Spoilers of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life below.
In Gilmore Girls, Rory Gilmore graduated as the valedictorian of Chilton, a prestigious high school, where she wrote articles for the Franklin. As the winner of the chastity challenge, she received college acceptance letters from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Upon reflection, she rejected her Harvard dream and instead attended her grandfather’s alma mater, Yale, a university close to home and even more prestigious than her high school. At Yale, she was the editor in chief of the Yale Daily News, and she graduated with a degree in journalism. If the world still treated credentials as guarantees, Rory would be doing great.
What happened to Stars Hollow's brightest, Rory Gilmore?In Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, almost a decade after graduating from Yale, Rory in her early thirties has experienced some success, having published freelance articles in the Atlantic, Slate, and the New Yorker. Yet, the New Yorker article that represents her journalistic career's apex is short enough to fit onto the back of a menu at Luke's Diner and of such vague significance that its content remains undiscussed. Much like her high school and college diploma, Rory treats her New Yorker article as another credential to flout.
Despite her modest successes, Rory’s career is going badly. She has no full-time job and few options. Her attempt to write a biography for the British crazy rabbit Naomi Shropshire ends abruptly. She does not express any plans to start a business or otherwise grow her journalistic reputation through blogs or other personal initiatives. She is in a 30-something rut without a gang.
The dramatic divide between her prospects and her circumstances makes one wonder: what happened to Stars Hollow's brightest, Rory Gilmore?
A short-cut fictional answer is loosely just "I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way." Since leaving Yale, Rory has not had drug abuse or other serious life issues that explain her minuscule success. Her one encounter with the criminal injustice system after stealing a yacht led to a moderate amount of community service instead of a felony conviction with years of incarceration because, unlike more disadvantaged criminals, the criminal injustice system often treats wealthy, well-connected people like the Gilmores and the Huntzbergers relatively leniently. Without an oppressive state or other notable life obstacles, Rory should be doing much better than she is– but drawing her successful would not make her story as interesting.
Nevertheless, albeit exaggeratedly, Rory's unsuccessful journalistic career illustrates the education system’s shortcomings. Receiving a piece of paper from a university no longer guarantees success as a growing number of degrees reduce their incremental value and as technological changes make personal aptitude more significant.
Generic Credentials and Specialized Journalism
Due to the increasing number of college graduates, the signaling value of Rory’s degree has fallen compared to prior decades. Without the privilege of signaling, Rory has to apply directly what she learned in the education system to have a promising journalism career. Unfortunately for her, the education system from kindergarten through college focuses on generic aptitude rather than fostering any particular talents, neglecting to provide her with a more career-centered education. However fondly she may remember her generic classes, even unique ones like her music class Composition and Theory, she entered the workforce in her early twenties with degrees but no specializations and felt lost in a world that expects economic value.
Rory missed that the rules of economic exchange guide employers and shape careers.Though she has read Ayn Rand and learned of Milton Friedman through her grandfather, Rory largely missed that people only engage in economic exchanges when they receive greater value than they pay. She has not appreciated how this economic insight guides employers and shapes careers.
To be a highly-valued journalist, Rory must distinguish herself from other people. Credentials such as a college degree, or particularly a Yale degree, might differentiate her at the beginning of her career. But to continue forward, she has to specialize in something valuable, finding a niche in which her unique skills build her a valuable reputation.
As she has journalistic ambitions, consider other well-known journalists and what words come to mind when hearing their names:
Christiane Amanpour (Rory's idol) – foreign affairs and wars
Glenn Greenwald – civil liberties and foreign policy
Rush Limbaugh – Republican and conservative thought
Ta-Nehisi Coates – racism and African-American race relations
Jon Stewart – progressive political satire
(My list of journalists reflects my biased interests. Consider other journalists who specialize in sports or fashion or other interested niches for comparable results.)
People may like or dislike these journalists because of their reputations. Regardless of the feelings evoked, they have reputations because of their specialized niches. Somebody interested in such a perspective or topic would actively seek out these journalists to hear their thoughts because of their specializations. They create unique economic value because, instead of grasping for everything as the education system taught them, they focused on something that makes them valuable.
Similarly, I have friends early in their journalism careers who appreciate this insight. For example, one predominately writes articles on the influence of religion in American society and another on Muslim experiences. They also write other things, but they’ve created a journalistic niche that allows them to show clearly how they express a unique, valuable perspective.
Compared to Christiane Amanpour and others, what does Rory look like?
Rory Gilmore – Yale graduate who wrote a short article for the New Yorker
With credentials like Yale and the New Yorker, Rory looks smart and potentially promising. Yet, with only these credentials, she lacks a more coherent reputation and cannot claim to be particularly valuable with respect to any topic, idea, field, attitude, or perspective – or anything else.
