Monday, May 5, 2014
After writing a sophistic entry about Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker that was "tied up" with the kind of saccharine bits that usually make me cringe with discomfort- I dropped my blog THREE YEARS AGO. Upon reading a detailed book on Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker that revealed just how perversely greedy they really were- I felt so ashamed I left my blog behind. So I'm back, not because at this point it will do any good (the people who followed me now probably have different email addresses) but because I want to write-So after being embarrassed into silence truly seeing the painful reality of my saccharine nature- I now am going to write an essay about the virtues of NBC's long running hit show.... TFOL (The Facts of Life) came into my head when I was going to create a parody of the opening credits in a script I am (not really) writing. But as part of my self-destructive creative process that keeps my writing painfully slow, I decided to begin watching the episodes (during my writing time, of course). But then, suddenly, like a drop of Jhirmack winding its' way through Blair's thick hair- I found myself woven into it. I was turning to the world of Eastland as a superior alternative narrative to the more sophisticated, but somehow more limited other options before me. The first time the urge hit to turn to TOFL was in the midst of Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" I was in the part of the story (not far in, of course, as prolific readers don't get TOFL binging problems- which by the way with 9 years of material, when you binge on TOFL it's not a a party too hard weekend- we're talking 'Leaving Las Vegas'- you may not make it out alive.) But anyway, I was in the part of The Corrections where Chip- the fallen cultural studies professor- flashes back to his affair with an intelligent but manipulative wealthy college girl that ruined him. When confronted with David Mamet-esque narratives of the 'seductive female' suddenly I needed a break from the misogynist bullshit hailed as "relevant cultural content." Unlike Franzen's coed, the sexuality of Blair Warner never became problematic or dangerous- as she lived her life on her own terms. Even when confronted with rape- when Blair's dream date attempts to date rape Jo- the show brings the women closer together. The show, simplifies the matter to fit into the neat little mold of the episode- but the choice to empower and bond Blair and Jo is still preferable to the other narrative choice presented to me by National Book Award winner, where a young woman goes on an extended mission to seduce her professor. In reality, TOFL would have been a more traditionally misogynist text- were it not for the conservative Christian values of the actress Whelchel. Whelchel refused to wear seductive clothing (additionally there was the issue of her "weight"- a problem the show tried to solve by sending her to "fat farms" so that she could be ratings gaining sex symbol.) Eventually when the "weight" wouldn't fall off- Blair was simply allowed to be on the show with a real body. Whelchel explains- Additionally, the episode about losing virginity was written for Blair but given to Natalie due to Whelchel's refusal to participate in the plot line. This allowed again the issue of sexuality to not be tied to the male gaze (as Blair was supposed to be the subject of that) but rather stand as emotional journey for a woman. While Whelchel's values made the show more empowering, Blair's total agency over her life didn't extend to Whelchel's off-camera. She divorced her husband after 25 years and went public that it was an "arranged marriage." I'm resisting a closing that plays off "you take the good, you take the bad"- I hope this raises your opinion of my writing, gentle reader. The show went on way too long, and if on the air today Jo would be the lesbian she always was- and an affair with Blair would have filled half of one season...but then again TOFL took on lesbianism in the first episode- and in the universe of TOFL- an issue only gets 30 minutes. But the show, despite being a total bomb in it's inception, endured for nearly a decade- long after the premise was relevant. But in that golden moment of about 2 seasons, before the painful elongation that gave us the ludicrous idea 4 girls from a fine boarding school would then hang out in upstate New York with their Housemother until age 30- the show's young women participated in that radical notion of feminism that women are people. So the more sophisticated television era and post-feminist world has brought us "Girls" where women learn no lessons and experience no real growth (I'm sure Dunham would disagree with this read). But I find myself more attached to the pat moments of the simplistic network show- where "Girls" grew up to be women- however canned it may be. So when sophisticated theater, film and television continue to disappoint- there's 9 years of an NBC spin-off to keep me inspired.