In terms of news, the Gilmore Girls reunion held at the Austin Television Festival on Saturday, June 6, didn’t offer much. (You can watch the reunion here.) Series star Lauren Graham suggested that she felt Luke and Lorelai — the show’s central star-crossed couple — probably got married eventually, while creator Amy Sherman-Palladino said there’s nothing actively in the works in terms of a movie or new season of the beloved small-town dramedy.
But news wasn’t really the point of the reunion. Instead, it was a chance at a slight do-over for Gilmore Girls’ disappointing series finale. Almost the entire former cast (save for the deceased Edward Herrmann and the otherwise occupied Melissa McCarthy and Sean Gunn) gathered on stage to bask in the adulation and excitement of the audience.
What struck me most while sitting in the crowd was how different this Gilmore Girls reunion was from almost every other nostalgia-tinged event I've attended. For the most part, we still code pop culture nostalgia as male, but this event was full of enthusiastic, happy women — and hundreds more had been turned away at the door. That shift in focus was a welcome change.
Nostalgia is not exclusively for men — but Hollywood acts like it is
It feels a little silly and reductive to say, "Women get nostalgic, too!" but it sometimes seems as if the pop culture industrial complex (of which I am a member) completely rejects this notion. Almost all of the nostalgia-fueled properties out there in the pop culture sphere right now — including nearly every big-budget blockbuster released this summer — are centered on the adventures and exploits of men.
That’s one reason Mad Max: Fury Road was hailed as hugely feminist, when, really, the film’s "feminism" boiled down to the suggestion that women might have hopes and dreams of their own, separate from those of men. In terms of feminist storytelling, that’s a very low bar to clear, but it provides a good sense of how dire things can seem in the marketplace for stories about women.
This male-skewed nostalgia extends to lots of events where Hollywood pumps up its biggest blockbusters. San Diego Comic-Con, for instance, has gotten better about being welcoming to women even in the time that I’ve been attending it (since 2009). But the convention still skews heavily male, and its biggest venue, the cavernous Hall H, is filled with trailers for movies that will also skew heavily male.
Don’t get me wrong — women can enjoy dumb action blockbusters as much as I enjoy romantic comedies. None of us are so narrowly defined by our gender stereotypes. But Hollywood marketing often behaves as if that's the case, as if the only properties in its vaults worth bringing back to life are the ones that platoons of men might dutifully march off to consume.
There are a lot of obvious problems with nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. It coasts on previous emotion, and it’s too often cheap. But it’s also a powerful experience to sit in a room filled with fans of a property and feel as if you’re part of a community of like-minded individuals. So why does Hollywood so often relegate this experience solely to men?
The Gilmore Girls reunion was a tribute to the power of women's nostalgia
This is where the Austin TV Festival comes in. ATX (as it’s called by its attendees) is one of the few events out there that specifically mines the nostalgia of women and, even more specifically, a generation of women who spent lots of time watching the long-gone WB network (which aired Gilmore Girls, Dawson’s Creek, and Buffy, among others) as teenagers and college students.
Take Gilmore Girls. Where else would a full-scale reunion of the show's cast even be attempted? Increasingly, Los Angeles’s annual PaleyFest — the only American TV festival of any real size — focuses on what’s currently on the air, and Gilmore Girls ended in 2007. A reunion certainly wouldn’t play at Comic-Con, where the focus is more on sucking all the nutrients out of geek-friendly properties. No, ATX has found a thriving, profitable niche.
The thing about Gilmore Girls is that it’s specifically about the women who love it — women who are young and college-educated and affluent enough to attend a TV festival and, yes, usually white. It's about relationships between mothers and daughters, or grandmothers and granddaughters, and the men on the show are mostly there to be love interests or wise grandpas.
It’s not that men or others outside the core audience can’t like the show; indeed, it’s one of my favorite TV shows ever made. But it gains that much more power when the viewer can look at, say, bookish, whip-smart teenager Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) and say, "Hey, that’s me up there."
Nostalgia is never just nostalgia for the thing you loved. It’s nostalgia for the person you were, the person who followed Rory and her mother, Lorelai, from high school to college, while making similar moves. It’s about celebrating what you loved and mourning the person you’re not anymore.
If a Gilmore Girls movie is ever made, chances are slim that it will be any good. (Dozens of previous sequels and reboots and remakes back me up on this.) But the value of a reunion for the show is that it lets us live in a world, if only for a night, where the nostalgia factory isn’t endlessly driven by the same seven or eight things, by the assumption that everybody who misses their childhood and adolescence is a man.