Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jealous Fights, Basket-swiping, Hypermasculinity: An Analysis of the Men in the Gilmore World

Everybody loves the Gilmores. They love them so much, in fact, that they're willing to get into fist fights over them, abrasive verbal spats, bid obscene amounts of money for lunch basketsfake-fight in the middle of a college lecture, COMMIT already (against all odds), claim them (like a dog would a fire hydrant) at a Tarantino-themed college party, cheat on their spouses with them, humiliate them in the middle of a dance marathon, humiliate their friends at the coffee cart, stalk them after a break-up, bleed petulance over a friendly game of Bop-it, cause this, and a number of other...things. The men of the Gilmore world are almost always characterized as jealous, hyper-masculine types who, if they don't spend all of their time raging against the machine, lifting heavy objects, working with their hands, changing lightbulbs, cleaning gutters, camping, fishing, neglecting to seek higher education, or spitting into a spitoon, instead spend their time getting kicked out of prep schools, riding around in limousines, sleeping with blonde socialites, battling severe daddy issues, raging against the expectations of their rich, waspy ancestors, wearing turtlenecks, berating the help, begrudging their privilege, drinking to excess, and spoiling the social event of the season.

The men of the Gilmore world are brooding, overly sensitive, WACK jealous, helpless to their more primitive impulses (the hunter, the protector, the aggressor), and these "impulses" are, for whatever reason, heightened at the mere divine scent of any moving Gilmore within a three block radius. Their sheer petulance should be rendered insufferable, and I wouldn't think twice about it--if it weren't for the fact that this repeat characterization of the Gilmore world's weaker sex weren't, well I think, at its core,  a subtle (or not-so-subtle) commentary on the objectification of women, male assertion over women and over the female body as territory. I mean, okay. Jess literally swipes Rory's lunch basket right out from under Dean's nose at Star's Hollow's annual Bid-a-Basket festival (2.13 A-Tisket, A-Tasket). Together, they engage in a bidding war until--alas--Rory's "basket" has been won by the man willing to pay the best price. Do you understand what I'm getting at here?

A Gilmore is a specific type of woman--a nuanced turn on"the girl next door" archetype--the sensational, intelligent, capable, self-sufficient, naturally pretty brunette with minimal issues of self-worth, self-esteem, minimal serious pitfalls other than the obvious "eats too many pop-tarts" and "drinks too much coffee." The Gilmore women (Rory and Lorelai--this article will not attempt Emily) are the evolutionary foil to the vintage "girl friday," because the Gilmores do not exist in any way to serve, assist, or better their male counterparts. They do not serve anyone but themselves. They rely on themselves for sustenance, for comfort and reassurance, and they rely on each other. They never rely on a man (for anything other than his handiwork, of course--both around the house and in the bedroom), and it is not that the men of their world can't handle this (the Lorelai-Rory relationship and their respective independence are typically and universally accepted as things of untouchable, impenetrable quirk-dom)--to the contrary--they recognize these women as one of a kind, as defying expectations, as rare and remarkable. Like an urn. Everybody loves a Gilmore, and when you have one, you become a mindless fiend, a slave to her beauty and her beckoning, and you'll fight anyone that comes sniffing around, because this one's taken. If you don't have one, you want one, desperately, and you'll do anything to get that thing of perfection on your arm.

Okay, that's a bit harsh. The men of the Gilmore world are not all bad. They're not all drooling, jealous cavemen. They're nuanced, of course, because the writing is good, and they have histories and emotional baggage and can often be quite sweet. But WITHOUT FAIL, these men are jealous. They're jealous and obsessive, or their jealous and evasive, and so it's always an issue when my friends and I sit down and try to talk about which of Rory's boyfriends is our favorite (yes, we do this), or whether we truly prefer Luke to Chris for Lorelai, because none of the men that consort with the Gilmores are, in fact, good enough for the Gilmores. They're sulky and fractious, grumpy and stubborn. They don't play well with others, and I would chalk it up to a one-dimensional writer's tick if it weren't for the unfailing nature, the consistency in characterization of each and every single boyfriend in the Gilmore world, in conjunction with the distinctive, very specific differences maintained between each one. The Gilmore boyfriends are: Dean, Jess, and Logan for Rory, Christopher and Luke for Lorelai. No, I have not forgotten Max Medina. My first impulse with Max is to call him an exception, because I don't really count him among the "principles." But then I think back to the impulse marriage proposal--they're about to break up, Lorelai is fed up, and so he must stake the defining claim, and when she turns him down, he attempts to woo her with the romantic presentation of 1,000 yellow daisies, and while it works for a moment, Lorelai is, ultimately, unconvinced. She calls off the wedding. She blames herself for being irrational and irresponsible, but we know, and the complications of her character tell us: Max wasn't good enough for Lorelai, and that's why she couldn't bring herself to marry him. (I also don't count Jason Stiles, although, if I did, we might file him under the "rich boys" element below.)

