Sunday, 17 July 2011

Super Heroes, Super Bitches and Lisa

I turn to the women of the small screen and look back at the television shows I watched and adored as a child, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there are more TV women I like than I first thought. It makes me have a certain sense of accomplishment as if it was I who created those women, or better yet as if I was one of those women. 

I may have not conjured any of these wonderful ladies but I feel I have achieved something great by discovering them and letting them into my life.

The first woman I ever admired on television was Wonder Woman. Being both a woman and a wonder sort of guaranteed my devotion towards her. As a young, and quite feisty girl, I was naïve and an idealist feminist and Wonder Woman fitted nicely into my ideal of a strong woman. She was much better than Super Girl. Though I liked the idea of  Super Girl, I couldn’t help feeling a bit cheated. All she was is a female version of Superman and that’s just lazy. Also Super Girl’s outfit was a bit rubbish and she didn’t look half as great as Wonder Woman did.

I spent months of my childhood running like Wonder Woman, sneaking into hidden alleys and corners and spinning like a mad woman, making special effects noises and holding my hands spread, hoping that one day instead of dizziness I will actually become Wonder Woman.

Being the bad fan girl that I am I have to be honest and say that I remember very little of the premise behind Wonder Woman. I don’t think I was even aware that her outfit is made out of the American flag; to me her outfit was just really funky and had lots of shiny accessories. 

The fact that she was based on a comic book character came as a revelation to me at a much later age; to me Wonder Woman only existed on television. She was an awesome super woman who saved the world, and useless men, from other evil men.

Then came the short lived Isis (The Secrets of Isis) and I abandoned the exhausting spinning and running in favour of calling on upon the goddess Isis, much less tasking way of becoming a super woman.  



















Andrea Thomas (JoAnna Cameron) the science teacher who found the amulet that gave her Isis’ powers, was quite a cool woman even before she became Isis. She was a curious and intelligent scientist with good intentions. Unlike with Wonder Woman, when I was under the influence of Isis I wanted to become Andrea Thomas just as much as “oh mighty Isis.”

For a long time I never really found the appeal of male super heroes. I always preferred the more resourceful men like MacGyver and Indiana Jones, who saved the world with mortal and earthly initiatives. I always felt that women throughout history had to fight and struggle on a regular basis, their lives always harder than men. So if on top of a day to day battle for equal rights and acceptance, a woman also takes the task of saving the world, AND looks good while doing it, that impressed me.  

When I was allowed to stay up late, I turned my attention to Dynasty and my love turned from super women to super bitches. Alexis Morell, Carrington, Colby, Dexter (oh how I hated Dex Dexter) Rowan (phew), was the ultimate super bitch and the one that paved the way for all my other loveable super bitches, from Miss Piggy to Wilhelmina Slater (Ugly Betty), Sue Sylvester (Glee) and the beautiful Santana Lopez (Glee).  

Alexis (Joan Collins), with her wonderful clothes and enormous hats, was, for me, the corner stone and rule maker of the ultimate super bitch. Firstly, she always looked fabulous a lot better than Krystal, with her extensive shoulder padding and pastel coloured dresses. Alexis made all clothes work for her, which was a real challenge during the worst decade for fashion; the 80s.

Watching the show as a child I was a bit scared of Alexis at first. She was the villain of the show after all, and I was worried she might kill the ever so fragile Krystle. In retrospect, perhaps she should have. Alexis seemed to have endless lifelines during the time Dynasty was on. She was constantly destroyed yet she kept coming back over and over again more glamorous than before and always bringing the drama to new heights.

I love that Alexis has kept all of her names, a testament to all the men in her life. It is the feminine, 80s equivalent to notches on a belt and was and still is quite unladylike, fabulous. Long before Sex and the City’s Samantha, Alexis was promiscuous and outrageous.
  
I remember being surprised when I found out Alexis was a mother and her children kept popping up from nowhere. I was even more surprised to see how old they all were. I could never imagine Alexis being pregnant, going through labour and taking care of babies, and so many of them. Conveniently and probably luckily for me, television made them appear all grown up so the horrible notion of Alexis changing dippers has been spared from me.        

Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen) introduced me to two kinds of women who she embodied. The first was a fierce, feminist, business woman, who is not a bitch, the second a funny woman. The latter, retrospectively, was very significant in my life.

Funny women are hard to find both on television and on films. Surprisingly it is even harder, for me at least, to find likeable women who were created by women. Most of my most beloved female characters were created by men, but that may be another post. I liked The Golden Girls, but they didn’t really leave a lasting impression over me. I wasn’t born when Lucille Ball was on television and only realised her brilliance as an older person.  As a kid I thought she was just a house wife. 

