The dark secret of Stars Hollow

The reason "Gilmore Girls" is so appealing isn't the sunshine and lollipops veneer -- it's the irresistible fantasy just beneath the surface.

Published September 27, 2005 8:03PM (EDT)

I love "Gilmore Girls." I love every minute of its quirky, brightly lit, charmingly dressed, repartee-driven world. I love it so much that, in preparation for its sixth season debut, I spent Labor Day weekend prone in front of my TV, watching the entire first season -- the only one I hadn't seen.

I am 35 years old.

I mention this because "Gilmore Girls" (8 p.m. EDT, Tuesday) is a linchpin of the WB's tween lineup. It is loved and watched by middle school girls. I know this because I used to teach sixth grade. In fact, "Gilmore Girls" was the show I most often recommended to parents who asked me whether there wasn't at least one television show in which teens don't drink, don't drive recklessly, don't do drugs, don't have random sex, and speak civilly to their parents. "Watch this one!" I told them. "You're going love it."

I thought I loved "Gilmore Girls" because it was a happy show. The premise was that Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter, Rory, are best friends; they spent their mornings drinking coffee at Luke's -- the local diner -- and their evenings eating pizza while watching old movies in their snug living room. They lived in the charmingly eccentric town of Stars Hollow, Conn., a place full of kooks who care about each other in a concrete, lend-a-hand kind of way. No one drove recklessly, Rory and best friend Lane were still virgins, grown-ups would drink without drinking excessively, everyone was well educated and very, very funny.

Sure, the facts of Lorelai's past still haunt her. She had Rory at 16. Instead of marrying Christopher (Rory's dad), she cast off her privileged upbringing, worked as a maid at the Independence Inn, and raised Rory in the old potting shed on the inn's property, thus bringing great shame to her parents, Emily and Richard -- old money, social pillars of Hartford society. Sure, she and Rory struggle with friends and with each other. Sure, their hearts are broken and, in Season 5, Rory ends up sobbing in her mother's arms on the bathroom floor after her first college crush, Logan, doesn't return her calls. But this is a show that believes the best about people. It is a show in which people believe in the magic of friends, the magic of love, the magic of snow. Rory will get up, eat ice cream, wallow and heal. She may not get the boy she thinks she wants, but she will find someone, someday. Everything will work out all right in the end.

At least, I thought that's why I loved "Gilmore Girls."

But, in the course of my weekend-long marathon, I discovered something more. There is a decadent fantasy being spun here -- a debauched, irresistible dream. I wasn't aware of it until my daughter was born, but now I can't contain my lust. I am beside myself. I desperately want to be Lorelai.

Lorelai is witty. Lorelai has long legs, good hair and fantastic clothes. Lorelai has an appealing job at which she is the boss, can set her own hours, and works with her best friend. Lorelai had her one child at 16, the age at which stomachs can still recover from childbirth without pooching or sagging. Lorelai's child is pretty, modestly dressed, motivated, has wholesome friends, and -- though she has her license -- doesn't pester her mother for a car.

Let's compare: I am not witty; I am exhausted. I have bags under my eyes and straggly ponytail hair. I gave birth at 33, the age at which stomachs never bounce back; I have a job at which I am definitely not the boss, and my best friend lives halfway around the world. My child is, of course, even more beautiful than Rory, but she cries a lot, demands to get her own way and -- if her single-minded pursuit of play strollers at the playground is any indication -- will most definitely pester me for her own car. I have a stack of preschool applications on my desk, a minefield of toys on my living room floor, and 13 unanswered messages on my answering machine. I also have a pair of parents, a husband, and a mother-in-law.

In contrast, Lorelai is free to date.

While I am fresh off the latest round of new-parent bickering, and fuming over my husband's dishes in the sink, Lorelai is on a date. While I bemoan the state of my skin and eat another pint of ice cream anyway, Lorelai is courted by Max, Rory's studious teacher, and plans a wedding. While I complain shrilly about the cost and grease-stain potential of my husband's new bike, she breaks off that engagement, leaving herself free to date again. While my husband and I lie in bed, both stubbornly pretending to be asleep so the other will have to get up with the baby at 6 a.m., Lorelai finally realizes her love for Luke, the diner owner, and in a moment of rash romanticism, proposes to him.

It's seductive: this vision of mother as sexual being, mother as romantic, mother as beautiful, with the rest of her life ahead of her. It's seductive: this world where mother and daughter are best friends, where the child is grown while the mother is still young. Suddenly, I realize that "Gilmore Girls" is awakening dark longings no teenager could ever really know: the longing to be out of my parents' shadow, financially independent, the longing to love my job, stay close to my friends, retain my joie de vivre. It awakens the longing to, once again, be able to choose my mate, to believe that perfect, uncompromising love is out there. It awakens the potent desire to know that my daughter enjoys my company, and will, despite the years and power struggles between us, always understand.

But the fantasy really gets interesting when I pause at the fact that Lorelai got to raise her child alone.

This, like all porn, is politically incorrect and totally naive. Of course single, teenage motherhood is impossibly hard. Of course we should not glorify it; of course we should not long for it. But here is the deep, dark, shameful secret I -- over-privileged, "Gilmore Girls"-watching, future suburban mom -- keep: Sometimes I wish I could raise my child alone. I wish I didn't have to argue about the best sleep-training method or which school to send my daughter to. I wish I didn't have to have long discussions about what kind of toys she should play with and how to keep her from becoming spoiled. I wish I hadn't had to compromise on the nursery color or defend my decision to wean early. I wish I didn't have to pack my household up four times a year to visit relatives, when it is patently obvious that it would be so much easier for them to come here. Like some men sometimes long for big-boobed, fake-tanned women to lie on beaches and writhe around, I sometimes long to be in total charge, to make all the decisions, to have my child all to myself. Maybe I'm the only one.

But I don't think so. Lorelai, for all her surface gloss and patter, is a powerful talisman, as powerful as the lights on a slot machine. Despite our desire to revel in the show's wholesomeness, we mothers can't quite ignore the dark feelings she ignites within us. She is the anti-Donna Reed -- not the mother who's perfect in the way others want her to be, but the mother living the life all mothers secretly want to lead. And it makes "Gilmore Girls" an explicit turn-on: an hour in which happily married women can drool over the life of a good-looking, well-dressed, engagingly funny, totally independent, daughter's-best-friend, happily unmarried one.

We are now two weeks into Season 6. Rory is 20, has had sex with a boyfriend and a married man. She stole a yacht and got arrested. She has dropped out of Yale. Lorelai isn't speaking to her; she didn't even tell Rory when she and Luke got engaged. The show is, perhaps, a little bit less wholesome. But I'm still recommending it to parents; I even have a new gleam in my eye when I do.

By Cara Wall

Cara Wall lives in New York with her husband and daughter.


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