As anyone who knows me knows by now, Gilmore Girls is my all time favorite TV show, warranting almost daily viewings through much of college and grad school. Sometime during the course of my public health studies, it began to strike me how terribly unnecessary the Gilmore Girls’ penchant for junk food (greatest understatement ever – pop tarts and pizza made up entire food groups, fruits and vegetables were strange colorful things they didn’t know what to do with, and cooking never went beyond heating up stuff in the microwave) is to the show and its storyline.
And don’t even get me started on the fact that despite the consistent eating of junk food, the consistent avoidance of healthy food, and a disdain for exercise, these ladies are “model-skinny” as another blogger pointed out, remarking that “Gigantic Girls” would’ve been a more realistic show title.
The topic of Gilmore Girls and junk food received some coverage at Gilmore News.com a few months ago and elicited further discussion at The Gilmore Girls Companion, as I discovered when googling Gilmore Girls and junk food to find a picture to accompany this post.
I still love Gilmore Girls, but how easy would it be to keep everything about this show the same and just have them eat healthy – not freaky hippie they’re-so-strange healthy, but everyday healthy with more cooking and more snacking on things like smoothies and carrots. This, by the way, is the other problem with portrayal of healthy eating in TV shows and movies – when people do eat healthy, they’re often portrayed as extremists who eat very strange things or subsist on salads alone. There is a happy medium, there are not-weird healthy foods you can cook quickly, and portraying this happy medium as a daily part of life would help normalize healthy eating.
We welcome the characters of TV shows to enter our homes every week – we become friends with them, entering their lives for a blissful 30-60 minutes…what they do does have an impact on what we, consciously or subconsciously, consider “normal”. In other words, TV shows play an important role in setting norms and shaping behavior.
The public health community realizes this, as evidenced by various efforts (such as the Harvard Center for Health Communication’s work with Hollywood producers for the Designated Driver campaign, which I wrote about in an earlier post) and – I was so excited when I first heard about this – even a dedicated program at the University of Southern California Annenberg Norman Lear Center called Hollywood, Health & Society.
The program is dedicated to improving the quality and quantity of health storylines in TV, film and digital media. They provide television writers with free, on-demand access to top medical experts to inform and shape storylines as they are being created. Writers also receive a range of information and story ideas via newsletters, tip sheets and briefings from health experts. The program has conducted over 1500 consultations with scriptwriters working on over 150 television shows, including Grey’s Anatomy, Sesame Street, House, Mad Men, Law & Order: SVU, Private Practice, CSI: New York & Miami, One Life to Live, Breaking Bad, several Spanish-language telenovelas and many more programs.
More on this topic in Part II! (Now that I’m done with finals/graduation/and a whirlwind couple of months of traveling, I’m looking forward to updating more regularly. Thanks for reading!).