Drinking with the Gilmore Girls

By Tatum Dooley 12/11/16

The popular television revival’s troubling relationship with alcohol.

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Drinking with the Gilmore Girls
A bit much.

In many ways Gilmore Girls is a show about excess. Rory and Lorelei are never at a loss for words, and pop culture is referenced every other line. Coffee is slurped in pots, instead of cups. Junk food is consumed in courses. So it should make sense when, in the series revival, alcohol appears in excess. Except A Year in the Life’s portrayal of alcohol consumption doesn't come across as cute or witty — like the pop culture references and junk food — it comes across as out of place, and problematic.

I sat down and talked with two Gilmore Girl fans who watched the series, Sophie Wolpert and Cassie Cramer, to ask them what they thought of how drinking was portrayed in the show. Right off the bat both of them expressed that the alcohol use came across as odd, especially in the character Rory. Wolpert explains her hesitation: “The main character Rory seemed to throw back scotch at noon, I didn’t know how we were supposed to take it. Was she depressed and that’s why she was drinking? Or was she trying to get into the character of being a journalist? I didn’t understand why she was doing it, it didn’t seem necessary."

The connection between writing and drinking has always been fraught with difficulties; alcohol-inspired writing has been credited for the success of many canonized writers, leading it to become normalized. So when Rory reaches into her desk and pulls out a bottle of scotch to throw back midday, it could be easy to credit it to her career choice. Sarah Hepola, in her 2015 memoir Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank To Forget, confronts the trope of writers and drinking, “If I ever grew anxious about the empty bottles my work required, I could wrap myself in an enabling legend. Writers drink. It’s what we do. As long as the work gets done, you can coast on these words for a very long time,” she writes.

An enabling legend. The phrasing that Hepola uses to describe the connection between drinking and writing is important. For one, she pinpoints that the trope of the writer who drinks is enabling, since it allows problematic drinking to be justified and normalized. She also acknowledges that it is a legend, therefore: not true. There is no truth to the claim that alcohol is needed or helpful to writing, which makes the portrayal of Rory’s drinking habits in Gilmore Girls ever more concerning.

Writer Irina Gonzalez also found Rory’s drinking on the job troubling. “I think it's the old journalism joke (that Rory takes on in "A Year In the Life") and it comes off as disturbing. I haven't worked in a newsroom, but I also know a lot of writers and journalists who have dealt with recovery and addiction (myself included), so this whole scenario seemed odd to me,” Gonzalez said. The ease in which Rory’s drinking is written into the show and is meant to be accepted without question may be the most troubling part. The show should have pulled back and addressed Rory’s alcohol consumption in the form of a concerned Lorelei, or Rory coming to the conclusion herself that her drinking was becoming a problem. Instead, the trope of the writer drinking at their desk persists and becomes further ingrained as an enabling legend.

Rory’s drinking isn’t limited to the office. When working on a story she agrees to go out and have a few drinks with the sources she’s interviewing, one of whom she ends up sleeping with. We don’t know for certain that this breach in journalistic ethics was a consequence of the drinking that came before it, but knowing that alcohol has the ability to lower your inhibitions, it’s easy to make that assumption. In the show, Rory’s regretful decision to have a one night stand was not attributed to drinking, but is another example of how Rory’s drinking habits are questionable.

Rory isn’t the only character who participates in drinking that borders on problematic. In the first episode Lorelei passes out after her father’s funeral from “drinking her weight in scotch” and not eating for the past two days. Cramer notes that she is able to give Lorelei a pass, saying “People self-medicate, it’s still a problem, but it’s not enough to diagnose someone with a drinking problem, it’s a one off.” Considering Lorelei’s drinking as a one-off becomes more difficult to do as the season continues, with her continuously pouring drinks as a way to deal with her despair, creating an unhealthy image of "appropriate" drinking.

The dysfunctional relationship with drinking becomes generational when Emily Gilmore is thrown into the fray; the matriarchal figure is frequently seen with drink in hand. But what’s troubling is the reason for her drinking: after the loss of her husband she often pours a drink while remarking on the pain she’s in. Emily’s attempt to drink the pain away leaves her in bed until noon. Of course this is just me hypothesizing, it could be that she’s in bed because she’s depressed by her husbands passing, but what we see of Emily’s drinking habits throughout the show leads me to conclude that the combination of drinking and being sad contributes to her difficulty getting up in the morning.

Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it has the ability to alter the balance in our brains, affecting moods, actions, and thoughts. So when the Gilmore girls are drinking to absolve their pain or drinking when they’re down, they’re perpetuating that problem, making it worse.

One of the oddest elements of the alcohol use in the series is that no one in the show seems to find it concerning. Save for the last episode when Luke, always the voice of reason, vetoes Lorelei’s decision to drink before their wedding night. None of the other characters bat an eye when Rory reaches into her desk to pour out a shot—or two. Both Cramer and Wolpert noticed the lack of accountability in the show. “It’s worrying behavior, and no one mentions it,” Cramer commented. Wolpert chimes in, adding: “No one notices the drinking, it just happens.”

The one character who does get called out for her drinking is Naomi, the subject of Rory’s Talk of the Town piece. In “Spring,” Rory comments on the multiple martinis Naomi drank at lunch and how drunk she must have been, Rory’s frustration at Naomi’s inconsistence results in her yelling “She’s a drunk!” It’s easy to see Naomi’s drinking as problematic since she resembles a comfortable archetype of what someone with a drinking problem looks like: she drinks multiple cocktails throughout the day, gets drunk and says embarrassing things, and is know around town as a lush.

The blatant drunkenness and the scorn Naomi receives hides the reality that drinking problems are often more nuanced and go undetected. The drinking that Rory, Lorelei, and Emily partake in aren’t on Naomi’s level of mid-day drunkenness, but still show worrisome signs. These signs should have been addressed in the show, telling audiences that you don’t have to be five martinis deep at lunch to have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

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