School Pageant

RORY: I had a school thing once, and I wasn’t sure if Mom would want to go so I didn’t invite her. It was my kindergarten “Salute to Vegetables” pageant and I was broccoli and I did a tap dance with a guy that was playing beets and the entire number I was just thinking, “Mom’s not here” and it was my fault that she wasn’t there and, well, it was kind of a life lesson for me.

We already know that Rory studied ballet with Miss Patty when she was a little girl, but apparently she did tap dancing even in kindergarten! I’m guessing Miss Patty also taught tap to the kindergarten class. In A Year in the Life, Rory takes up tap dancing again as a way to relieve stress.

Rory’s little anecdote about the school pageant is actually one of the more plausible things we hear about her childhood. Most things make her seem either too old for her age or too young, but it’s perfectly believable that the thoughtful young child of a single, working mother who’s a maid at an inn would be hesitant at asking her mother to come to a school pageant.

Little Rory would know how hard Lorelai works and that there’s no other parent to fall back on if she’s unavailable. I can imagine her feeling that a school pageant isn’t important enough to pull Lorelai out of work for, yet missing her horribly when the moment arrives, and seeing all the other mothers there.

The fact that she blamed herself entirely for the situation shows that even as a young child, she was already placing herself as the responsible person in the relationship with her mother, and taking on the parental role.

Woman Who Won the Lottery

LORELAI: I don’t know, didn’t they feed lead to our jumping frog or something?

RORY: Oh yeah, right after they stoned the woman who won the lottery.

Rory references the 1948 short story, “The Lottery”, by Shirley Jackson. Set on a beautiful summer day in an idyllic New England village (based on Jackson’s own home of Bennington, Vermont), the story tells of an annual ritual known as “the lottery”, an old tradition carried into modern times, and seemingly practised to ensure a good harvest.

People draw slips of paper from a box, and a wife and mother named Tessie Hutchinson eventually “wins” by drawing the marked piece of paper. The entire village begins stoning her to death as she screams of the injustice of the lottery – an injustice that only bothers her when she is the scapegoat marked for death.

The story was first published on June 26 in The New Yorker, and proved so unsettling at the time that The New Yorker received a torrent of letters, the most mail they ever received about a story. Jackson herself received about 300 letters about the story that summer, much of it abusive or hate mail. (Some asked where they could go to watch the “the lottery” take place!).

Since then, “The Lottery” has been analysed in every possible literary and sociological way, its careful construction and symbolism noted, and its themes linked with everything from mob mentality, the military draft, and the death penalty. It is one of the most famous stories in American literature, often reprinted in anthologies and textbooks, and has been adapted for radio, television, film, graphic novel, and even (to Shirley Jackson’s bafflement) a ballet.

Apart from being a short story often read for high school English classes, this seems like a story Rory would enjoy. She has a taste for dark and “gloomy” themes, and is a fan of American Gothic. Like Tessie, Rory is from an idyllic New England town, and has been singled out for special treatment – but in her case, it’s to be loved and glorified by the town.

The story reminds us that even the most charming small towns have a dark side, and that includes Stars Hollow. Rory is no doubt thinking of Jess, vilified and forced to leave because of a minor car accident. (The name Jess even sounds a bit like Tessie).

Giselle Gerard (Janet Hubert)

In this episode we meet Michel’s mother, Giselle, who is visiting from Paris. She and Michel adore each other, and are “best friends” mother and son, who love to tease and joke with each other, using a banter that sounds like something out of a Noel Coward play.

This makes them seem quite similar to Lorelai and Rory, who are also self-proclaimed “best friends” with a comic patter between them. Janet Hubert is only fourteen years older than Yanic Truesale, suggesting she is supposed to be a very young glamorous mother like Lorelai.

Michel addresses his mother by her first name at one point, and you can hear the French pronunciation of it – ZEE-ZEHL. Giselle may have possibly been named with the French ballet Giselle in mind, one of the world’s most popular classical ballets.

“Spastic polka”

LORELAI: I know, life with my mother, one step forward, five thousand steps back. It’s kinda like the spastic polka.

Spastic is an outdated term to describe people with cerebral palsy, a disorder often characterised by poor co-ordination, weak or stiff muscles, and tremors.

In America, using the words “spastic” or “spaz” to humorously describe awkwardness, clumsiness, hyperactivity, or nerdiness is not considered as shockingly offensive as it in other parts of the world. Lorelai’s comment here would be unacceptable in Britain, for example.