The concept of these men not being "good enough" is heightened by the fact that the Gilmores are, well, a very well-to-do, well-respected family in Connecticut, and that Emily and Richard Gilmore, Lorelai's meddling, yuppy parents, are constantly making the personal lives of their daughter and granddaughter their business du jour. Emily and Richard frequently burden themselves with the task of finding a man that is good enough for Lorelai, or pairing Rory with a suitor that is good enough. "Luke is not good enough for Lorelai," Emily literally says in 5.7 You Jump, I Jump, Jack, and while the intended meaning of "not good enough" is the more obvious issue of class, there is a definite initiation at this moment of the many other ways in which it turns out that Luke is not, in fact, good enough for Lorelai. He really is a bigger mess than we understand at first--the secret daughter, the daddy issues, the pathological introversion. Jess and Dean are boyfriends of Rory's who are continuously deemed as "not good enough." The reason, outright, is still an issue of class. Dean, however, turns out to be the most despicable of all Rory's boyfriends (Cheating on Lindsay? Sulking on a daily basis? Breaking up with her twice in front of a whole group of people?) and Jess (while, arguably, and surprisingly, the least despicable of them all) turns out to be traumatized (due to issues of abandonment) in such a way that he cannot make himself emotionally available to Rory--until it's too late of course.

Then, we've got our rich boys: Logan and Christopher. Christopher Hayden is Rory's father. He's from a respectable, rich family who've known the Gilmores for many years, and he ran out on Lorelai after Rory was born. Logan Huntzberger is...a Huntzberger, the equivalent of a Vanderbilt or a Rockerfeller, a galavanting playboy of infinite wealth and wise-ass snark. These boys are, according to Emily's standards of class and money, "good enough" for the Gilmore girls, despite their many personal and social inadequacies. These boys are not, however, truly good enough, because of these personal and social inadequacies--which are often exaggerated and, by way, insufferable. They're possessive, clingy, adulterous, and imbued with this mocking, sad sense of entitlement that imbues all the yuppy douche bags of the Gilmore world. They do a nice job of furnishing gifts: Burkin bags, diamond necklaces, college tuition, Oxford English Dictionaries, but they do a terrible job of furnishing any type of emotional stability or ability to function in a give-and-receive type relationship. They run away from their problems, and they run hard. They're total wrecks, is what I'm saying. They represent the misguided values that Lorelai and Rory have avoided, because Lorelai and Rory do not live their lives the Gilmore way. Sure, Rory has been known to humor her grandma in terms of having a Cotillion and, later, becoming a member of the D.A.R.. She also attended Yale (more a product of her intelligence than her social standing). She was, however, raised a normal girl under normal financial and social means. She cannot tolerate rich, whiny men who cannot get their acts together. This we learn. Her mother, who rebels against the monied lifestyle has raised her to be level-headed, a hard worker, and self-supporting. Like herself. Rory is a positive role model for young women, the type of fictional role model that I do not see anywhere today.

At the end of season seven, neither Rory nor Lorelai are in a committed relationship with any of the men we've watched them fumble around with time and time again over the course of the series. Rory rebuffs Logan's marriage proposal, and Lorelai rebuffs Luke, who, it turns out, is not as sweet and gracious as we all thought he was in the beginning. If you ask me, when both of these break-ups officially happen, I am ecstatic, because they're long overdue. By the end, Luke and Logan are men kept around because they're whiny and broken, men that need to be taken care of and humored and patted on the head for issues that, frankly, can bite me when compared to the issue of Lorelai at sixteen raising a child on her own, or Rory being abandoned by her father before she was old enough to sit up by herself.

