Tuning In: Lane Kim

Welcome to the first entry in a series I'll be doing called "Tuning In." Over the next eight weeks, I will be highlighting intersections of music culture and television from a feminist perspective. As music is often relegated to the background or given minimal consideration when used in other mediums, I thought a post on Lane Kim, protagonist Rory Gilmore's best friend in the long-running series Gilmore Girls, would be a good introduction to my interests here.

During the dramedy's seven-season run, attention was paid to the show's smart writing, the central and unconventional mother-daughter relationship, star Alexis Bledel's promising career, Lauren Graham's inimitable turn as Rory's mother Lorelai, and creator Amy Sherman-Palladino's authorial control and distinctly feminist presence on prime time television. Of course, popular culture was of considerable importance in establishing the show's tone, and its ultra-referential dialogue potentially influenced Diablo Cody's Juno. But while Rory and Lorelai possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of literature, movies, and music, it was Lane (played by Keiko Agena) who gave the show its focus on popular music and indie rock, lending the show a certain credibility that parent networks like the WB and the CW could potentially cash in on.

However, as music tends to be peripheral in television criticism, Lane was often at the margins of the show's narrative. While most episodes focused on generational and class tensions within the Gilmore family, professional and educational pressures Lorelai and Rory had to contend with, humorous conflicts between townspeople in Stars Hollow, and the drama resulting from the titular characters' romances, Lane often drove B-stories that involved music.

At first, these stories were informed by Lane's rebellion against her strict mother who wanted to instill her daughter with strong values according to the family's Korean background and religious affiliation with Seventh Day Adventists. Lane would hide things from her mother, like the CD collection under her bedroom floor boards, her love of drumming, and her formation of the band, Hep Alien (an anagram of producer Helen Pai's name).

But for her friends and viewers, Lane was defined by her love of indie rock rather than in opposition to her mother. As a white woman, I cannot relate to how race or ethnic identity may have informed the values Lane's mother placed on religion, sexual purity, nutrition, decorum, obedience, and abstaining from American popular culture. However, I can relate to being the girl who knows a lot about bands. Thus, I was thrilled by the moments when Lane bursts at the seams to recommend new music to friends or indulge them with monologues about the minutiae of rock culture and technology. If Rory was a fan of Rilo Kiley, X, Belle and Sebastian, or Sonic Youth, Lane was most likely the person who turned her on to them. Rory also borrowed CDs from Lane, whether trying to set the ambiance for a romantic evening with a boyfriend or just when she wanted to kick out some new jams.

I also enjoyed when Lane would take her expertise to a public forum, whether it was deejaying an event in Stars Hollow or starting a band. Lane's enthusiasm for independent music and her ability to recall line-ups, influences, record labels, gear, and historical movements speaks to the same need I had to have my own radio show in college.

As someone who is learning how to play the guitar, I was inspired by Lane's resolve to learn the drums, which she began doing in secret by taking lessons at the local music store owned by a woman named Sophie, played by Carole King (who also sang the show's theme song, "Where You Lead," with her daughter Louise Goffin). She also displayed resourcefulness and independent thinking when finding a band to play with once she felt confident enough in her skills. As the lone female in Hep Alien, much less a member playing the instrument least associated with women (shouldn't she be playing the bass?), I found her brave in defying not only her mother's conventions but in forging a path for herself on her own terms.

In the band, she also had to negotiate romances with fellow members Dave Rygalski (Adam Brody) and Zach Van Gerbig (Todd Lowe), the latter of whom she married at the end of season six. That she was able to balance a private life with professional duties is a model for others to follow. Eventually, mother and daughter reconciled their differences as adult women, in no small part because Lane proved herself a responsible person who could book gigs, organize touring schedules, handle the money, and balance other responsibilities to subsidize her passion.

Unfortunately, the series ended with Lane at home with twin infant sons while her husband and former bandmate struck out on his own with another band. But should the show get the big-screen treatment, here's hoping that she picks up her sticks again.

