Finding Comfort in Hyperreality: Stars Hollow & the Garrulous Gilmore Girls3 July 2015
“I don’t like problems. I avoid them when I can and I don’t like people pointing them out to me.”
Such is the life of Lorelai Gilmore and her teenage daughter/best friend Rory Gilmore. Now enmeshed into the vocabulary of popular culture, the Gilmore Girls (2000-2007) serves as a paragon of the perfect world that can never exist. A utopia if you will, governed by ideals of community, consumption, and cultural perspicacity. Unlike its equally innovative cousin Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which unleashed slaying witticisms on unknowing vampire folk in the dark of night, the Gilmore Girls is beloved by many for its warmth, its vibrancy of spirit, and above-all-else, its loquacious Gilmorisms. But alas, it is a world of fiction, far removed from our reality; indeed, it is a world of hyperreality, where everything seems plausible and within reach, yet in actuality, is just outside the limits of our outstretched hands. It is a world so aptly described by Italian theorist of simulation Umberto Eco as “the authentic fake.”
In Eco’s essay Travels In Hyperreality, hyperreality is defined as a replica of something that may never have existed, or more often, as an image that is more “real” than the original object. But imitations aren’t just a reproduction of reality: they are a way in which reality is superseded – made to look ordinary and mediocre in comparison. While this poses obvious dangers it also provides cathartic respite to the weary of heart. Hyperreal culture, manifested in cultural products like theme parks and reality tv, is a form of escapism, as much as any Harry Potter novel. Imagining reality as something better than it actually is gives us hope, no matter how unfounded and naïve this hope may prove to be.
In an age of prevaricating politicians and libidinous celebrities, the utopian world of Stars Hollow offers a much-needed sense of comfort, a reprieve from the dull workaday grey that we wake to each morning. It gives us a sense that such a world is possible, and we have only to find it to revel in all its delectations. Stars Hollow is the epitome of a hyperreal construct, at least by the standards of modern society. It harks back to a perhaps mythical time, much simpler than our own, when a small town was more like a family than a mesh of abstract self-indulgent individuals. In this place food is plentiful, as is laughter. Colour abounds in autumnal glory and the soundtrack to our lives flits from Macy Gray to The Clash before settling on some sentimental Carole King.
When you turn on your television and navigate your way to that home away from home, you are greeted by the fictional town of Stars Hollow, bathed in vibrant colours, decorations plastered above each building (except Luke’s of course) leftover from that week’s absurd town event (The Festival of Living Art, or perhaps another twenty-four hour Dance Marathon). You watch as Lorelai and Rory bond over books and films on their way to Luke’s, passing the pristine white gazebo where little girls in pink ballet dresses jump and prance at Miss Patti’s behest.
Suddenly the skeletal spectre of Kirk is upon you, like a ghost in the night, and just as eerie: “Two nights ago, I was suddenly gripped with the overwhelming feeling that there was an assassin in my house. I had to get out of the room before he got me. So, I jumped out of bed and locked my pillow in the bathroom.” All these sounds add to the sweet cacophony of small-town charm, sounds of music to your ear…
Lo and behold, you have become one with the town of Stars Hollow. So enraptured that you are no longer a mere spectator. Without realising it you have become one of them. The town troubadour bows in reverence to you, contemplating how to integrate you into his next song.
This is the power of the Gilmore Girls. You fall in love with the community: with the copious amounts of food and drink (“I would like a cheeseburger, with a side of cheeseburger, and see if they can make me a cheeseburger smoothie”), with the constant referencing of academia and literature that makes you feel as though you are expanding your mind. Our little self-proclaimed autodidact Rory fills our heads with her world of books, from Anna Karenina and Moby Dick to Gogol’s Dead Souls. We marvel at her work ethic, for only in a utopia could one possibly find the time to read so many books, be so well acquainted with the classics of film and television, and still find time to study and help their community.
But be wary, sweet-treading flâneur, of falling into the black hole of consuming comfort. The danger of hyperreality is that it can come to represent reality itself, rather than an idealised vision of it. This is most evident in pornography, where such images of “perfection” can lead people to strive for unattainable goals in their sexual partners and the sexual acts they perform. Hyperreality should never replace reality; it exists solely to enhance, or to offer respite from, our experience of it. Stars Hollow is an example of the latter: it is a hyperreality that exists to bring comfort and joy, rather than to inspire change within our own lives.
Nevertheless, for fans, the Gilmore Girls have now come to shape our lives, our lexicon. Let none of us hide the fact that we have at one point or another considered naming a child after one of the characters, or that we have attempted, ceaselessly, to convert our friends, our siblings and our parents to the faith, just so we can triumphantly exclaim, “You’ve been Gilmored!”
The Gilmore Girls is comfort. It is hope.
Lorelai: “It’s a religion.”
Rory: “It’s a lifestyle.”