where mothers and daughters bond and discuss human behavior. I suspect it's also a space in which daughters learn gender roles. In any event, I've often thought this is an ethnography just waiting to be written. Incidentally, I am a major fan of the show and I was alerted to it by my 77-year-old mother and my 45-year-old sister. They were/are big fans of it and pulled me into it.

Interestingly, my mother has never watched melodramas. She considers soaps "nonsense." I can't imagine my mother sitting through an episode of the Gilmore Girls without falling asleep. I did once try to watch an episode with my daughter. I thought the show was pretty innocuous until I tried explaining it to a five year old. I found that she was a bit too young and inquisitive for GG. She was both bored and curious about things that she didn't quite understand (like why Rory's father and mother were fighting about certain things). I decided that she needed to be a bit older before I would be comfortable watching with her. But I think it is all part of the GGs "dream" of bonding with your daughter while watching television. After all, that seems to be a cornerstone of Rory and Lorelei's relationship.

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