You may ask, why would someone ever put a chick-flick TV show and apologetics in the same sentence? Even if you are not a fan of Gilmore Girls you probably know someone who loves it, maybe even owns a Dragonfly Inn mug.
Gilmore Girls became so popular it lasted for 7 seasons between 2000 and 2007. It starts off as a witty comedy about a single 32-year-old, always optimistic but often imprudent mother Lorelai Gilmore and her 16-year-old, super smart and responsible daughter Rory. The dissimilarity between the mother and daughter is clever; the mother-daughter relationship together with a charming small-town ambiance makes for a feel-good show. While Lorelai struggles between relational failures, Rory develops good relationships. She is different from other teenage girls her age: she does not sleep around, she is focused on school, she is kind and generous to people, such as classmates à la Mean Girls and her seemingly cold grandparents. It is heart-warming to see her hard work paying off, to see her kindness mend relationships.
Then the author throws in some plot twists. Personally, I’m not a fan of drama for the sake of drama; I know of people who stopped watching the show at this point. However, adversities and love triangles do allow the writer to show character development and to bring up such values as love, loyalty, faithfulness, compassion. Between seasons 4 and 5 the show shifts from comedy to soap opera as Rory’s life takes some unexpected turns. For me, and apparently for other fans, season 7 was especially disappointing. Only after finishing the original series, I learned that the creator of the show Amy Sherman-Palladino left Gilmore Girls after season 6, so season 7 was finished by other writers. Things get more interesting, in 2016 Netflix released a 4-episode reunion Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life written by Sherman-Palladino, allowing her to finish the story the way she originally envisioned, but now with the characters 10 years older. The opinions of fans vary drastically: some pretend season 7 never happened, others ignore the reunion. Although some plot twists of the reunion were clever, something about it made me feel hopeless and pessimistic about life, which is an odd contrast with the beginning of the show 16 years prior. In 2016, in an interview with Vogue, while talking about the show’s legacy, Sherman-Palladino says: “I know, the show comes off as very hopeful, which I find very amusing, because I have a complete lack of hope.” A year later in a different interview she touches on the same topic: “I just don’t think there’s good in the world […] I expect to be disappointed at any given moment.”
Does the world of Gilmore Girls accurately reflect reality? Although the characters are fictional, their worldview, ideas and values are quite real. I think the fans enjoyed the show because it is relatable, the culture references are recognizable. It is interesting to observe how fashion trends and other elements of our culture have evolved from 2000 to 2016.
In my opinion, not only does this show reflect the culture and worldview of postmodernism, but, maybe unintentionally, it also plays a part in reinforcing it. What is postmodernism? According to postmodern philosophy, as William Edgar summarizes it, “[…] knowledge is no longer objective – nor even useful – and ethics are not universal.” Here we will narrow down the discussion about Gilmore Girls to the question of morality and the question of the meaning of life.
Not only does this show reflect the culture and worldview of postmodernism, but, maybe unintentionally, it also plays a part in reinforcing it.
As much as I tried to touch on the topic of morality without any spoilers, it is quite impossible, so I will spoil this one plot twist. In season 4 now a college girl and still innocent Rory sleeps with her now-married-to-someone-else ex-boyfriend. In the next episode, what struck me was her mother’s reaction. Based on the overall moral mood of the show expressed through Lorelai’s own past decision, the “anything goes” and “do what feels right and makes you happy” lifestyle, we would assume her daughter’s actions were not a big deal. But all of a sudden, the tone of Lorelai’s voice and her questions reveal a mother concerned for her child and communicate that what Rory has just done was very-very wrong. If morals are relative, and they seem to be relative to what each person senses to be right or wrong, then why is it clear to the majority of the audience (I can’t speak for everyone), that what happened was categorized as bad? Why is it that, in a world where casual dating and “moving in together” became the norm, marriages all of a sudden matter so much? A few times throughout the show the tension is built around the question: “Are they or are they not going to get married?” If marriage doesn’t matter anymore, why does marriage become a plot device which results in either unresolved tension or the culmination of the plot?
