'An Adult Fantasy: Briohny Doyle, Gilmore Girls and the Millennial Crisis' by Zoya Patel

As a millennial I grew up being told that the internet was going to ruin my life, that the planet as we know it would be bursting into flames and in the grip of an immigration crisis due to climate change, and that if I wasn’t divorced, forever alone or a single mother I was in the minority. Oh, and I’d probably never own a house and would be likely to live with my parents until I was eventually caring for them in their old age.

Depressingly, this premonition has largely been proven true, as explored by Briohny Doyle in her book Adult Fantasy. In this memoir/social analysis/highly entertaining book, Doyle delves into the adulthood of the generation that everyone loves to call inept – the millennials. She uses her own experiences as a trigger to explore the social institutions that have let us down or at least thrown some roadblocks in our direction: the education system, the concept of heterosexual marriage and child rearing, the conventional approach to labour and careers, the impending doom of climate change and the fact that even if we did get our shit together, there probably wouldn’t be anywhere to house it (unless our parents are willing to provide for us).

In case it wasn’t stressful enough to realise that my dreams of becoming a successful writer who ends up rich enough to buy a castle in Scotland (a la J.K. Rowling), even the fictional characters I aspired to become have ended up as failures. Never have I felt more keenly the grim realities of my generation than when watching the Gilmore Girls revival of 2016, and seeing Rory Gilmore’s career go up in flames.

As far as Gilmore Girls fans go I am an original. I grew up watching the show, and binge-watched the final season when I was graduating from year 12. My best friend and I spent our free periods in her lounge room up the road from school, watching Rory’s final year at Yale, her proposal from boyfriend number three (the privileged bad-boy with shampoo-commercial worthy hair, Logan) and her renewed skill as a writer and journalist.

Just as we were starting to dream our own dreams, and make plans for our impending futures – futures in which we no longer had the mandatory structure of school to guide us and could put to the test our assumed talents and ambition – Rory was stepping out into the world post-college. Predictably, given her track record as a standout achiever who rarely faced any challenges on her path to success, she immediately landed a very ‘2007’ job as a reporter for an online magazine, hitting the Obama campaign trail with the rest of the press pack.

For years, I measured my own progress against Rory’s, as a fellow high-achieving teacher’s pet with grandiose aspirations as a writer. When I dropped out of university in 2008 and returned home to Canberra, I watched Season 6 of Gilmore Girls on repeat, and reminded myself that Rory had also taken a detour, and she ended up just fine. When I was plotting my own writing career in my early teens, I used Rory as a blueprint, working my way to writing for my own university newspaper and throwing myself at every possible writing opportunity. I had no reason to doubt her approach – this was the girl who got into Harvard, Yale and Princeton, was the editor of the Yale Daily News, landed a job at the Stanford Gazette before leaving university (granted, that job then mysteriously disappeared and was never spoken of again), and then got a sought after writing position just days after graduation.

She wasn’t exactly mediocre in other parts of her life either. She had a series of attractive if somewhat underwhelming boyfriends (except Jess, he is amazing and I won’t hear a word against him), a fulfilling bond with her mother, she was cute and fashionable and cool enough to be friends with Lane Kim.

When the series finally ended in 2007 I was glad that the conclusion was anything but conclusive. I liked to imagine Rory out in the world, excelling as a journalist and eventually achieving her dream of being a foreign correspondent. I liked thinking that she would eventually reconnect with Jess and they would be successful writers together, maybe alongside a rescue dog with a literary-themed name.

Imagining that Rory went on to have the life that she wanted gave me confidence that I, too, could achieve my dreams. It was a confidence that was otherwise sorely lacking in my generation from other outside sources.

In Adult Fantasy, Doyle describes the criticism hurled at millennials by preceding generations – the way our supposed inability to purchase property is a result of frivolous spending, or how our constantly changing careers are ascribed to a short attention span, not the increasing casualization of the work force. It’s necessary to point out that Doyle restricts her analysis to middle/upper-middle class millennials, and there is no real attempt at an intersectional analysis in her critique. However, this is appropriate when Doyle singles out Rory Gilmore as a representative of the millennial crisis. Despite Gilmore Girls attempting to posit Lorelai and Rory as having done it tough, they still live in a beautiful house in Conneticut, and Rory gets a Macbook for her 16th birthday. I mean, she’s hardly on struggle street.

Depressingly, her privilege does nothing to ensure her success. What the 2016 Gilmore Girls revival showed Doyle, and me, was that Rory was not special – she was just as millennial as all of us. We find her in 2016 jobless, unable to get published, dating her ex-boyfriend Logan in secret while he’s engaged to someone else, and without an address of her own. She’s a mess. A directionless, never-quite-made-it mess.

In fact, a trope throughout the reboot is Rory’s refusal to identify with the ‘thirty-something gang’ in Stars Hollow – a group of young people who have ‘been to college but the real world spit them out like a stale piece o' gum and now they're back in their old rooms'. Rory is determined not to become a stereotype millennial approaching middle age, and yet, according to Doyle’s analysis in Adult Fantasy, Rory’s life as she approaches thirty is not entirely uncommon for an aspiring millennial writer.