The fact of the matter is, the jealous boyfriend is a staple in the Gilmore world, but it is not a mere matter of inventing drama. It is a much more complex evaluation of extreme, almost cartoonized jealousy and sensitivity as a salient aspect of male behavior. This physical and passive aggression is merely the attempt of these men to dominate over each other, to stake claim over the Gilmore women and, in turn, dominate them, too, and "Gilmore Girls" does a number on pointing these things out. Now, the jealous boyfriend is often used as an added tension in teen and women-oriented dramatic programming (RE: "Dawson's Creek," "Desperate Housewives," "Gossip Girl"). In these cases, with male jealousy made into a central arc (rather than a running factor of characterization) and a mere catalyst for dramatic teasers and suspense (rather than for, as far as I can tell, any real intellectual purpose), the portrayal of men as jealous, primitive, head-bashing animals has, I think, caused a misconception in the "real world" that this is the way that most men act, or the way that men are supposed to act, or that masculinity is, in some way, directly reliant upon aggression. Because, yeah, drama is attractive. What a tragic piece of misinformation. The story of two brothers fighting for the same woman's affection is an age-old tale, and yeah, maybe it happened...once...but this is not the way that "real" men act, at least not in my experience, and this portrayal of men as sulking and aggressive is, not only harmful to women, who, while playing along, become accessory to their own objectification, but to men as well, men who trust, men who are not jealous, good men. Normal men. Normal men are not jealous fiends. In fact, I don't know one.

Side Note: Jealous men are rare on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," as well as most other works of the Whedonverse. Xander, Oz, Angel, Riley--these men are sensitive creatures, self-sufficient and forgiving. Men who do experience jealousy, like Captain Mal Reynolds on "Firefly" or Spike on "Buffy" are characterized as either flawed, anti-heroic men of duty or love-sick puppies who like to indulge in their own misery--and both readily acknowledge their insufficiencies as problematic. They are not oblivious to these moments of uber-masculine display.

Now, my conclusion: I'm not claiming that the men of the Gilmore world are harming viewers with their constant presentations of male aggression. To the contrary, the consistency with which creator, writer, producer Amy Sherman-Palladino (who's previous work includes stints with "Roseanne" and "Veronica's Closet") has characterized her male characters to such extremes of jealousy and over-sensitivity, creates, instead, a well-informed meditation on the objectification and sensationalizing of women, certain types of "idealized" women especially, but really--all women. Furthermore, "Gilmore Girls" truly is a show that's made by, for, and about women, and so certain commentaries, like the one I just rambled on and on about for far too long are better understood. They have real relevance, because "Gilmore Girls" was never a show that relied on cheap suspense, adultery plots, threesomes, volatile love triangles, high drama, etc. It is actually a humble show, a small show that relies on its characters, which are written credibly and thoroughly, its humor, which is rooted deeply in the show's love of pop culture, its youthful exuberance. It is a show that values women. It values intelligence. It values intelligent women. Its jealous men cause drama, sure, but that drama is usually just a passing tension, a transition between charming, hilarious, many times poignant exchanges between Lorelai and Rory. Because this is not a show about "boy drama" as much as it is about the relationships between many mothers and many daughters--namely, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore.

"Gilmore Girls" is a show for women to watch together, alone, in four-hour shifts or one at a time, to vent their frustrations on, to love, to quote, to admire, to enjoy. I'm not saying that men can't enjoy it, too, but really, this is a show for women. It's also a show that is unrelenting in its appeal to women--real women--not the weird idea of "women" that MTV tries to recruit--due to the strength and good nature of its protagonists and their realistic reactions and ways of coping with change and rejection, fear and loss. It is a show that is unapologetic to the men who discredit it. Not in any way that is aggressive or spiteful, but in the way that it really loves to treat issues that are sort of singular to women and to the understandings that women have about themselves, their bodies, their daughters, and the way they're perceived by both each other and men alike. I find that most men retaliate against "Gilmore Girls," call it annoying and cloying and a total chick show. Well, these things are meant to spite, but the truth is: Boys, there are some of you that just aren't in on the joke. And that doesn't mean that the joke sucks or that the joke is not worth telling. It just means, take a deep breath, you're not be in on the joke. Wah.

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