At first, Rory denies the wrong in her action and doesn’t understand why her mother is not supporting her. True, on what basis and on what authority does Lorelai have the right to tell her daughter what is right or wrong, if it is not exactly defined anywhere? Did Rory make a mistake or not? Can Rory let her intuition be her guide? Frankly, I can relate to the dilemma: if you tell any person that they cannot rely on their intuition for making decisions, their response would be: “If I can’t trust myself whom then can I trust?” The question of morality inevitably becomes connected to the question of authority. According to the worldview portrayed by Gilmore Girls, it’s definitely not the parents, it’s not the religious people with their Bibles. What is the foundation for making decisions and how can we ever be sure of making the right one? What if it feels right one day and then a few days later we discover that it now feels very wrong, that what we did caused a lot of chaos in our own lives and lives of others?
The question of the meaning of life is connected to the question of morality, since it is clear that Rory’s decisions have consequences that impact her life in the long term —something we can also relate to. She has to make decisions about relationships and decisions about her career path. As my husband mentioned over breakfast one day, postmodernism is based the on idea that “the only thing that can define me is me.” So, at one point Rory breaks with all authority and tries to figure life out for herself. There is a sort of hopelessness that the audience experiences, when they watch her fail in this or that area of life. If everything is up to Rory and everything is a consequence of her decisions, then what hope does she have for her life ever turning out right and how does she sleep at night without being anxious about her future? What does she have left if she fails in both her relationships and her career?
One of the most valuable takeaways of the show is that following Rory’s life forces the audience to consider the bigger questions of life: What is the source of moral authority? What is the goal, purpose, meaning of life? This show is about parents trying to figure out parenting and teenagers trying to figure out life. Fans express their disappointment with Rory’s decisions in the reunion. In response Amy Sherman-Palladino claims: “I believe that people are born evil […] and you have to beat goodness into them. I don’t believe it’s the other way round.” In response more questions come to mind: What is goodness? Where does it come from? How do we beat goodness into people and make sure that it sticks?
I agree with Amy Sherman-Palladino, people are now born evil. Yet, I also believe that there is more to the story and the answer is found in the Bible. At this point, if I was talking to either Lorelai or Rory, I’m sure they would make some quip about how silly it is that Christians always find all their solutions in the Bible. The postmodern worldview throws out the Christian morality and the Bible out the window from the get-go. Why is that? The answer is simple. Either the person himself is the final authority for defining morality or only God can define morality – it cannot be both. The moment a person attempts to accuse God of doing something wrong, is the moment that they forget who God is; God cannot be good and evil at the same time, God by definition is good and always right. If you are talking about a God who does evil and wrong, you are not talking about the God of the Bible.
According to the biblical worldview, the first man and woman were created good in the image of God their Creator who is good. God is the source of goodness, he defines what is right and what is wrong, what is allowed and what is not allowed. In the garden of Eden, God had every right to tell man that it was wrong to eat the forbidden fruit and that eating it would result in death. Man decided that he himself knew what is best and he did exactly what God told him not to do, which resulted in the curse of sin and death. God, being always good and just, was right to allow the curse. God was also merciful: Adam and Eve did not die immediately, however, they and all people were cursed and are now evil. Yet again we see God’s goodness and mercy in this situation: God planned for and he himself provided a solution to this curse. That solution is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for us – an act of immense kindness, love and sacrifice for a people who are evil and not faithful. Through faith in Christ a person is redeemed and can be changed. Through the Holy Spirit working in the life of a believer, it is possible for the person to make the right choices in life and to follow the morality that is expressed through the Bible. What the Bible defines as good and evil, right or wrong, is objectively true, because it comes from the one who has authority over all – God himself. We must always remember, the God who has authority over all is a good God.
As for the question of the meaning of life, Amy Sherman Palladino is on to something when she talks about her lack of hope. What she sees is the result of the curse that affected both humanity and the world we live in. It is so true: without Christ there is no hope. Although relationships and career make up a big part of life, they are not the answers to the big problems that people avoid: the problem of evil and separation from God.
In contrast with the hopelessness and lack of meaning of life that comes along with the postmodern worldview, the Christian worldview is full of redemption, forgiveness and hope. In the low and difficult moments of life, as Christians we know that we are not alone, that God is a loving Father who will provide for his children exactly what they need. Christ reassures us: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Do I have less anxiety about the decisions of life and more hope for the future because I am a Christian? Yes, but that is not the reason for my faith, that is a beneficial side-effect which comes with knowing the truth. The Gospel - the good news of salvation through Christ and union with Him - carries with it a “hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”