Murphy Brown was an older woman working for a younger man. She was confident, intelligent, witty and most importantly generally happy with her life. She was funny without being humiliated or humiliating. In many ways, probably because of her age, she was comfortable with who she is and where she is in her life. It was the first grown up woman I met that wasn’t a stereotype or a cliché.

For the first time the woman behind the character Candice Bergen interested me as much as the character she played. She was one of the first, if not THE first actresses, who had a respectful and established film career, and chose television at a time when most television actors and actresses wanted to make the move into films. Bergen’s move was uncommon and brave for its time, and made her a bigger star than she was. 



There are more women in television comedy today than there were during Murphy Brown. Two of my personal favourites are Catherine Tate, who is not only a fantastic comedy actress. but also brought me to tears in her dramatic roles, and Miranda Heart. I don't know Miranda will be a great drama actress, nevertheless, she is delightful and very talented in her style of comedy; she is one of the few female comedy actresses who manages to master the craft of slapstick to the same level as Laurel and Hardy. She has real charm and heart (hehe) which makes her clownish comedy one of my favourites.

To this day Buffy The Vampire Slayer remains the one show which had the most amount of women I adored in one show.   It still amazes me the verity of women and just how much I loved them all (well apart from Dawn). Usually, if there is more than one woman in a TV show, if the show is good,  I will find one woman I like and the rest would, in the best case scenario, irritate me.

Here was a show with above average amount of women for a television show and all of them were brilliant. More importantly I cared and related to them all, even though each of the was a very different kind of woman.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer dealt with the heavy weight and darker consequences of being a super woman and having a destiny to fulfil. This lead to a bit of a simplistic cliché “woman power” type of ending to the show, but in retrospect I think it was inevitable and for its time very novel and brave message for what was basically a teenager's television show.

Unlike any male superhero I know of, and the super women I mentioned before, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is not invincible or immortal (I honestly don’t know if Wonder Woman or Isis were Immortal, please don’t kill me) her only super power is that she is extremely strong, physically. Despite healing fast, she often hurts and aches and she is definitely not immune to emotional pain and misery. She is often as vulnerable as anyone else. I am no expert on superheroes, so I may be wrong, but I don’t know any male super hero that his powers are a source of pain and vulnerability as well as victory and supremacy. Buffy’s obligation to world saving is often a burden and sometimes leads to deep depression, wishing she could give it all up and disappear and eventually to having a death wish, not something I would expect to find in my local superhero.
Being a chosen one sounds cool on paper, and the privilege of super strength is an appealing one, but at the end of the day, who wants their lives dictated to them, particularly based on the premise that they would die before their time? Throughout history women had their destinies dictated to them by men, is it any wonder that super power just doesn’t really compare with freedom?  

To write about all of Buffy’s women and what makes them so unique would require a much longer post that this one is turning out to be. I would just like to say that for me Buffy The Vampire Slayer is a very feminine show. Being feminine doesn’t mean sitting in on women’s conversation about men and sex, what Buffy tries to do, and sometimes fail, but often succeed is to understand womanhood. If you are looking for a definite conclusion about womanhood than perhaps you should watch Sex and the City. Buffy doesn't give a conclusive insight to womanhood it realises that women, like people really, are complex and vary.
  

I can’t end this post without mentioning my current top favourite woman on television and probably my top five women of all times,  Doctor Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) from House.

Lisa, Cuddy and Edelstein, had such a great influence over me that following her announcement she was leaving the show and the void that was left within me as a result, I considered dedicating a post just about her. 
Doctor Cuddy (Cuddy) has been a regular House character from the first episode. Of all female characters in the show, she is the only character and the only actress whose charisma appeal and general coolness match those of Gregory House and Hugh Laurie.
It is hard to find, on mainstream American television, a lead female her age, who is not someone's mother. Cuddy is the dean of medicine at the hospital in which House is employed. I think she is quite beautiful, but like with men, it is her character and charisma that appeal to me more than anything. Like many other female characters in a position of power on TV, Cuddy dresses sexy and with great taste, but unlike other similar characters, she doesn’t use her sexuality as a weapon, not only because that won't work on House, but also because Cuddy is comfortable and confidant with herself and her body, and dresses accordingly.

When Cuddy stands up to House it is not because of a power game or to prove a point but because someone has to stand up to him and she is the only one who can. House is the one who takes their relationship, at least in the earlier seasons, to the place of power games, and it is hard to blame her for taking part in it, sometimes because she enjoys it, and between us who doesn’t enjoy the occasional power game? Other times because it is her only way to communicate with him.

Lisa has such a strong emotional impact throughout the show, and the actress’ own story touched so many people that her fans are made out of as many if not more female fans as male. She is one of the few straight mainstream female characters that I know of who appeals to so many straight women so strongly.

