Monthly Archives: December 2014

Discussion of Marxist Theory and Emotional Labor in Gilmore Girls

“Karl Marx has come alive for me today…”

Paris Geller

As a sociology professor, I have to say I loved the episode of Gilmore Girls calledWe’ve Got Magic to Do” in Season 6. Since Netflix released all of the seasons, I’ve been tearing through them quickly, as I missed the show when it was first on. It’s a fabulous show for discussing both gender and social class politics with a dash of commentary on race and ethnicity.

The core interpersonal conflict of the show is between Lorelai Gilmore and her wealthy parents, Emily and Richard Gilmore. Years prior to the beginning of the show, sixteen year-old Lorelai rejected and fled from her parents upper class life with her newborn, Rory. When the show begins, Rory is the same age as her mother when she ran away. Rory aspires to attend Harvard.  Lorelai, who is managing a successful inn, requests help from her estranged parents to help pay for Rory attend a prestigious, private, prep school.

Rory attends the school and winds up attending Yale, her grandfather’s alma mater, instead of Harvard.  When at private school, she meets Paris Geller, an intense, wealthy, young woman.  Over time, one learns that Paris rarely sees her parents at all, and she is essentially raised by her Portugese nanny, whom she loves. While attending Yale, there is a point where wealthy Paris losses everything due to her parents committing tax evasion.  Rory, who is running a benefit for the Daughters of the American Revolution, offers her a job to help. The theme is a United Service Organization event, explaining the setting and the costumes.  Paris works as a server, and she explains and supports Marxism in this short scene.  Her sudden fall though the social classes allows her to move past some of her social class privilege to understand and identify with the workers. This scene would be great to supplement a discussion on Marxism in an intro class. Paris notes that it isn’t right that the wealthy become rich off the backs of the laborers. Near the end of the clip, she asks how much Rory is getting paid to do this and speculates that Rory gets to eat in a separate place from the other workers.

Rory is also having social class related woes due to her boyfriend being from an extremely powerful and wealthy newspaper family.  In the past, his mother rejected Rory as not good enough to date her son due to Rory’s family and “lower” status. Therefore, when his mother arrives to the function late, she expects good treatment, despite not RSVPing. Rory is frustrated that her boyfriend’s mother can just waltz in, and she yells in the kitchen that she hates her.  In the end, though, Rory performs emotional labor and provides the wealthy woman with a table.  This makes several great points: (1) the rich aren’t subject to the same rules or laws, (2) working class and middle class people have to manage their emotions when it is clear that the wealthy do not have to do the same labor, and (3) the back-stage is a safer place for workers to discuss their ire towards the wealthier patrons who dehumanize hem. This episode illustrates Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis quite well, in addition to Hochschild’s emotional labor.  Finally, Rory minimizes her experiences at the end of the clip saying that she’s just hungry.  This takes an individual analysis of the situation, as opposed to the structural analysis that Paris takes. This invalidation of Rory’s feelings is disturbing, and it relates to the idea that emotional labor may come at a high cost for workers including alienation.

The entire episode would be great for a discussion in a sociology class about topics like social class, capital, alienation, commodity fetishism, prestige, Karl Marx, the means of production, the proletariat, the power elite, Marxist revolution, etc. I might analyze the series more fully later, as there are many scenes and episodes dealing with inequality.

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Filed under Sociology, TV Show Reviews