Life Imitating Art

Rewatching the classic TV show Gilmore Girls reveals a jolting perspective on North Allegheny’s own culture.


graphic courtesy of NATV

Many funny but ultimately unfortunate parallels can be drawn between the obsessive competitive culture in fictional Stars Hollow and North Allegheny.

I’ve been watching and rewatching Gilmore Girls for years, the iconic comedic drama that ran from 2000-2007. It’s always been a wonderful constant in my life. It’s magical in a way that involves small-town charm, fast dialogue, and coffee addictions. 

Every next episode holds yet another unrealistic, although heartfelt, scenario that typically centers around a character completely overreacting or something insane going entirely wrong. I knew that every time I played an episode, I was in for forty minutes of refreshingly fun nonsense. There was a standard in the show, and it lay within its ridiculousness.

At least, that’s how it was until a few weeks ago, when I started rewatching the show as a junior at NASH. Suddenly, it felt like an all too real slap in the face. 

For those who don’t know, Gilmore Girls focuses on the friendship between single mom, Lorelai, and Rory, her teenage daughter. Rory’s lifelong dream has always been to attend Harvard, so when she gets a scholarship to Chilton, a prestigious private school full of the sons and daughters of millionaires and Ivy League alumni, she jumps at the opportunity.

The show comically overdramatizes the competitive, obsessive culture at the school. The stereotypical high school bullies are actually the super-intelligent, extremely talented kids who think they’re smarter than everyone else. 

In one episode, Rory gets a B on a paper and a group of mean girls say she’ll be working at McDonald’s for the rest of her life. In another instance, one student continuously mentions how he just returned from a gig on Broadway. A whole episode is dedicated to Rory freaking out about how she doesn’t have enough extracurriculars on her resume, despite being in ten different clubs.

To my surprise a few weeks, I recognized these situations, and the culture they’re representative of, in my daily life.

I’ve been in classrooms where doing perfectly fine on a test made me feel like I failed. “That test was so easy,” I remember one of my peers saying to his friend last year. “If you got a B, you shouldn’t be taking the class.”

I recall this so vividly because I got an 85% on that test, and overhearing those words did not feel good.

North Allegheny’s culture is comparable to a school on TV that is portrayed to be so competitive that it’s comedic.”

Several times, I’ve looked around and wondered if all my hard work even matters, because there always seems to be someone doing more. Similar to Rory, my extracurriculars don’t always feel sufficient compared to the students around me who win national contests and seem to have much more impressive resumes. 

It speaks to how weird the environment at North Allegheny is. It’s comparable to a school on TV that is portrayed to be so competitive that it’s comedic. In so many ways, that’s terrifying. 

I could write volumes on our school district’s culture, and I certainly have in the past. The reason is, I just thoroughly believe that it shouldn’t be like this. I know I shouldn’t feel so insignificant and plain and behind. 

I despise the fact that I’m so paranoid when it comes to my education. It’s as if I am compelled to always look over my shoulder and devise ways I can get ahead of the kids next to me. I hate that every success I have feels pointless in the grand scheme of things. 

It’s grueling, and it’s tiring, and it’s a fast-pass to burnout.

Granted, this all may be a self-inflicted problem, but it also seems universal. Even the kids who are ahead of everyone feel this way, and that points to the environment as the cause.

Optimistically, the whole NA experience— the superior education, the competitive climate— is preparing me for the future. Everything after high school will, theoretically, feel easier. 

Now, that may very well be true, but the logic has one flaw: I didn’t sign up for this.

It sounds spoiled, but when I’m stressed and exhausted, it’s a thought that occasionally crosses my mind. No one asked me if I wanted to be better equipped for college or my career. No one warned me that by attending a school like North Allegheny with my ambitious personality, I would spend my high school years full of worries and doubts. I was placed in this culture without knowing anything about it.

I can’t help but wonder if this culture deprived my classmates and me of those good years, and if it sent us right into all the stress that was supposed to be reserved for college and beyond.”

I am grateful for the education I receive here. I appreciate it every day when I attend my favorite classes, and, as often as I can, I thank my mom for giving me all these opportunities. I am so lucky, and most of the time, I enjoy coming to school, which is more than a lot of high schoolers can say. I usually am okay with paying the price for such quality schooling.

But I also think that these are supposed to be the fun years— the time before all the worry. I can’t help but wonder if this culture deprived my classmates and me of those good years, and if it sent us right into all the stress that was supposed to be reserved for college and beyond.

Rory signed up for Chilton. She sat down as a sixteen-year-old and made the decision to go to a challenging school, knowing all of the pros and cons.

I wish I’d had that choice. I probably would have made the same decision she did, but at least I would have known what I was walking into. At least then, if I would have chosen this path, I would have more faith that I can handle it.  Maybe that would make all these negative feelings seem much more worth it.

Years back, I liked using Gilmore Girls as an escape. The animated characters, fast conversations, and dramatic relationships brought me joy. I always wanted to be Rory — the girl who worked hard, chased her dreams, and achieved them. When I was feeling overwhelmed by school or anything else, I would turn to this show and find myself feeling inspired by a mother and daughter taking on the world, coffee in hand.

But realizing that the theatrics of Chilton aren’t all that fictional ruined some of the magic. It’s not fun to watch a show that mirrors your educational-existential dread. 

A couple of years ago, I may have laughed when a girl on the show said, “I need help. I got an A-minus! I’ve never gotten an A-minus before!” But now, I roll my eyes, knowing that I might hear something very similar in one of my classes the next day.