A couple of months ago, a good friend told me that watching Gilmore Girls was “a rite of passage for every Barnard student.” Though I was highly aware of the show’s popularity, I did not understand the magnitude of its influence amongst my fellow classmates. However, this changed when I joined a “Welcome Zoom” where Barnard’s very own Dean of the First-Year Class, Wendy Garay, joked about how many essays on Paris Geller the office of admissions has read throughout the years.
For both these reasons, I will assume everyone reading this has watched Gilmore Girls…unless you, like my roommate Grace, are amongst the 0.1% of the student body who has not seen Amy Sherman-Palladino’s comedy. For the Grace’s of the Columbia University community: In a nutshell, Gilmore Girls is a TV show about mother-daughter duo Lorelai and Rory navigating life together.
Why write about a show from the year 2000? Short answer: TikTok.
Long answer: the content posted on said app by Gilmore Girls fans reminded me of the fact that I never watched the 2016 Netflix revival of the series. Since I have been bored during quarantine, I did not hesitate in pressing play on this four-hour-long train wreck.
Now, let’s talk about Gilmore Girls’ problematic tropes.
In the first episode of the revival, Lorelai visits her mother for their usual Friday night dinners which is how we meet Berta, Emily Gilmore’s newest maid. The first words to come out of this new character’s mouth are “Hola…Señora Gilmore está aquí,” which is why we can infer that she is probably Hispanic even though we know nothing about her. As the episode continues, it becomes increasingly clear that Berta is the most stereotypical character ever, and her portrayal is quite literally racist. Spanish is my first language, so I can guarantee you that is not what Berta is speaking. She makes incomprehensible noises 90% of the time, and every couple of sentences she says a vagrant word in Spanish. If you watched the show with subtitles, you could see that whenever Berta would speak, the captions switch to [Speaking her language] not [Speaking Spanish]. Not only did Gilmore Girls play into the Hispanic maid stereotype, but it also disrespects an entire language. Moreover, Berta has a lot of screentime, enough to make her a memorable character, but we never see any character development for her. She just remains Emily’s maid who makes incomprehensible sounds while the Gilmore Girls simply refuse to try to understand her.
I’m going to be honest, I only watched the rest of the mini-series because I don’t like to leave things unfinished, but I want to make it clear I felt so incredibly offended.
This made me think about all the instances in which the original show was controversial, but I couldn’t think of any which might be due to the fact that I watched Gilmore Girls as a tween who barely spoke English and hardly understood what was going on. So, I decided to Google, “Gilmore Girls Problematic Scenes” and stumbled across this BuzzFeed article named “17 Moments From “Gilmore Girls” That Were Actually Pretty Problematic.”
I’m not going to list every single instance, not because I’m lazy but because I really don’t feel like plagiarizing Jasmin Nahar’s BuzzFeed article. But from Luke’s disgust at breastfeeding to Rory’s casual use of the R-slur, Gilmore Girls had too many instances in which the characters were exceedingly problematic.
So, why do we treat Gilmore Girls as if it is the greatest American comedy ever made? Why do we glorify its very flawed characters? Should we stop streaming Gilmore Girls? Well, I’m not going to tell you what you can or can’t watch, but I think we can all agree we must acknowledge the show’s defects no matter how much nostalgia or “good vibes” this show may give us.