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Comments

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yay, lane!

i almost squealed when i saw this. i was (am?) a huge gilmore girls fan, and lane was by far my favorite. lane's musical influences influenced me, and if she mentioned a band or musician i hadn't heard of, i was seeking them out. this was great, and i'm looking forward to reading the rest of "tuning in"!

Tuning In

Very good idea this tuning in section, well, at least for us who love music.

I loved the character Lane--

I loved the character Lane-- because I was fascinated by Japanese actresses, because she was so passionate about her music, because her character fascinated me, and because, well, I grew up Seventh-day Adventist too. Many of them consider any music with a beat to be most assuredly from the Devil himself; if you listened to it, at the very least, you were looked down upon, and at best you were headed straight for hell. So to play it? Passionately? and honestly because its who you are and what you love, not just as a rebellion technique to anger hardcore conservative parents?

Let's just say-- SHE WAS MY HERO. :o)

lane kim, rebel and leader

yay lane! even in episodes where i was yelling at the TV, "omg, rory, stop talking. shut up. shut up. you snotty, hypocritical, privileged suckweasel of doom, SHUT UP," i love how much consistent focus there was on the deep, sustaining connection between rory and lane and how much they relied on each other for reality checks, support, and just good lady-time hanging out. one of the best things women can do for each other is share stories, and i think lane's sharing of music with rory was important way of doing that. what an awesome BFF!

i think it's also really important to note lane's leadership role in the band. no passive little flower she! she not only started the band, she was really the person who made space for gil to join despite the age-ist responses of the other alien-ers, and that's awesome. gil was both a great character and a great asset to the band, with his longer-term perspective, cheerful ebullience, and smokin' guitar chops. (and for reals - sebastian bach was freaking hilarious in this role.) it was a really good decision, and she was the driving force behind it.

i completely agree that it is KICKASS that from such an early age, lane was a rebel who carved out her own way, her own self, and we got to see her struggle with how to integrate her family's religious and ethnic traditions with her self-chosen identity/ies and values. there could have been a yicky, victim-y, good-kid-gone-bad runaway narrative going on once she left her mom's house, but instead lane continued to make good decisions for herself and pursue her dreams. and we got some of our most trusted grownup characters (lorelai, luke) reinforcing that notion, talking about what a good person lane was and helping her as much as they could.

but i totally hear the commenter over on FB about lane's sad sex life - especially in light of yucky stereotypes about asian women as sex objects with no sexual agency of their own. i hope in a GG movie, lane and rory get to have a thelma and louise-style "darlin', i am so happy for you - you finally got laid properly" convo.

agreed!

and we got some of our most trusted grownup characters (lorelai, luke) reinforcing that notion, talking about what a good person lane was and helping her as much as they could.

Yes! I always loved how Lorelai and Lane had sort of a bond, and that Lorelai was a bit more understanding and patient than Rory was when Lane moved out of her mother's house. And I also loved that Lorelai was sympathetic to Mrs. Kim, trying to act as a peacemaker between the two, and maybe also gained a bit of sympathy for her own mother along the way.

Second the love for Sebastian Bach, by the way.

Really, except for everything involving Rory, season 4 of Gilmore Girls was SO GOOD.

Thanks for your comments,

Thanks for your comments, Carrie and Becky. I third the Gil love, and also like how Lorelai and Luke serve as adults Lane can confide in. Actually, an entire post can be written on how Luke and Lorelai try to be good parents and mentors. Lorelai often fills in as Paris's surrogate mother. And let's not forget that Lane and Zach ask Luke to be the twins' godfather.

And since we're on the subject of motherhood, I like that Mrs. Kim has a tense relationship with her mother. It's an interesting parallel between her and Lane, and also allows Mrs. Kim to empathize with her daughter. And it also acknowledges shared aspects of Lorelai's complicated relationship with Emily, as well as Emily not measuring up to her mother-in-law's unfair expectations. For a show that centers on the complex but ultimately fulfilling mother-and-daughter relationship, it's smart of the show to acknowledge generational tensions between women can span race, class, and age.

