Recently Netflix has started airing Gilmore Girls. Watching several successive episodes, it was evident that the energetic Lorelai Gilmore, the mother of Rory was still a feminist’s role model. However, it was quite shocking to recognize prejudice and cultural stereotypes in the characterizations of members of cultural and ethnic minorities.
Many believe that there is always some truth behind cultural stereotypes. Thus, Mrs. Kim, the mother of Lane, Rory’s best friend, is a caricature of a fanatic Korean Christian woman who is so protective of her daughter that she suffocates her.
In a similar fashion, Paris Geller, Rory’s Jewish rival from the Chilton school is referred to in the series as “intense” but this is only a code word for other negative Jewish attributes. Paris is ambitious and unstoppable. She is focused, diligent, smart, and has leadership qualities, but mostly she is relentless, cynical, instrumental, and mean.
In the episode “I can’t get started,” for example, Paris runs for office. She aspires to be the president of the Student Body at Chilton, since it would look good on her application form to Harvard. But once she realizes that, in spite of her accomplishments and her capability, no one would vote for her because she is not liked, she comes up with a new stratagem. She asks Rory, whom she regards as a likable girl, to be her vice president. Rory mutters: “I guess the thought of being nice never occurred to you”.
Apparently being nice is a waste of time: an anti-Semite could not have come up with a better caricature of an objectionable Jew than the one painted in Gilmore Girls.
The series takes place in the fictional small town of Stars Hollow CT. Besides Mrs. Kim and her daughter Lane (I haven’t seen a father), there are no foreigners, or Jews, around. It is understandable that people in such a small town would be prejudicial and narrow-minded, but the director of Gilmore Girls should have known better.
As an Israeli I too encountered prejudice in the different small towns where we used to live (Texas, Missouri, Iowa), but usually there was no malice. Yet I cannot recall a single phone conversation when I wasn’t asked “I beg your pardon?” Still talking on the phone had always been easier than the initial face to face interaction. Since on the phone people only heard my voice they still were able to concentrate on what I had to say. Face to face was harder. As I fit the Caucasian category on official forms, people just didn’t expect me to speak with a foreign accent. It usually threw them off and then came the question: “I beg your pardon”?
Normally once I had repeated the sentence, the next comment was: “what a cute accent, where are you from?” I never thought of my accent as “cute,” it was who I was. In the US it was also the conspicuous sign of my foreignness, which otherwise could have gone unnoticed. It went with me everywhere: to the grocery store, to the gas station, to my girl’s school, to work etc. Some people used to talk to me in a slow loud voice as though my accent made me hard of hearing.
There were people in our small town who were suspicious of foreigners, or strangers, as the sociologist Georg Simmel refers to them. He defines stranger as a person who comes today and stays tomorrow, whose position in a group is determined, essentially, by the fact that he has not belonged to it from the beginning, that he imports qualities into it which do not and cannot stem from the group itself.
The strangers in Gilmore Girls, whether they have a foreign accent like Mrs. Kim or were even born in this country like Paris Geller, are viewed with suspicion and condescension, and they are never nice.
The series Gilmore Girl is introduced to Netflix viewers with the following words: “Lauren Graham stars in this Emmy-winning dramedy as Lorelai Gilmore, a fiercely independent single mom raising gifted, Ivy League-bound daughter Rory amid a continual stream of quick-witted repartee.”
Perhaps it would be best to add a warning: “Beware, this program contains prejudice, cultural cliches, and ethnic stereotypes.”
P.S. In response to Nathan’s comment I would like to add that my observations refer to the 1st and 2nd seasons of the series.
I saw today that ABC Family broadcasts reruns of Gilmore Girls as well, I guess the network is not too concerned about the contents of its programs.