Writing of herself, Doyle says, ‘As I approached my thirtieth year, the circumstance of my life was not very different from when I was twenty.’ She lists her part-time, unchallenging jobs, her rental accommodation and her creative endeavours that only sometimes delivered a return on investment: ‘All this felt fine – most often, more than fine. Nevertheless, with each new statistic, with each damning indictment, the sense of somehow having missed the memo on how to grow up got stronger.’

Doyle’s fear of somehow having gotten the recipe wrong when it came to cooking up the ideal adult life is reflected in a panicked Rory confessing her own fear of failure to Jess in the revival. ‘I have no job, I have no money, I have no underwear!’ she exclaims – and so she does exactly what most of us have done at some point to remedy the situation. She goes home to Mum, and her old bedroom, and starts exercising to tap-dancing videos to help relieve her stress.

Adult Fantasy reveals the not-so-funny aspects of the millennial crisis. In a chapter that tracks her progress against one of her best friend’s, Doyle is talking to her psychologist about writing the book: ‘I see people about this problem all the time,’ the psychologist says, referring to the struggle of achieving ‘adulthood’. ‘Mostly twenty-nine year olds coming up to their thirtieth birthday and losing it. One guy was ready to kill himself because he felt so worthless.’

It’s a sobering point. We exist in a capitalist society that continues to measure our worth against our earning power, our stable relationships (as defined by heteronormativity), and our ability to buy a house; but that doesn’t then take into account the uniquely awful state of play millennials are contending with in a post-GFC world where the horrors of climate change are looming and digital disruption is swiftly eating all available jobs.

Rory might be a fictional character, but she’s a surprisingly useful case study. She grows up in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, being told that the world is her oyster by the adults in her life, only to swiftly realise once she enters the job market that being great at making lists and having a can-do attitude aren’t enough to combat the dire economic and environmental situation she now has to exist in.

Rory herself isn’t entirely ignorant of the possible pitfalls of her silver-spoon upbringing. While still in high school, she points out to Lorelai that perhaps her approach to parenting has been less than realistic. ‘'This is not how you raise a child. You don't send them out there with a false sense of pride because out there, in the real world, no one will coddle you. I'd rather know now right now if I'm gonna be working at CNN or carrying a basket around its offices with sandwiches in it.'

Rory’s eventual mediocrity, however, is slightly unexpected, given that Rory (and most people reading this) are ultimately the lucky ones. We have parents who are in a social class that have guaranteed for us that we’ll probably be middle class, we have tertiary educations, and we live in first-world countries where there is a system of welfare that will see to our basic needs. Our equivalents in developing countries, or those more immediately affected by conflict, and/or climate change have less time to dwell on the injustice our generation has been dealt, with the more pressing demands of survival to attend to.

Doyle doesn’t touch on this too overtly in Adult Fantasy, though she is aware of the limitations of her analysis, as they focus on middle/upper-middle class white young people. In fact the definition of ‘millennial’ as interrogated by Doyle and most other critiques isn’t intersectional in the least – to be a digital native, to live at home with one’s parents, to work casual/unskilled jobs and still retain the ability to sip lattes and eat avocado implies privilege that is restricted to first-world countries, social mobility, and able-bodies.

As it applies to me (and to Rory), though, this definition is uncomfortably correct, even taking my migrant background and my parent’s original poverty into consideration. It’s clear my frustration with Rory Gilmore in the Gilmore Girls revival is really an expansion of my general frustration with the situation I find myself in as a millennial. With little certainty for the future, and pressure from all sides to figure it out like our forbears did, millennials are in a tight corner with few ways out.

Adult Fantasy raises this uncertainty early, and it lingers in the peripheries of every topic Doyle explores, haunting her obsession with reaching an adult milestone such as marriage, or her fear that the effort and determination she has placed in a creative career, to the detriment of other options, will achieve no outcome.

Like Rory, Doyle and so many of us are still holding out on the hope that our paths will become clearer, our outcomes solidified, that age will resolve the issues that plague our generation. Whether this will be the case remains to be seen for all of us, including Rory – in the final scene of the Gilmore Girls revival Rory is pregnant, with no obvious father to her unborn child, no job, and presumably still no underwear. If this is what adulthood looks like, it’s definitely a far cry from what I imagined for Rory when I watched her graduate Yale in 2007.

But, as Doyle says in the final pages of Adult Fantasy, ‘We all know there is no destination called adult. That is part of what makes us so anxious about it.’ Perhaps a latte and an avocado are our only sources of comfort for this existential anxiety. Let us eat brunch.

Zoya Patel founded online journal Feminartsy in 2014, following four years as Editor-In-Chief of Lip Magazine. She has been writing about feminist issues for over a decade, and has had work published in a number of publications including Right Now, iD.co, Junkee and more. Zoya was Highly Commended in the Scribe Publishing Non-Fiction Prize 2015, was the 2014 recipient of the Anne Edgeworth Young Writers’ Fellowship, and was named the 2015 ACT Young Woman of the Year. She is represented by Curtis Brown Australia. @zoyajpatel