The Voice of Rory Gilmore
In her three job opportunities, Rory illustrates the shortcomings of her generalized education.
First, in Rory’s attempt to write a biography, Naomi Shropshire begins by remarking “I never really wanted to write about myself. My fields are feminism, environmentalism. Who am I?” Thus, unlike Rory, the bombastic journalist Naomi reveals an understanding that specialization creates a reputation and produces the value necessary for a successful career, leading her to focus on feminism and environmentalism to become valuable.
Unlike Rory, Naomi Shropshire understands that specialization creates a reputation and produces the value necessary for a successful career.Lacking this awareness, Rory replies that “I’ve never done anything like this before.” To a large extent, Rory is mistaken. She has written many articles that involve interviewing people, and she could have used her foundational experience in shorter articles to sell herself as qualified in writing a more comprehensive biography. Yet, with an education that values generally being good at everything but not being qualified at anything, Rory considers herself unqualified but eager for the position anyway. After senselessly giving Rory a chance, Naomi similarly senselessly ends her agreement with Rory.
Second, in her interview with GQ, the GQ editors praise Rory for having an “erudition to your stuff and some whimsy.” No doubt, Rory is smart and writes well—the kind of person employers would hire if the stars aligned. Yet, when the GQ editors further inquire into Rory’s current interests and expertise, she awkwardly dodges because she lacks a unique perspective to add to GQ. So, instead of seeking to incorporate Rory’s non-existent niche, the GQ editors must try to fit her into their happenstance openings, which entails some sports stuff and the psychology of lines in New York. Despite her attempt to write an article on New York lines, she does not complete this story and remains unemployed. Not having aligned, Rory’s stars remained hollow.
Third, at the new startup SandeeSays, Rory confronts an entrepreneur who understands economic value. In one of Gilmore Girls’ most entrepreneurial conversations, Sandee has the following interview with Rory:
Sandee: Well, first things first. If I take a chance on Rory Gilmore, what am I getting?
Sandee: If I hire you, tell me what Rory Gilmore would write about for SandeeSays.
Rory: Oh. If I worked here?
Sandee: Sell me.
Rory: Sell? Okay, we're selling. Um ... That's a totally different outfit. Hmm? Um, if I worked here, you'd be getting the person who wrote the New Yorker article you liked.
Sandee: Yeah, but that's the New Yorker. We're not the New Yorker. Look around, everyone's got their hair.
Rory: Oh, right. Um, sorry. I just didn't have a pitch prepared.
Sandee: That's a little weird. Thought you'd bring some ideas.
Rory: Don't get me wrong. I have ideas.
Rory: Um, stuff about the world, uh … culture ...
Sandee: Pretty generic. You got anything specific?
Rory: You want specifics.
Sandee: I'd love some.
Rory: Well, let's see. There could be something in, um, girls who go to Comic-Con type things and sleep with characters. Character-loving girls.
Sandee: That sounds obscure. Very made-up.
Rory: Yes, it does.
Sandee: So you're talking about loser girls. Like, they get drunk and they do something stupid. We've done that story a bunch of times. Different takes on it. I thought you knew our site.
Rory: Oh, I do. And you're right. I wouldn't want to repeat that.
So, Sandee asked Rory directly and unambiguously, “If I take a chance on Rory Gilmore, what am I getting?” Rory basically answered that she is smart and writes well. True, but a lot of people are smart and write well. What does Rory have to add that other people do not? Rory is generically good on paper, but she lacks any specific aptitudes that make her unique. As a valedictorian and a Yale graduate with a generalist education, she is pretty good at everything but uniquely great at nothing.
When Sandee rejects Rory, the two shout loudly because Rory believed she would receive the job without needing to show she could produce economic value. If she reflected on this interview, though, Rory would have learned valuable economic lessons. Credentials can signal value, but they do not create it. Entrepreneurs hire employees to produce value, not to fawn over them personally. In seeking the “voice of Rory Gilmore,” Sandee cared about the voice – the unique perspective – and not Rory Gilmore, the person.
Unfortunately, after Sandee rejects her, Rory storms dejected back to Stars Hallow without having learned to think like an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs Refuse to Stand in Lines
Looking to overtake the Huffington Post, Sandee the entrepreneur tried in vain to elicit Rory’s new, creative ideas. Rory’s indecisiveness reflects her generalist formal education, structured more to inculcate background into existing ideas than to produce capable, creative workers with specialized knowledge, or restless entrepreneurs seeking to alleviate consumers’ discomforts. As the economist Ludwig von Mises remarks in Human Action:
It is not generally realized that education can never be more than indoctrination with theories and ideas already developed. Education, whatever benefits it may confer, is transmission of traditional doctrines and valuations; it is by necessity conservative. It produces imitation and routine, not improvement and progress. Innovators and creative geniuses cannot be reared in schools. They are precisely the men who defy what the school has taught them.
