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I Was a Featured Speaker at Gilmore Girls Fan Fest 2018

Design by Sam Oldshue.

I found out about Gilmore Girls Fan Fest while serving, in August, on Appalachian Trail Support Crew for FOOT, a pre-orientation backpacking program for first-years at Yale. We –– the four people charged with handling emergencies in the backcountry –– were stationed in Kent, Connecticut, and it was while perusing Yelp on a desperate quest for a bagel that I discovered that the town hosts a gathering for Gilmore Girls fans in October. I didn’t know much about the show at the time, but I’d seen enough episodes to gather that it was a heartwarming mother-daughter sitcom set in a fictional Connecticut small town. Kent, with its artisanal cheese shop and hockey-powerhouse boarding school, seemed like the perfect place for fans. I imagined being back in Kent in autumn, surrounded by women who love Melissa McCarthy, and I realized : I needed to go. Gilmore Girls Fan Fest was going to be like the magical feminist utopia island from Wonder Woman, if Wonder Woman were written by Martha Stewart.

After snagging The New Journal’s approval, I sent an email to the coordinators of GGFF asking for a press pass. This is where things got complicated: I was granted the pass (huge–– tickets to the festival were about $250), but I was also asked if I could lead a panel on “writing for the news.”

If you aren’t familiar with Gilmore Girls, you may wonder, “Now, why would they want you, of all people, to do that?” Good question. Rory Gilmore, one of the show’s two protagonists, goes to Yale with journalistic ambitions and eventually becomes Eeditor-in-Cchief of the Yale Daily News. When I confessed to the festival’s director that I not only did not write for the News, but had never written a story for any Yale publication at all, she told me not to worry and to lead the panel anyway. She did request that, if possible, I bring a friend from the YDN.

I found the ideal man for the job in the form of Eamonn Smith, a good friend and novice reporter for the News. Eamonn knew even less about Gilmore Girls than I did, which I thought might make me seem like the more authoritative panelist. When Eamonn and I showed up at the Festival’s administrative offices early Friday morning, I realized for the first time what, exactly, I had gotten myself into. One of the first interactions we had was with a volunteer, who, upon learning we were press from Yale, exclaimed, “Look! It’s Rory and Logan!” (Logan is Rory’s Yale boyfriend to whom Eamonn bears a passing resemblance. Eamonn: “Who’s Logan?”) I was delighted at being compared to the inarguably hot Alexis Bledel, who plays Rory, but I also realized in that moment that I had agreed to spend two-and-a-half days in a small town overrun by fanatical devotees of a show I’d barely watched. A massive tent served as the festival’s epicenter, but events were held throughout Kent’s quaint downtown. In the restaurants and the public library and behind the firehouse were the attendees: just over a thousand people, who were, by one volunteer’s estimate, 90 percent women, mostly wearing shirts I did not understand: “TEAM ROBERT” and “babette ate oatmeal.”

Sometimes, you just gotta bite the bullet––or in this case, the strawberry balsamic ice cream made by the costume designer for Gilmore Girls. I kicked off Friday afternoon with a debate on Rory’s best boyfriend (someone named “Jess” won), then moved on to a trivia game in which I embarrassed myself by with my abysmal knowledge of the Supreme Court. (The question was,: “Which real-life Supreme Court justice was in the Puffs?” The Puffs = an all-female secret society at Rory’s elite high school. For some reason, the only name I could think of was Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Incorrect—it was Sandra Day O’Connor. Good look for me, already the least-useful person at the table.)

My favorite event was a “photo opportunity” with actors Tanc Sade and Nick Holmes, who played Logan’s Yale friends, members of his fictional secret society, The Life and Death Brigade. Two of the biggest stars in attendance, they’d appeared in fifteen and five episodes, respectively, and I’d never heard of either of them. Still, the attendees treated them like gods. And I’m not one to judge: I once handed Glee actor Darren Criss a nine-page fanfiction I had written about him having coffee with Daniel Radcliffe and Harry Potter.

