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Tube Tied: Famous Last High School Bitches: A Rant

Somebody should probably call these people up and inform them that actually, there is already a modern adaptation of Heathers on the air and it's called Gossip Girl.  Oh yes, of course, Gossip Girl isn't actually witty or smart or anything but Serena did kill that one guy and dates the modern version of Christian Slater's character if said character had poured his dreams into modern Brooklyn "writer" "soulful" soullessness.  So please, for the love of God, don't try to remake it these days.  We'll end up with a poor substitute for Winona Ryder, I tell you what. 

Look, like everyone, I liked Heathers back in the day.  I just need to amend the proposition that I think that television is nice to women, somewhat, to say I think it's nice to women over the age of 18.   In fact, if anything, there is one archetype on television I think we have all had enough of in the last year: high-school bitchy.  (Lest you forget, in Tina Fey's famous words, this was Sarah Palin's most annoying personality trait.)  I am utterly and totally bored by the limited interpretation of the lives of teenage girls on television today.  Not a one of them seems to have the least bit of a problem with the world of consumerism and hot purses, and if they have academic or professional (read: fashion) ambition at all (read: Blair Waldorf), it is because such ambition would confer on them social status they would like to have.  Genuine intellectual curiosity, in a teenage girl on television today?  Pshaw.  You can't tear those ladies away from their Manolos!  And it's the reality too!  Have a look at The Hills sometime if you're looking for reasons to commit suicide, ladies!

When I was coming up, I had Blossom Russo, and Angela Chase, and I had Darlene Connor, and I had Willow, and frankly, what the hell, I had Joey Potter on days where I was just looking for a lighter mode of self-possessed teenage girl.  (Is it wrong that I sort of feel similarly about Katie Holmes as I do about Lindsay Lohan and Michael Jackson, although obviously to a lesser degree?  Anyway, I digress.)  I'm told by my American friends, though we didn't get much of it in the Great White North, that there were also nifty shows like Clarissa Explains It All and Daria that provided refuge for those young women who had not yet bought the line that what Feminism Had Wrought was less-date-rapey boyfriends and a larger choice of school-appropriate clothing.  (We can wear jeans now!  Hurrah!)  Sure, in there, you had your 90210, but it had, as I say, antidotes elsewhere. 

So I don't think my concern about the Kids Today is entirely unfounded here.  I've heard some good things about this 10 Things I Hate About You show, but having been among those who hated the movie back in the day even as I was becoming more and more convinced that the patriarchy existed, I can't say I can bring myself to watch more than a few clips here or there.  Other than that, I'll be shocked if any commenter here can point to the kind of character I list above in either network or cable television, and even more so if they find one that isn't a secondary character in a show aimed at adults.

I don't want to overstate my concern, of course - at any rate I'm becoming rapidly convinced that the proliferation of access to older shows will help a young proto-feminist out - My So-Called Life is currently airing on Hulu, for example, if you hadn't heard.  But here's the thing: when you are the kind of girl that Blossom, Angela, Darlene or Willow was, from thirteen until you go to college, the world is incredibly lonely.  It is a place full of people who "get it," that "it" being the article of faith that the rules that "popular chicks"/society/patriarchy has placed in your way are anything other than arbitrary.  And Blossoms/Angelas/Darlenes/Willows, they don't "get it."  Most of the time, "it" sounds like bullshit to them.  "It" is not so obvious.  And moreover, "it" is for you, impossible, and it seems like you are condemned to be alone as a result.

And back in the 90s, these shows were like waking up.  They granted you the right to exist.  They told you you were interesting.  These shows were knowing that things were not just that way for you, that the mean girls who wrote you letters asking you to stay away from them, the guys who told you in class that they "just liked it when girls wore skirts," the ongoing dialogue of self-doubt and trepidation was not only in your head.  I guess I wonder about those girls these days.  They can't find themselves sitting around on television.  They have the internet, I suppose, but on the best of days a friendship formed in a blog comments section will never be the same as knowing that your sort exists at a higher level of culture, that you are entitled to be the hero of a story, to have a quest, to fuck it up, to say the right things and the wrong things and have them matter or not matter.

And I care about those Blossoms/Angelas/Darlenes/Willows, because they'll be the ones blogging in this space twenty years from now.

At the risk of demanding that the art of television live up to real-world politics, I guess I just wished today's tv producers and writers did too.

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Comments

7 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Ugh, yes.

I know they've only shown the pilot, but I would tentatively suggest that the girls in Glee show promise. 45 minutes isn't enough to develop much character, obviously, but I'm hopeful.
Also the British show Skins (it's been on BBC America as well), while it can be hit-or-miss in terms of good television, had and still has some awesome girl characters who aren't only interested in clothes and boys.

But other than that, I totally know what you mean. I'm 19, but I watched all of My So-Called Life and a lot of Buffy a few years ago, and I liked them so much partly because they had female characters I actually liked and could relate to, and cared about.

Ugh, yes.

I know they've only shown the pilot, but I would tentatively suggest that the girls in Glee show promise. 45 minutes isn't enough to develop much character, obviously, but I'm hopeful.
Also the British show Skins (it's been on BBC America as well), while it can be hit-or-miss in terms of good television, had and still has some awesome girl characters who aren't only interested in clothes and boys.

But other than that, I totally know what you mean. I'm 19, but I watched all of My So-Called Life and a lot of Buffy a few years ago, and I liked them so much partly because they had female characters I actually liked and could relate to, and cared about.

True that! As a teenage

True that! As a teenage girl who dies a little bit inside every time a commercial for "The Hills" comes on, I can say that there are NO smart teenage girl characters on TV. It's very sad, actually--Rory Gilmore (on Gilmore Girls) was wonderful, but the show ended a couple years ago. I'll have to be content with smart adult characters (Chuck! Pam! Leela!)

True that! As a teenage

True that! As a teenage girl who dies a little bit inside every time a commercial for "The Hills" comes on, I can say that there are NO smart teenage girl characters on TV. It's very sad, actually--Rory Gilmore (on Gilmore Girls) was wonderful, but the show ended a couple years ago. I'll have to be content with smart adult characters (Chuck! Pam! Leela!)

Yeah, Rory Gilmore aka

Yeah, Rory Gilmore aka best-character-on-television-even-if-her-show-got-cancelled.

I mean, not that Blair Waldorf isn't a great role model and the driving force behind a fantastic, intelligent, and witty television program (she is both), but this is all about Rory Gilmore.

And in terms of celebrating greats of bygone eras: no mention of Lindsay Weir?

So, I realise this post was

So, I realise this post was a while ago, but Vanessa Abrams? Of the much maligned-Gossip Girl?
I also have to agree with the person who mentioned Skins, and put in a word for Jal (from the first two series) and Naomi (from series three).
I do think you're right that these types of characters are thin on the ground, though - I keep thinking of examples and then remembering that they're actually 25, or that that show was cancelled years ago etc.