In order to succeed in business a man does not need a degree from a school of business administration. These schools train the subalterns for routine jobs. They certainly do not train entrepreneurs. An entrepreneur cannot be trained. A man becomes an entrepreneur in seizing an opportunity and filling the gap. No special education is required for such a display of keen judgment, foresight, and energy. The most successful businessmen were often uneducated when measured by the scholastic standards of the teaching profession. But they were to their social function of adjusting production to the most urgent demand. Because of these merits the consumers chose them for business leadership.
With Rory’s background, she could not add value to Sandee’s new business because, as the product of a structured educational experience, she has no new ideas for fostering improvement and progress.
Thus, with a top-notch education but not an entrepreneurial mindset, Rory lacks the creative impulse needed for a remarkable journalistic career, leading her to overlook many ways she could seize opportunities and fill in gaps.
For example, when attempting to write her article on New York lines, she could have done a google search for “psychology of lines” (146,000 results) or, to overlook art-related results, “psychology of waiting lines” (6,920 results) and read scholarship on the subject. After familiarizing herself with the research, she could have interviewed New Yorkers and put together an article or series of articles integrating her personal interactions with her specialized knowledge of line psychology to write something truly unique. Maybe, after doing so, she could have found her valuable journalistic niche by following Malcolm Gladwell in integrating psychological research with her unique perspective. Instead, she first sleeps in the line and then with a Wookie, neglecting the opportunity.
Moreover, Rory confines herself to seeking employment at existing businesses. Unlike Sandee who creates SandeeSays or her friend Paris who starts the fertility clinic Dynasty Makers, Rory neither has new ideas nor plans to make her own company. Also, despite living in the internet age, she does not cultivate a reputation through blogging or other internet activities. Having been taught as a student to raise her hand and hope existing authorities select her, she limits herself to interviewing and hoping for the best, seeking employment like a New Yorker standing motionless in line as she waits passively for her turn.
Escaping the Education Cycle
When Rory visits her high school, headmaster Charleston marvels at Rory’s intelligence and offers her the chance to work as a teacher at Chilton. Yet, to do so, she would first have to get a master’s degree, a required credential before the headmaster will allow Rory to teach the subject of her choice. As credentials decline in value elsewhere, they remain significant and overvalued in the education system.
The education system's primary function is to produce professors.Rory rejects his employment offer because she does not want to teach. In doing so, she escapes the education system’s primary function: producing professors. As her life-cycle would go if she accepted his offer, first, go to Chilton, then Yale, then a master’s program, then return to Chilton to teach others to continue the cycle. Whereas some succeed, others get mad at the education system’s increasing adjunctification, particularly as the growing number of degrees means that their education makes them most qualified to work in an education system that lacks a place for them.
Teachers and professors certainly have value and should not be scorned. Yet, an education system predominately focused on training professors and a handful of other professions leaves most students as helpless and confused as Rory when they leave the education system ill-prepared to work in an economy with little relation to their formal education.
Optimistically, by the end of the series, Rory may be entrepreneurially ending her rut.
First, she becomes the editor of the Stars Hollow Gazette which, though not paying, gives her an opportunity to run a paper herself. After mistakenly removing the paper’s popular front-page poems, she quickly learns the significance of consumer demand and a unique brand through the townspeople’s criticism, leading her to restore the poems. Hopefully, she uses this opportunity to cultivate a reputation, learn entrepreneurship, and create a productive journalistic career.
More promisingly, her ex-boyfriend Jess Mariano wisely advises her to write a book about her life and family. Thus, as a high-school dropout, Jess compellingly advises well-educated Rory to use her writing skills and her unique background to produce something valuable that only she could write. In following this entrepreneurial advice, Rory empowers herself beyond the education system’s teachings to create opportunities that circumvent existing employers.
Through these two opportunities, Rory may learn what gives Rory a unique journalistic perspective, perhaps on topics like: small town life, single motherhood, pregnancy, class divide, coffee, or many others. Whatever she does, neither of these promising opportunities connect much to her generic formal education. By starting with her unique perspective, she can build a more promising future for herself.
Hopefully, with these experiences, Rory will learn to think entrepreneurially. Then, as she leaves the education system behind her, she can shout In Omnia Paratus, and truly mean it, as she jumps into the real world.