Rich Kids on TV: Watching Gilmore Girls

I was home yesterday with an awful cold, watching television and feeling grumpy, when I got sucked into an old episode of Gilmore Girls. Here’s the part where I admit my pet project of analyzing pop culture portrayals of rich kids. It comes with a disclaimer—I know how painful these stereotypes can be, and, what’s worse, how they sometimes stem from extremely problematic assumptions about race and ethnicity. So it’s not always funny.
But then stuff like James Spader in Pretty in Pink just cracks me up. (Someone even made a montage!) And I used to listen to “Rich Girl” by Hall and Oates before I’d go talk about Classified sometimes, just as a reminder not to take myself too seriously. (I always thought there was more than a little truth to the line, “She’s a rich girl and she’s going too far ‘cause she knows it don’t matter anyway,” in light of some of the “brave” things I’ve done.)
Anyway, even though the seventh season of Gilmore Girls is agreed by most to be a travesty, the episode I was watching includes a fascinating scene between Rory and her boyfriend Logan in which he calls her out for being a secret rich kid. A little background info to set the scene: Rory, a college student and aspiring journalist, has just given Logan an article she wrote about a party he took her to last night.
Here’s my favorite part of the dialogue:
LOGAN: What? I’m a rich trust-fund kid. I’m not ashamed of it.
RORY: No and you shouldn’t be. That’s not what I meant. I mean, the point, or the point I was trying to make, was that people use connections to get ahead.
LOGAN: Give me a break. You act like making connections is something nefarious. It’s just people meeting people.
RORY: Well, it’s certain people meeting certain people. It’s not like anyone’s meeting Joe bus driver.
LOGAN: And you’re Joe bus driver?
RORY: Well, no, but…
LOGAN: Exactly. I mean where do you get off acting all morally superior?
RORY: That is not what I intended to say at all.
LOGAN: You clearly think you are. Why? Because you read Ironweed? ‘Cause you saw Norma Rae?
RORY: Logan…
LOGAN: Wake up Rory. Whether you like it or not, you’re one of us. You went to prep school. You go to Yale. Your grandparents are building a whole damn astronomy building in your name.
RORY: That is different, okay? It’s not like I live off a $5-million trust fund my parents set up for me.
Is it really that different, Rory? Of course, I agree with her critique about networking. Class privilege is about the access and connections, not just the cash. But what Logan is pointing out is so true: if Rory really wants to make this critique effectively, she’ll need to speak from a more honest position that acknowledges her own privilege. (Well, maybe I’m putting some of those words in Logan’s mouth. I’m not sure he actually wants Rory to make a critique at all. Have I mentioned that I always preferred Jess?)
I always found the whole premise of this show super-interesting in the way it both portrays and glosses over the inner-workings of class privilege. Rory’s mother, Loreli, grew up in a wealthy Connecticut family, but then ran away from home when she got pregnant at 16. She built a life for herself as a single mother in a small town, working her way up from a job as a hotel maid to eventually running her own inn. The show often celebrates how Loreli “made it” on her own, as if she were starting from the same place as the other maids at the hotel. As if her race and class privilege did not factor in at all to why the hotel’s owner decided to take her under her wing and train her.
Most tellingly, the show begins when Loreli wants to send Rory to private school, but can’t afford it. So she returns to the wealthy world of her parents to get their help and pass her privilege on to the next generation. A pretty good demonstration of how class and race privilege come with you no matter where you go, and how, for inheritors, you can never really give it all away. Of course, I could write a whole other post about this show’s depictions of the strings wealthy families often attach to requests for help. I have a feeling some of you out there know what I mean…