At the age of 16 Lisa Edelstein became a cheerleader for Donald Trump’s New Jersey Generals and when she was asked to stand in bars wearing her uniform, Lisa not only refused, but organised a protest claiming this was akin to prostitution. This is not the kind of awareness or conscience I would have expected from a typical American cheerleader. Go Lisa!

Later she moved to New York and became involved with the Club Kids scene in New York. She was known as Lisa E and caused a lot of stir without getting sucked in to the dark side of the drug abuse an violence associated with these hardcore party people. 

From a very young age she has been aware and fighting for many great causes, including animal rights, Aids awareness at a time that Aids was considered a gay disease, abortion rights and more. She is passionately active yet at the same time, both on screen and in her rare appearances on twitter she comes across as very gentle and sweet.

I love Cuddy and would love to give her a warm loving hug for everything that House has put her through. Lisa Edelstein inspires me greatly. What woman who names her dogs Shazam! And Kapow! is not an inspiration?
 
   One of my favourite Lisa Edelstein's interview with one of my favourite fag's hags.

12 comments:

  1. Great article darling! Please keep writing about strong, feisty, fiery women. I totally agree with your comment on male superheroes not being as inspiring as female ones! And I completely relate to your adoration of super bitches. I MUST ca...ll attention to a few of my favourite bitches... Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, Rizo from Grease, Karen in Will & Grace, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character in Cruel Intentions (I can’t remember her name, but she was a right bitch!) and Lucy Lui’s character in Ally McBeal (also a total bi-atch). I don’t watch House, but the Lisa character you love was a transvestite in Ally McBeal, am I right?

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  2. Thank you so much my lovely!

    She was indeed! She was also George Costansa's girl friend on Seinfeld and was making orgasm noises while eating a risotto. She has done many guest appearances before getting the role in House. She also write, paint and does yoga. When she was in NY she wrote composed and starred in an original musical called positive me, which was one of the first plays to deal with aids.

    I agree with you. Bitches are wonderful! I sometimes wish I had more of a bitch within me, but I never feel I can be that fabulous! I definitely aspire to be!

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  3. I have to say, your delineation of Lisa has actually made me want to watch House, haha. She sounds pretty awesome. My kind of woman!

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  4. Hell yeah! a nice Jewish girl!

    Lisa Edelstein also wrote composed and stared in a musical about aids called Positive Me, which was amongst the first to deal with aids awareness. She is a very talented and beautiful woman. You might like to know that she also quite the yoga enthused, I believe she does Ashtanga.

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  5. ok, I'll bite. But only if you promise not to use your voodoo TV and film knowlege on me.
    I'm very concerned about the "Bratz" "Miley Cyrus" "high school musical" genre that girls are growing up with. It seems to promote entitlement and getting your way through being a spoilt brat. All while worshipping fame without letting on that it would be helpful to be talented or charesmatic or anything like that. I'd like to see you do an article about how they differ from the superbitches we knew and loved growing up, as it is a serious trend in TV at the minute. I know you probably haven't seen any of these shows, but I'd love to see your take on the difference between the two!

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  6. The only problem with writing an article about those girls is that it would mean I would actually have to watch those shows... errr...

    I think what makes the legendary superbitches legendary and the reason they last, is several things. First they have worked hard and earned the right to become superbitches. Also, like Ziba said they are never just one thing they have layers. It's just that their layers are gorgeous!

    Most of those girls you mentioned are nothing but poster girls and hopefully they won't last. I don't really know Miley Cyrus and she may even have some talent hidden somewhere, but it seems to me that she is a one shtick kinda girl. I want to believe that perhaps when she grows up she will have something less superficial to offer.

    It's not like the boys (Justin Bieber and co) have anything better to offer.

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  7. But.... I command you!
    Alright, your eyes would probably bleed watching it but I feel you owe it to society and to the future of tv to make a reasoned case on whether we are harming the future generations or if it's all really daily mail hysteria. I bet if you were still at uni you would have to do that as a thesis.

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  8. Well, since you command I must obey!

    An idea is moulding in my head about children's TV and what children should and shouldn't watch. When it comes to that I will definitely need your help!

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  9. ohh, but I do feel I want to hear your perspective because I think my knee jerk reaction is always "this is terrible" And just blank things. I would be curious to see if you think any of the modern ones are any good. But I will definitly be able to help you make a list!

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  10. Good article, but please watch your spelling and grammar - they are both terrible!

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  11. Don't listen to Anonymous, by the way ^

    I've always really liked "The Golden Girls" myself.

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  12. Thanks :)

    I like them as well, but later in life.

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