I do also want to mention that I liked when Rory encouraged Lane to keep having sex after her awful first experience. She tells her friend that the first time can be awkward, but that sex can be great once both partners get comfortable with each other. Rory can be pretty insufferable during her college years, but I thought this was a great scene between the two friends. And as I said in one of my FB comments, I recall a scene where Lane and Zach admit to one another that they're both scared of being parents. This scene ends with a passionate kiss which hopefully leads to more satisfying physical intimacy.

Alyx Vesey

I LOVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE THE

I LOVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE THE GILMORE GIRLS and everytime I watched it I was dying to knowwhat other feminists thought of it, im soo glad you liked it...

Did you hear that sound?

It was me *squee*-ing!

One of my favourite shows of all time, the Gilmore Girls gave me so many things to love (and a fair few to criticize). I am so happy you chose Lane for your first topic. Part of the beauty of GG is the way the lives of these women intertwine and circle around each other, with the men in their lives playing the real B-stories for a change in actual Prime Time. The mother-daughter relationships were outside the typical, and I remember having a hearty laugh when we got to meet Momma Kim's Momma, to see that there was a whole generation of daughters hiding things in their floor boards from their Mommas. It was a dynamic of the mother-daughter relationship that usually is reserved for daughter-father, and I loved it.

It is worth noting that Season 7 of GG was not written/produced by Sherman-Palladino, and I really feel that Lane may have fared better under her pen than the new writers. The whole show took an awkward jolt in the shortened season. I felt that we were left with characters that we didn't know anymore -- but that is not this post.

Music is so integral to what we watch that we don't realize it until it isn't there anymore (think of the episode "The Body" of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where Buffy's mother dies -- there is no music played in the whole episode and it adds significant tension) to comfort you or to help ease your emotions through a difficult moment. The Gilmore Girls really brought that to the forefront, and I am not going to lie and say that I don't have more than a few songs on my iTunes that are a result of that show.

You can do one of two things; just shut up, which is something I don't find easy, or learn an awful lot very fast, which is what I tried to do. ~ Jane Fonda

Did you hear that sound?

I appreciate you bringing up that Sherman-Palladino was not a writer/producer in season seven, OuyangDan. Another commenter also pointed this out on FB. As I watched the series for the first time this year, I didn't know that she wasn't working in those capacities at the time (apparently resulting from a fall-out involving contract negotiations, for those who were likewise unaware). Now the shift in tone and focus makes more sense, though still saddens me. 

Also, I completely agree with your comments about how integral but peripheral music can be. The point of this series is to draw attention to the myriad of ways that music and music culture are used in television. Thank you for reading. 

Alyx Vesey

Lanes sex life

On Lanes sex life I recall that scene when she and Zach ask Luke to be their soon to be born twin boys god father. Either before or after that they talk about ways to coax Lane to go into labor and having sex was one of them. I remember that they looked at each other in a flirty way(I think?) or I just have the feeling from that scene/moment/whatever they had a healthy mutually satisfying sex life.

DIY

Love this post! One thing missing from it though is that Hep Alien was totally a DIY band! In season 5/6 Mrs. Kim helps the band book a tour of churches throughout the states and the band uses the money they earned to buy recording equipment. Besides playing a showcase for a label, there was never any mention about Hep Alien trying to break into the mainstream music industry. They always did things themselves and had a strong DIY mentality; something you don't really see on TV.

This post is amazing

Truly. I've always loved Lane's role in the series and how music influences her and how her influence in Rory. Thanks to Lane and this show (Gilmore Girls) I knew a lot of bands and songs and things I've never knew it without them.

By the other hand, this kind of post are pretty interesting. Women's role is frequently treated as the same way that it was fifty years ago, also in music and other arts. So, is good to see and read characters and posts like this ^^