Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What Gilmore Girls Taught Me About True Community

If you have never watched Gilmore Girls or Bunheads, television series created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, then this post is not for you. Actually, you must go directly to your television and watch an episode or two or are missing out on one of life's treats.

I adore both of these shows for their fast-talking, witty, wacky, and memorable characters - in fact, I love them so much that I sometimes dream of what it would be like to actually live in Stars Hollow or Paradise. Life is simpler there, more charming, less chaotic, friendlier...I could walk to work!

It occurred to me that the reason I love Amy's depiction of small-town life is that she is portraying a beautiful image of "community."

For most of us the word "community" has lost its charm. Some of our towns have "community centers" where they hold zumba classes or computer skills for seniors. We like to land on the "community chest" in Monopoloy, although it has no real connection with our every day life. We are told, in Christian circles, that "community" is a value to hold dear, but (for me) I have rarely seen it played out as beautifully as it has been in Amy Sherman-Palladino's made-for-tv towns.

Here are a few things Ms. Palladino has taught me about this highly desirable and rarely discovered value:

1. It is an idealized notion. Notice that both of the town names, Stars Hollow and Paradise, are imaginative and ethereal. They hint at a heavenly notion of what "community" could look like. They are a dream of a small town where everybody is cool, nobody is bored, and people care deeply about one another.They are small without being stagnant. They are not real - but are what we wish a community could be.

2. Her communities are made up of quirky individuals. One thing that I most love about these shows is that the characters are carefully designed to be delightfully abnormal. In Gilmore Girls, you have a diner-owner who is literally stuck in the past and a dance-studio teacher who used to be a show girl. You have an obsessive-compulsive town councilman and a wacky neighbor obsessed with cats. Rory's best friend, Paris, is an extremely driven, compulsive, over-achiever.

But, my best example, the running joke in the show, is the character of Kirk. He is consumed by night terrors, a political wannabe, scared to leave his mom, and annoyingly intrusive. Yet, instead of making these odd people repulsive, Amy weaves them together and makes each one important to the whole.

When Scripture talks about the church as a "community", it reminds us that we are called to be one body - but we are not each the same part of that body. The eye, for example, is not the foot. Amy seems to agree. Kirk is needed, but he does not play the same part as Rory, or Luke. Each is important.

3. They have cross-generational conversations. One of the weaknesses of our present-day notion of community is that we divide everybody into groups according to age. We have women's groups, senior's groups, children's church, a high school group. In Stars Hollow and Paradise, the adults interact with the teens and play into their lives. The older generation is constantly challenged by their younger neighbors. We need this! It is good to get together - to inform one another, even when it is difficult and we don't see eye to eye.

4. They fight and forgive. These characters do not always get along. There are fights that explode in a moment - like the ongoing struggles between Luke and Taylor. Or, they are fights that extend for weeks and months, like the painful division between Rory and Lorelai. In Bunheads, I love how Michelle and Fanny - both of distinctly different generations - duke it out over issues of how to divide the inherited property and how to run the dance studio. One key aspect is that for every fight, there is the possibility of forgiveness. Characters have hard conversations, resolve their differences, and still love one another. Community does not mean that we always get along...we just know how to forgive.

5. They value their elders, history and traditions. Whenever someone in Stars Hollow dies or is near death, the whole town comes out to pay tribute. One man, who threatened to die every year, would invite the community to line up and say their "final" goodbyes. The older generation is not dismissed in these communities, it is cherished. Tradition is integral to the plot line. They hold traditional town meetings and attend annual festivals. They celebrate their historical heritage. They don't forget where they came from - they listen to the stories of those who have gone before them.

 6. They stick together and help one another. We live in an increasingly individualistic society. This fights against any hope of community. We often do not know our neighbors. I remember, on an evening walk, being surprised when an older man on a nearby block asked my husband to help him start his lawn mower.We have withdrawn from this old-fashioned notion that your neighbors are community. In Gilmore Girls, when Kirk needs a place to live the whole town rallies around and takes turn sheltering him. In Bunheads, when Sasha is in trouble and is losing her way, Michelle goes out of her way to find her and draw her back into the community.

7. They celebrate together. In the final episode of Gilmore Girls, they throw an enormous party for Rory's farewell and rain threatens to destroy the celebration. Led by Luke, the town literally sews a tent together to shelter the residents of Stars Hollow. This highly improbably act of joining together is a beautiful one. They are a true community, woven together, celebrating their quirks.

No wonder I want to move to Stars Hollow!

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