Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Middle School Role Models of 90's TV Countdown

3. Agent Dana Scully. I had been meaning to write about this for awhile, but this Feministing post galvanized me to finally finish it. God, I loved this show so much! It really brought out the sci-fi nerd in all of us. Agent Scully was a great character for several reasons- but what I loved most about her was her extreme dryness and skepticism. Even though she was usually wrong, and Mulder's outlandish theories about underground dwellers who came from the future and ate people organs to create a race of pod people were generally correct, Scully served as the much-needed straight man to Mulder's wacky ideas. Female TV and movie characters are pretty much always the hysterical and flighty ones, so her prediliction towards science-based logic was a true breath of fresh air.

Scully always seemed most at home when she was doing a tape-recorded autopsy, flatly (actually, both characters really mumbled their way through this show) discussing the stomach contents of some dead alien while nonchalantly peeling back its multiple brains. She rarely got scared or overly emotional, and her good looks were never exploited; Dana Scully could be found in a sensible pantsuit and bob combo. So often, women in sci fi/horror stuff are played as the sexualized victim, walking around weakly in a revealing tank top, the threat bearing down upon them both physical and sexual, but this cheap device was never (or rarely) used in Scully's place; she was smart, prepared and in control at all times, and always ready to refute whatever Mulder was saying with "There must be a more logical explanation for this."

PS: God I also had such a crush on David Duchovny but he is so one of those people that could never be in anything else/seems like a jerk in real life/the cover of the first season of the "Californication" where his old man head looks pasted on a younger body is totally revolting. Gillian Anderson, on the other hand, always seemed to be like a huge weirdo/nerd in real life. I remember reading this "Before They Were Stars" edition of People magazine and they had a picture of her in high school and she was all gothy and had a mohawk and stuff. I think she said she pierced her nose with a carrot. What's not to like?

2. Buffy. Gosh, considering all the non-girl positive crap crap I watched on TV, I'm glad Buffy was on when I was in middle school. Buffy was another show that everyone would watch and then religiously discuss the next day. The most notable, feminist feature of Buffy may have been simply that she was that rare phenomenon- a girl superhero. It's always frusturated me that the premise of the superhero is that an average person transforms- but that average person is nearly always male, and if not, then becoming a superhero also has something to do with becoming uber-sexy and bodysuited. It's like, this plot is totally fantastic, but the idea of a girl superhero is just, you know, too fantastic. Plus, it doesn't fit into the "nerd fantasy every boy can enjoy [because patriarchy has made us ALL felt like puny wimps]" theme of every superhero-related thing ever. Anyway, the point is, watching a small blond teenage girl kick ass regularly onscreen, without having to morph into a pleather-coated vixen beforehand, was totally empowering and exhilerating for my seventh-grade self.

What also was great about Buffy was how her superherohood translated into a high school environment, forcing a cheerleader who probably would have been quite popular (had she not burnt down her previous school, anyway) to instead make friends with the weirdos who hung out with the school librarian. Buffy's strange social circumstances obviously paralleled many people's experiences in middle/high school, as she and her friends conspicuously existed on the fringes of the social scene.

I think I related to Buffy because she wasn't a total nerd like Willow (whose character/general acting style I always found annoying) and was one of those rare characters who liked shopping and sticking up for herself. Often mistaken for a ditz or "slut" for her mysterious past and "hot" appearance, the levelheaded Buffy usually dealt with her hectic life in a mature and distinctly non-ditzy fashion, even when having sex with her boyfriend turned him evil and stuff on two memorable episodes titled "The Two-Night Event" on the WB.

1. Elaine Benes. Of all these characters, I must say I hold a special place in my heart for the rather unsung Elaine. I loved Seinfeld a lot, and Elaine's character was notable for being a a woman amongst a group of men who could hold her own without falling into all the various women-in-comedy cliches. Confident, sarcastic, sexual, and refreshingly unsentimental, Elaine could be found noting the ugliness of a baby she never wanted to visit in the first place, relocating to an apartment when an old lady died, recieving the lady's grandkid's phone calls, and pretending to be her and then eventually "dying" over the phone so the kid wouldn't call anymore, or forcing George's head through his straw hat in a fit of rage. She was even the first (I think?) to lose the masturbation contest after seeing JFK Jr. in workout clothes in her gym, even after Jerry and Co. insisted she not participate because women didn't feel that particular urge.

Though the show's men had an endless stream of unfunny and uninteresting girlfriends, Elaine could always be counted on to dream up crazy schemes with the best of them. I think her model was a confident single, professional, perhaps even feminist-coded (we can all remember the fight she got into about abortion rights with restraunteer Poppy) woman of New York, as she was always employed and dating someone, but she was also miles away from the men-obsessed ladies of Sex and the City and their ilk; Elaine could not be found moaning about marriage, babies, and hating men and their lack of willingness to commit. She also provided an excellent contrast to that other show about single New Yorkers, Friends, wherein all the women served some sort of feminine comedy cliche- the uptight nag, the ditzy dingbat, the spoiled rich girl, etc.

