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Why Lane Kim Doesn’t Get the Worst Deal on Gilmore Girls

The first time I watched an episode of Gilmore Girls, I was fifteen. I had a terrible flu and I was laid up in bed with a piece of toast, a hot water bottle, a bunch of Vicks Vapodrops and a cup of cocoa, all of which were failing to make me feel any better. I tuned in to the episode late and so at first I was confused, mildly disoriented by the breakneck pace of the show’s dialogue and the complex, often low-key interpersonal drama that I couldn’t quite follow.

If I’m being completely honest, had there been anything else to watch that day other than Judge Judy I’d probably just have changed the channel. But there wasn’t and, slowly but surely, I found myself falling in love with Rory and Lorelai Gilmore and the sense of connectedness and possibility that seemed to permeate the lives they led in the sleepy town of Stars Hollow. Gilmore Girls was basically chicken soup for the soul in a TV show format — way more comforting than Vicks Vapodrops could ever be.

After that, there was no stopping me. I watched every single episode of the show and each winter, when the world seemed cold, dreary and void of hope, I returned to Gilmore Girls and watched it from start to finish to remind myself of just how sweetly complicated life could be.

And yet when I tell friends about my secret obsession with Gilmore Girls, they often laugh at me. It’s not the kind of show they can picture me being obsessed with. After all, I was never the girl who dreamed of a conventional career; I was always the girl who dreamed of beating her own path, of putting aside duties and limitations and becoming an ‘artist’. Usually, I smile when my friends mock my strange obsession and tell them that Rory has never been the character I truly identify with on Gilmore Girls — that would be Lane Kim.

Lane was Rory’s Korean-American friend who had an urgent, desperate passion for rock music. She wanted nothing more than to get as close as possible to it. The problem? Her extremely religious mother thought that rock music, donuts and Mars Bars were all signs of the devil and a corrupt society. Like Rory, Lane wanted to please her mother, but she also wanted to live for herself and fulfill her passions — and there was no way she could do that by going to 7th Day Adventist college and marrying a Korean doctor.

At first, Lane snuck around the militaristic Mrs. Kim, secretly learning to play the drums, start a band and organize shows — but of course her secret was eventually outed and and she was forced to navigate rocky territory and tons of conflict to renegotiate a relationship with her mother, who for all of their differences, she still really loved. Lane managed this with aplomb and while her band didn’t achieve overnight success, it did hit some incredible milestones, playing at CBGB and earning a not-insignificant amount of money while touring on the 7th Day Adventist Church circuit.

I’d be lying if I said that my experiences 100% dovetail with Lane’s — my parents have never told me that my writing was in any way related to devilry or social corruption, although my mother did once ask me if it was strictly necessary that I use the f-word so extensively — but I’d also be lying if I said that I wasn’t surprised to read Hannah Cooke’s article, claiming that Lane Kim got the worst deal on Gilmore Girls. Cooke contends that while the town of Stars Hollow encourages Rory’s intellectual pursuits, ‘it is never seriously suggested that Lane, who seems just as smart, driven and “can-do”, should aspire to a private school, Ivy League college or career outside of the town.’

Cooke is definitely onto something here — Lane’s ambitions are never treated as seriously as Rory’s and that is both problematic and indicative of the dismissive attitude that young women of color are met with in real life and in the media. But Lane Kim never wanted to go to Harvard, Yale or Princeton and I take issue with the idea that Stars Hollow should have stepped in to encourage her to do so. To drag Lane, kicking and screaming, away from her — admittedly half-baked — artists’ coming-of-age in order to throw her onto a more conventional path.

You see, part of the reason why I appreciate Lane Kim so much is that women from Asia — South or East — are almost never portrayed as artists in the media. In fact, our ability to be creative and socialize properly is often under attack. Newspapers are constantly running stories about tiger mothers who push their children to become rote-learners who may matriculate on to elite schools but, obviously, don’t truly have the ability to think and innovate. Asian teens are usually portrayed as overachievers, hot-housed, nerdy and devoid of passion or rebellion. We grow up to become analysts, doctors and scientists — but never writers, musicians and free spirits, despite the fact that Yoko Ono’s twitter account is glaring evidence of the fact that, well, it’s definitely possible to be Asian and artistic.

Lane’s decision not to pursue an Ivy League education is not depressing — it’s refreshing. The portrayal of a friendship where the Asian girl is the artistic kid and the white girl is the hot-housed kid is delightfully subversive. This is not to say that Cooke and other critics are not correct to bemoan Lane’s early motherhood and miserable early sex life — it will certainly be interesting to see how she’s handled both situations in the Gilmore Girls revival that will air on Netflix in November — it’s just to say aspects of her characterization are every bit in keeping with Gilmore Girls’ penchant for challenging stereotypes and being sneakily feminist. Lane might not get the best deal on Gilmore Girls, but her representation reads authentically — something that probably has a lot to do with the fact that she was based on Helen Pai, who produced many of the shows — and she’s a highly relatable character. 100% better off than Kirk.

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