Jewish characters and representation on Gilmore Girls through S2
So I’ve been on an epic “Gilmore Girls” rewatch and today I finished up S2. I’ve been mildly amused/annoyed by some of the “Stars Hollow Confessions” blog submissions and I wanted to write something about Rory’s relationships, but I first want to say something about the problematic representation of Judaism and Jewishness on the show.
I think Gilmore Girls was a pretty important show in terms of the characters it put on TV. It was an obviously feminist show. Lorelai’s colleagues included a black man and an overweight woman whose weight was never an issue and who had a beautiful love story which was never comedic in relation to her weight. Rory’s best friend was Korean-American. But the show had its problems, too. I can’t remember Rory ever having non-white friends at Yale; neither Lorelai or Rory ever dated someone non-white. Michel was maybe-straight-maybe-gay-maybe-bisexual and there weren’t non-ambiguously LGBTQ characters as far as I remember.
As for the problem Jewish representation, there’s the chuppah that Luke builds Lorelai for her wedding to Max. While I can totally understand the character of Luke wanting to do something out of the ordinary for Lorelai, I’m just really confused as why it had to be a chuppah specifically. There are so many things Luke could have built for them. I mean, even just a non-religious archway; I’ve seen tons of non-Jewish wedding pictures that featured the couple standing under and archway covered in flowers or something like that.
Another scene that really bothered me was in “Help Wanted” when Lorelai has to work late and calls Rory to let her know she left her money for dinner “under the rabbi.” So, not only is this a “Jews and money” stereotype prop, it’s a prop that’s literally only introduced for this purpose. The dancing rabbi doll has never been seen before, and I’m pretty sure never comes up again. Lorelai has left money for Rory on the kitchen table plenty of times before — why the need for a cheap swipe? (Edit: In S3, they do mention hiding it when Trix comes to see the house. But my point still stands.)
Finally, there’s the issue of the two Jewish students at Chilton with Rory: Paris and Brad. So I think it’s really great that there is more than one character on this show that is Jewish. I’m having a hard time of thinking of other shows that have that many explicitly Jewish characters.
First, neither of them have yet to really present that much as “Jewish” except for a few veiled references to Hanukkah or their rabbis. I don’t think a character needs to be totally observant to be Jewish, obviously, but it would be nice to see a Jewish character doing something explicitly Jewish on screen for once. For Paris it does come up a few times, but as far as I remember, the only time it comes up for Brad is when he mentions his rabbi being one of the people who encouraged him to come back to Chilton to “face his fears.”
Speaking of that, then, there’s the characters themselves. Brad is this totally medieval Jewish male stereotype: small, unmanly, wimpy. Sweaty and incapable. That’s it. That’s his defining character trait.
Paris is, of course, a more fleshed out character. I love Paris, and while I think a lot of her drive and meanness come from her troubles at home and the lack of attention from her parents, I still think it’s problematic for a Jewish woman to be portrayed as “not pretty”/not sexually desirable and totally driven only by success and status.