During the photo opportunity at the local antique store, I positioned myself on the steps outside with a cup of French onion soup and watched. Sade, tall and sporting a bowler hat, and Holmes, whose own Instagram bio describes him as “wildly handsome,” were observational gold. 

While Sade spent a lot of time fending off female attention — to a woman wearing a shirt that read, “My ideal weight is Tanc Sade on top of me,” Sade, in his admittedly charming Australian accent, said, “Wow, that’s great! I should get one for my fianceè!” — Holmes spent a lot of time encouraging it. On Saturday night, at the cast panel, Holmes estimated he had kissed seventeen attendees on the mouth. I had witnessed one kiss that morning and literally did a double-take. Later, I learned through by scrolling through Instagram photos taken at the festival that Holmes not only kissed his fans (passionately and consensually) but also took naked pictures of (at least one of) them. When not acting, Holmes is an “empowerment photographer,” specializing in black-and-white, bare-chested shots of women. At least one of these scantily-clad photoshoots featuring a scantily-clad fan took place at the festival itself. But a woman I interviewed — who was tagged in one of Holmes’ Instagram posts labeled #GGFF— declined to tell me where, exactly, the photo had been taken. (The Instagram account on which Holmes shares the photos, @narcissusholmes, boasts 16.6 thousand followers; a second account, @nickholmeshair, devoted strictly to his hair, has 773. On each account, Holmes’ bio includes the words “In omnia paratus,” the Life and Death Brigade motto, which means “ready for all things.”)

There’s no denying that the Gilmore Girls fans know how to party. I was initially nervous about finding people to hang out with, since Eamonn was decidedly uninterested in staying overnight, but festival attendees were unfailingly kind to me. A chef and her fifteen-year-old daughter took me out to dinner. At Club Getaway, a retreat center and summer camp where many fans and I slept, I shared breakfast with seventeen-year-old Malika and, twenty-three-year-old Lexi, and their mothers. Malika and Lexi had been inspired by a scene in which Rory and the Life and Death Brigade “boys” jump off a large platform holding umbrellas. As luck would have it, Club Getaway was also home to a ropes course that included a thirty-five-foot platform, and the affable man who ran it let Lexi and Malika jump off with their umbrellas (and, of course, bungee cords). I also jumped off, though not with an umbrella, because a) I didn’t have one and b) I was worried it would somehow get tangled in the bungee cord, resulting in my tragic death at Gilmore Girls Fan Fest.

But for me, the key moment of the festival came during our “Journalism at Yale” panel, which quickly turned into a “Yale” panel, possibly because it became clear that nobody onstage knew that much about journalism. We got quite a range of questions, from “Are secret societies real?” to “How much did the YDN investigate the allegations leveled against Brett Kavanaugh?” The more I talked about Yale, the more I wished, for the first time, that my life were more like Rory’s, if only to please the audience. When a woman approached me after the panel and asked if I had a boyfriend, I wanted to say that I did, but that his billionaire father thought my family was trash, as befalls Rory. It turned out the woman was asking on behalf of her son, whom she pointed out to me, standing across the room and apparently unaware of his mom’s audacious matchmaking attempt. When I said I didn’t really want to start something at Gilmore Girls Fan Fest, his mom said, cuttingly, “He’s too young for you anyway.”

That incident aside, I’ll be earnest: it’s a strange thing, realizing that your reality is someone else’s fantasy. The Monday after the festival, I gave a mini-tour of campus to two young women and one of their husbands. I’d met the women at trivia (they roasted me about the Supreme Court thing), and found myself more or less bursting with pride to show them my school. “Look!” I said, pointing at Branford. “It’s Rory’s college!” This is something I would have never said five days earlier.

I dropped them off on Hillhouse Avenue, a street I get to see every day and that Mark Twain apparently said was one of the most beautiful in the world. On my way back to my dorm, I stepped on a dead squirrel. But even that seemed like something the glamorous-but-occasionally-world-weary Rory might do, and thus—extremely desirable.

—Lily Dodd is a sophomore in Silliman College.

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