Polka [pictured] is a Czech folk dance which was all the rage in the mid-19th century – so much so that the phenomenon was called “polkamania”. Polka made a comeback after World War II, when many Polish refugees moved to the US. Lorelai and Rory own at least one CD of polka music.

Risky Business

LORELAI: Rory, you have to do something bad when Mommy’s out of town. It’s the law. You’re seen Risky Business, right? Now I’m not asking for a prostitution ring, but how about a floating craps game or something?

Risky Business, 1983 teen sex comedy written and directed by Paul Brickman, and starring Tom Cruise in his breakout screen role. The film is about a high-achieving high school student from Chicago whose parents leave him alone in the house while they go on a trip. In their absence, he ends up agreeing to let his parents’ house be used as a brothel for one night.

Risky Business was acclaimed by critics as a sharp, stylish satire that combines teen angst with snappy dialogue and some dark themes. It was the #10 film of the year at the box office, and is considered one of the best films of 1983. The scene of Tom Cruise dancing in his shirt and underwear to Bob Seger’s rendition of Old Time Rock and Roll has become iconic, and often recreated.

Fruit on Head, Conga Line

MICHEL: I mean, it’s just as possible I say I’ll cover the desk, and the moment you’ve stepped away I’ll put some fruit on my head and join a conga line somewhere.

A reference to the showgirls at the Copacabana nightclub in New York, in the style of Carmen Miranda, previously mentioned.

A conga line [pictured] is a novelty carnival dance from Cuba which became popular in the US in the 1930s. The dancers form a long procession in a line, with three shuffle steps, then a kick. It was mistakenly thought to be an African dance from the Congo, hence the name.

There was a conga line at the wedding reception for the twins Jessica and Jackie, which was held at the Independence Inn in “Kill Me Now”.

Sparklers, Kicks

LUKE: You don’t seem your chipper self.
LORELAI: I brought some sparklers. I’ll light them later and do some kicks.

Sparklers are small hand-held fireworks that give off bright coloured flames and sparks. They are especially popular with children, and are responsible for 16% of firework injuries in the US, and 57% of firework injuries in children.

Lorelai saying she’ll be doing some kicks while she holds sparklers sounds like a reference to The Rockettes, a precision dance company founded in 1925, and since 1932, based at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. They are famous for their high kicks, and especially known for both their Christmas show, and annual performance at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Luke immediately picks up on Lorelai’s low mood, and tries to cheer up by offering to play bagel hockey with her. He might act grumpy, but Luke doesn’t like seeing Lorelai unhappy, and his response is to try to return her to her normal chirpy disposition.

A-Tisket, A-Tasket

The episode is named for an English nursery rhyme, first recorded in the US in 1879 as a children’s game, to be sung while children danced in a circle. One child would run around the circle and drop a handkerchief; the nearest child to them would then pick it up and chase them. If caught, the child who dropped the handkerchief would either be kissed, join the circle, or had to confess the name of their sweetheart.

The rhyme was turned into a highly popular 1938 song by Ella Fitzgerald, in conjunction with Al Feldner (later known as Van Alexander). It has since become a jazz standard, often used in film and television soundtracks.

The lyrics to the rhyme are usually given as:

A-tisket, a-tasket
A green and yellow basket
I wrote a letter to my love
And on the way I dropped it,
I dropped it, I dropped it,
And on the way I dropped it.
A little boy he picked it up
And put it in his pocket.

It’s suitable for an episode all about baskets, romance, and miscommunication. The episode will also include something being dropped that a “little boy” picks up.

Lap Dance, Ping-Pong Ball

MICHEL: Well, you’ve tried to convince them of your virtue, perhaps it’s time to offer them a lap dance … You know in Thailand, women do this trick with a Ping-Pong ball that is a big crowd pleaser.

Lap dance: An erotic dance performed at strip clubs where the dancer, who may be nude or topless, has body contact with a seated client, grinding in his lap. They have been around since the 1970s, and are legal in Connecticut – apparently Hartford is known in some circles for being extremely relaxed and tolerant in this regard.

Ping-pong show: Michel refers to a type of entertainment performed in some strip clubs, where women use their pelvic floor muscles to expel objects from their vagina. Although a variety of objects can be used, ping-pong balls are the iconic choice. They are common in Thailand, where they are performed for tourists. Human rights concerns have been raised with the practice, and it has been denounced as inherently misogynistic and racist.