Do Not Believe Everything You Hear on TV

Do not believe everything you hear on TV: that probably goes without saying, right? And there are a lot of intelligent shows out there, so it’s annoying when those shows get their facts incorrect. As much as it pains me to criticize my absolute favorite show in existence – Gilmore Girls – I have to. (If you are not a fan of Gilmore Girls, sorry! Please pardon my obsession.)

Quick background: the show centers on the relationship of mother and daughter, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, with a colorful cast of characters in the fictional, idealistic small town of Stars Hollow, CT. Lorelai is a single mother who had Rory when she was 16, and has since worked her way up to managing a historic inn in the town. Come Season 4, Lorelai and her business partner, Sookie, are working towards opening their own inn, which will be a renovation of another historic inn, The Dragonfly. The characters are portrayed as intelligent and witty (as well as entertaining). A fun bit of trivia: much of Gilmore Girls is filmed on the Hollywood back lot called “Midwest Street”, built in the mid 1940s for movies such as Saratoga Trunk. (That fact explains the look of the streetscape and even the interiors of the houses.)

My criticism for Gilmore Girls occurs in Season 4, Episode 4, “Chicken or Beef?”.  In this episode, Lorelai is planning to start construction on The Dragonfly the following Monday, until she receives a letter from Taylor Doose (who is pretty much every official in town, but in particular, he is involved with the Stars Hollow Historical Preservation Society). A “cease and desist” letter orders Lorelai and Sookie to stop work on The Dragonfly, a historic building in town, until the proper permits have been followed. It read as:

“Dear Lorelai Gilmore, it has come to the attention of the Stars Hollow Historical Preservation Society that you and Miss Sookie St. James intend to commence construction on the Dragonfly Inn. Any proposed renovations must be submitted, discussed, and approved by the Stars Hollow Historical Preservation Society. We must therefore ask that all work halt until such time that this procedure has been followed. Thank you, and have a historical day.” [Lorelai:] Is he kidding?

That part makes sense, of course. However, the exchange between Lorelai and Taylor makes a mockery out of proper procedures.

LORELAI: Listen, Taylor, while I have you here, um, I received this letter in the mail, and I’m having kind of a blond day, and I wonder if you could explain this to me.
TAYLOR: Well, it says you have to get approval before you can start construction on the inn.
LORELAI: That’s what I thought it said. Well, I have to tell you, Taylor, I’m a little concerned because we have a construction crew coming Monday, so. . .yikes.
TAYLOR: Well, the Dragonfly is a historical building, Lorelai.
LORELAI: Yeah, but the whole town is a historical building, Taylor. I mean, George Washington ate, slept, or blew his nose all over the damn place.
TAYLOR: He only blew his nose in the park. You’ve read the sign.
LORELAI: Taylor, that inn needs love. It’s falling down. Sookie and I have no intention of ruining its historical aspect. We’d just like some running water.
TAYLOR: Running water was not always historical.
LORELAI: You’re not seriously telling me I can’t put in running water?
TAYLOR: I’m just telling you, there are rules and they have to be followed.
LORELAI: Fine. What do I have to do to get the Historical Preservation Society’s stamp of approval?
TAYLOR: Well, a formal presentation is necessary.
LORELAI: Uh-huh. When?
TAYLOR: Uh, any town function or gathering is open to a presentation, Lorelai.
LORELAI: Okay, so, like, the town meeting tonight?
TAYLOR: If you like.
LORELAI: The town meeting it is.

I find it hard to believe that a well regarded businesswoman who is highly involved in town affairs and has already operated a historic inn would not know the proper procedures to follow. As if getting permits for a historic building is something extra and annoying. I’m sure I’ve seen this episode more times than you care to know, but it didn’t really bother me until just the other day. And then this part, when the Preservation Society was taking their walk-through of the property really made preservation look ridiculous:

TAYLOR: Lorelai, consultation, please.
LORELAI: Okay.
TAYLOR: This porch is falling apart.
LORELAI: I know.
TAYLOR: It’s got live termites.
LORELAI: Big, fat ones.
TAYLOR: It’s a safety hazard.
LORELAI: It’s the first thing to go.
TAYLOR: To go? This porch can’t go.
LORELAI: I’m sorry, Taylor. You just said it’s falling apart.
TAYLOR: I didn’t tell you to tear it down. It’s historical. It has to stay.
LORELAI: No, no, the porch is not historical, Taylor. It was added in 1980.
TAYLOR: So?
LORELAI: So it’s a 23-year-old porch. Unless you think Kate Hudson is historical, it’s not historical.
TAYLOR: Not now, but how do you think we get historical 200-year-old structures if we tear ‘em down when they’re just 23?
LORELAI: Uh, it’s rotting away.
TAYLOR: Which just means that your guests can’t walk on it.
LORELAI: So they should hover over it?
TAYLOR: No, you could build a bridge over it, using appropriate materials, of course.
LORELAI: A bridge?
TAYLOR: Or you could build a transparent Lucite porch over this porch, so people could walk on the Lucite porch and see the old porch underneath the new porch.
LORELAI: Build a clear plastic porch over the rotting wood porch?
TAYLOR: With the proper permits, of course, and those are hard to come by.

Seriously? Let’s just spread the false idea that nothing can ever be demolished and that we save absolutely everything, historic or not, safe or not.

