How Rory Gilmore and Other Television and Film Teens Helped Me get Through High School

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According to many, I am a millennial. I do not relate to most of what the media claims are traits held by millennials but this may be due to my “Older-millennial” status as I was born in 1985. While I did play Oregon Trail on an old Mac and possessed Giga Pets and Tamagotchis, my peers did not have cell phones in high school, save for a few rich kids, during senior year, who had old Nokias for emergencies. As a teenager, coming of age in this very specific moment in time, I had, in my opinion, the best role models that television and film had to offer. Going to school and making friends was not easy for me. In fact, most days of high school were spent faking sick so I could stay home. My anxiety was too high and all I wanted to do was sit on the couch and watch the much more interesting lives of characters who resided in the confines of The WB network or the teen films of the 80s and 90s that I had re-watched ad nauseam.

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Once while watching a rented copy of She’s All That, a film I had already seen a few time since its release, my mother asked why I enjoyed films about high school so much but hated going there for real. I couldn’t explain it to her as she was someone who looked back fondly at high school. She craved social gatherings and cared little about the academics, while I thrived in the books department but cringed at interacting with others. There was something magical about  Laney Boggs and Jake Stiler, just as there was something special about Kat and Bianca Stafford form 10 Things I Hate About You.

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While staying at home, I would re-watch recorded episodes of Dawson’s Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Felicity, Roswell, and Popular. If it was on The WB, it was almost impossible to escape my complete dedication. Though it may seem pathetic to be so entranced by fictional people, there was something comforting knowing that Joey Potter, Buffy Summers, and Felicity Porter would all be in my life each week. Even when the episodes were delayed for baseball games or presidential addresses, I knew that they would return. During a hiatus or summer break, I had my trusty videotapes that held six hours of recorded episodes each.

 

In the fall of 2000, I was fifteen-years-old and a sophomore in High School and it may have been my best semester in traditional high school ever. As a senior, I attended a Continuation school, but that sophomore year, I managed to attend most days, ace all of my tests and quizzes and even became part of the school newspaper and drama club. This was not simply a decision I made on my own accord, it was something I only attempted following the inspiration of my newest television role model, Rory Gilmore.

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Years before, I related to the bookish Joey, Felicity and Willow Rosenberg but Rory struck an even bigger chord. Not only did she love to read and write, but she was also exactly my age when the show aired and she shared a nearly identical dynamic with her mother as I did with mine. Just like Rory and Lorelai, My mother and I are best friends who speak at a speed that only confused others. Watching Rory fight her way through the new atmosphere of Chilton and succeed in spite of her somewhat outsider mentality, she made being nerdy desirable. This was before nerdiness was the coolest thing anyone could be. This was before Seth Cohen was considered a teen dream and comic book movies became mainstream. Rory spoke about literary characters and obscure films and music on a regular basis. Every cultural reference filled me with knowing elation. Walking those halls during my sophomore year, I felt confident and supported by my band of fictional, female misfits, even if they only accompanied me in spirit.

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After attending a continuation school where I became editor of the school newspaper, a very Rory Gilmore thing to do, I went to college. In college, something changed in me and I was able to branch out and make friends, real three-dimensional friends who existed outside of my 90s RCA television. Now in my early thirties, I pushed through high school, a Bachelor of Arts degree and Master of Arts degree, all in spite of the anxiety-filled school days of my younger self. To this day, even after being married, having two children, and making some fantastic friends, I still often revisit my old friends through dvds and Netflix. If it wasn’t for them, or film characters like Veronica Sawyer from Heathers, Watts from Some Kind of Wonderful or even Missy from Bring it On, I may have been lost in my own misfit status with no assurance that having different interests or having thoughts that may seem contrary to my schoolmates did not make me unlikable or destined to be alone. It merely made me believe that there was a real-life version of Pacey Witter, Lane Kim, Willow, Buffy, or Torrance out there somewhere, and I was right.

Having my children and partner with me most of the time helps me thrive and lessens my daily anxiety. Having so much support that doesn’t come from a screen helps, but I would be lying if I said that I don’t often return to the comforting world of 90s teen films and television. It’s become a part of me and always will be.

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