Elaine was attractive without being sexualized and trendy, and her oxfords and vintage-style dress combos of the first half of the show are still pretty sweet. But how she looked was always second to her role as a fabulous comedian, and I'm glad there was a woman on TV who (I can't think of anyone today who might take her place, unfortunately) was just plain funny without all the added crap that usually must accompany funny women. And she was funny in a powerful but sarcastic way that I related to when I was in middle school (and still do), providing a much needed alterna-role model to the various other daffy rom-com style female comedians so prevalent to this day. (I fucking hate you, Kate Hudson.)


Simone said...

Oh, Elaine. I no longer can really stand to watch Seinfeld (I just hate George and Jerry's voices so much... they grate on me), but I did catch that masturbation episode a few weeks ago. It's actually Kramer that loses first (obviously), followed by Elaine. And let us not forget the immortal "sponge-worthy" episode, which i totally didn't really understand when I was a kid and watched this show compulsively.

Dana Scully. Man, I still love her, and she's probably the main reason i'm gonna end up shelling out 12$ to see the new xfiles movie, like, this weekend.

Lil' Meggy said...

hmm, not sure if yr a fan, but i might add ROSEANNE to the mix. her show might've just been the first comedy to feature a low-income (read trashy) white family largely spearheaded by DA MOM who took no shit. pretty cool.

Alex said...

Jesus, I can't even believe how much I love a show that sympathetically portrays a couple of feds.

You're right that Scully isn't sexualized in the way that a lot of women in horror/sci-fi are, but she is constantly getting attacked or kidnapped. She handles her shit respectably, but Mulder often has to save her anyway.

I was watching some old episodes with friends a while back and we like, "yeah, this show was definitely on Fox." There was an episode that was really obviously about ghosts raping people that we just had to skip.

Julia said...

mary, what about MURPHY BROWN! i loved that her character could come out of the sitcom, and into real life... like when she took on dan quayle. smart, totally independent, and she had good taste in music.

M said...

in my defense about the x-files (or buffy, really) i haven't actually seen either of those shows in a really long i kind of wrote this based on my fuzzy memories of this show, which i watched before i had a real eagle-eye for feminist content.

yeah, it's funny how fox used to be known as the trashiest staion ever/featured "alien autopsy" specials. i'm sure the youth of today know little of fox's beginnings as fledling network. (speaking of which, maybe i should do a "married with children" post. that show was kind of good. right? right?)

i think murphy brown and roseanne would be good additions except i watched murphy brown when i was like ten and can't remember it and didn't really ever watch roseanne for whatever reasons, so i don't feel i could expertly discuss either.

i thought murphy brown was so glamorous though! she lived in a townhouse! what kind of music was murphy brown into, though???

Anonymous said...

Oh, Buffy was plenty feminist. Don't even. Come on, people now.

M said...

no one's saying buffy wasn't feminist! i'm just saying that i haven't watched it in so long that i could be overlooking some stuff. god!!!!!

speaking of which, dan and i just watched the daria episode where jane's boyfriend kisses daria! gross!!! way to ruin the show!

teach people not books said...

that's disappointing daria news. i was a huge fan of my so called life when i was, say, 13. angela certainly wasn't reflective of any feminist lifestyle choices that i can recall. but o that jordan catalano...

elaine is awesome. today the episode where she bitches about her issues with people assuming she wants a baby just because she can procreate was on ("yes! i think i'm better than the mollusk!"). classic.

you should do a post about the hodgepodge of sexism and ageism built into the desperate housewives characters. it's almost too exhausting to enumerate.

ok, last s.f. question: how much do you love the de young?

Julia said...

for those that don't remember - murphy brown was a hard nosed tv anchor/reporter who was co-lead on her network's big show. she was notorious for canning her unending stream of daffy receptionists (male and female) and for her take-no-shit attitude. despite not having a real personal love interest type, she did maintain an off-kilter love-type relationship with elden, the man who was constantly painting her townhouse. later on in the show when murphy decides she would like to be a mother, but without wanting to be a wife/get married, she asks elden to be a sperm donor for her. also, she listened to a lot of motown. and she was funny. the rest is fuzzy for me but as a young girl i was totally taken with her.

Anonymous said...

you're right, gillian anderson was/is totally awesome. she was voted "most likely to be arrested" by her senior class and subsequently was actually arrested the night of graduation for gluing shut all the door locks at her high school.