Historic preservation gets a bad enough reputation as it is; we don’t need false information being spewed to the millions of people watching television because the show writers were too lazy to get their facts straight. Granted, TV is always exaggerated and this conversation could have happened between some people, but, still. I found it disheartening that my favorite show bashed historic preservation.

What do you think?

Trivia: The Dragonfly Inn, the building, was used in the 1970s as the Waltons’ home. Note: You can find the transcript and these pulled quotes here. See images of the set of The Dragonfly.

Do any of your favorite shows bash historic preservation? I imagine medical professionals must be infuriated by all of the misinformation given to the audiences, especially to those of us whose only basis for medical knowledge is excessive watching of Scrubs. But, see my point? It would be nice if media meant for the masses could be accurate.

I have this mug. See? I told you I was obsessed. It can't be helped.

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16 thoughts on “Do Not Believe Everything You Hear on TV

  1. That’s annoying. It makes me sad when shows or people portray “historic preservation” as a bad thing. When really it doesn’t work that way and it portrays preservationists as unreasonable, stuffy people who just want to save everything… when in reality a lot of things are not saved and in fact get destroyed. We also realize you don’t need to save everything…

  2. It’s one thing if they approach historic preservation seriously and seriously discuss the issues–even if they end up on the other side, at least you feel it’s had a fair hearing. But this isn’t a fair hearing, it’s just weird outlandish propaganda, and for what purpose? Shows that rely on making other characters look stupid so that their main characters look smart just aren’t being true to strong narrative and deep characterization.

    • ELMalvaney, nice to see you around here! Have you seen Gilmore Girls? I’d recommend it. Generally Gilmore Girls is very true to the narrative and characterization, but of course there are some inconsistencies. It really bugs me when this show or others try to set up a real life situation, but end up getting their facts wrong, whether it be a procedure for a historic commission review or the college application process. I hate when my favorite show lets me down!

  3. I loved that episode and especially that exchange about the porch and the need for a Lucite bridge! I never took it as bashing historic preservation — I took it as bashing Taylor — who takes EVERYTHING to an extreme. Remember the one where he wanted to open a town museum in the old mansion? And how awful the result? I never took that as bashing museums — just poking some fun at those awful “museums” you find on the backroads devoted to the local snail or things you can do with corn cobs…)

    These exchanges make fun of Taylor, who rules the town with a wacky iron fist, and the town itself, which seems to love to complain about Taylor and all his crazy rules. (Remember the time he wanted to revert to “historic” street names, and they got “Boils and Pustules Lane”? (or something like that.) That was a kooky subplot running through the entire episode — but I doubt anyone took that serious as a bashing of attempts to preserve cultural heritage.

    What do the flamingos think?

    • Ah, another Gilmore Girls fan. Yay! I see your points about the dialogue. I do know the episodes about the Stars Hollow Museum and the street names. Those I did not find insulting. However, I still think that the review by the historical commission exchanges was written poorly. This may be because it seems like a more believable issue to the general public than, say, street name changes.

      In Burlington, there are many current issues with historic homes and maintaining/repairing original fabric (mostly windows) instead of replacing them. And some residents are up in arms with the Planning & Zoning Commission and the Historic Preservation Review Committee. The local paper often writes articles that are anti-preservation and they never bother to get accurate information (calling up to UVM is apparently too much trouble).

      Well, this is a long way of saying, I can imagine some giant misunderstanding like this in Burlington, or more likely, a contorted interpretation by the paper that ends up saying the historic preservationists want lucite bridges over new porches. Aye aye aye.

  4. And on the “We don’t need to save everything” line … it’s good to hear you say that. In trying to develop our little street in Aberdeen, we have run into a lot of well-intentioned but misinformed “preservationists” who truly seem to think everything OLD is inherently more valuable and generally better than anything NEW. Obviously, there’s a balance.

    • thanks Jennifer! I do my best to provide good information and consider all sides of preservation. I’m curious as to what your misinformed “preservationists” want to save. A good rule of thumb for what should be saved is a property listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (or State Register). How to determine that is based on National Register criteria … perhaps a discussion of eligible and significant would be good for a post – to give context to those who aren’t trained preservationists. Thoughts?

  5. Great post! I love Gilmore Girls too, and like you have all the DVDs… though I don’t have that mug!

    Unfortunately there are people like this all over, taking preservation to an extreme, give the rest of us a bad name!

  6. Another Gilmore Girls fanatic! (I’m pretty much constantly marathoning the entire series.) I’m so glad you brought this episode up! As a preservationist it always makes me chuckle a little bit. While it does send some mixed messages about preservation, I agree with Sabra that it is more about the extremes Taylor goes to and not so much bashing preservationists. If anything, it is a cautionary tale for us as preservationists to stay within reason when looking at restoration (read: no clear lucite porches).

    It is interesting to note that the “Dragonfly” itself might be considered preservation, as this is the same building (at least the exterior) that was home to The Waltons (and others I’m sure). As mentioned, Gilmore Girls was filmed on the famous Warner “Main Street” lot which has been used for countless TV and films throughout the years…at least we know the studio is on our side!

  7. Pingback: Preservation in Pop Culture « Preservation in Pink

  8. Pingback: Town Meeting Day « Preservation in Pink

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