Thursday, January 05, 2006

class, affect and teen TV; a comparative study

FemmeFeral on TV Tough Girls.

Lots of thoughts on this one. The post below is the comment I left FemmeFeral at Fluffy Dollars. As usual, I'm indebted to the thrifiest girl in LA, my partner in crime and Madaem Librarian for inspiration.

A rough draft of similiar themes.
With mzn.

And somewhere out there in blogoland, I've used the phrase "Kim Kelly is My Friend" (somewhere on Haverchuk?) to sum up my feelings about something or other. Why is it this such a beautiful and meaningful title?

So, without further ado, I give you, my thoughts on "class, affect and teen TV; a comparative study"

(a) I think Kim Kelly is My Friend may be my favorite F&G episode. I like the way the series sort of reprimands Lindsay for having been so judgemental about Kim (and for being very unsisterly when she makes that comment to Daniel about how it would be such hell to date Kim). You just don't know what another person lives with, so shut the fuck up prissy, judgemental, self-righteous little Lindsay.

(b) I know Lindsay is cooler than this, but the root of her character is, well, very good girl. Which is why, in the end, I compare her to Joey Potter on Dawson's. Dawson's is melodrama, and F&G is, I think, a kind of TV realism, but no matter the genre, there is something similar about the characters of Joey and Lindsay . . . and it's something lame. Busy Phillips on Dawson's is cool too, but not as cool. And "The Smokers," which is one of the minor works of Busy Phillips.

(c) On the other hand, I found Kim Kelly is My Friend to be a little offensive. While it is great to see, a girl from "a lumpen class back-ground" I disliked the easy equation of: poor parenting = poverty = bad kid. On this one, Dawson's is a little better - unhappy kids come from all kinds of families . . . I even think That 70s Show is a little better, too; the reiteration of this equation over and over in Hyde becomes an ironic critique of how easy it is for some people to make these assumptions.

(d) And you know how That 70s Show diffuses a lot of it's tension with humor? I like that, but the forcing you to watch awful situations play out in F&G is different and one of the best things about the show and part of what give the show, for me, a realist aesthetic. Donna's mabye not a Tough Girl, but she does have a phyiscal presence similiar to Kim, tall with a lot of swagger.

(d) Back to F&G on class, one of my favorite moments is, late in the series, Daniel and his mom in the rain. This is better - the reason Daniel seems like such a fuck up by high school admin standards is because his life involves responsibilities and compromises that your standard high school admins haven't considered. This seems a more nuanced portrayal than the Kelly family. Maybe we are seeing the Kelly fam through Lindsay's eyes . . . so the representation is overblown and emotional, just because she's so shocked? OK, that's a bit much for TV . . .

(e) I'm a little curious about the qualifications for Tough Girl. Class, sex, drugs, wit and physical violence . . . ? Of these, my favorite is the physical violence/physical confrontation thing. In some ways, this is what draws the line, for me, between the Tough Girl and other feminine types - a vixen or whatever is manipulative, not directly confrontational.

(f) In the literary long history of directly confrontational young girls, you've got the women of Joyce Carol Oates Foxfire, whom I'm sure you know.

(g) But with them you've got great scenes from both Anne of Green Gables and Laura Ingalls Wilder, where each of them gets violent in the schoolroom. I'm interested in representations of "temper" . . .

(h) And then theres unsocialized children, which you know I'm into.

(i) And just recently I found a reference to Leslie Fielder's work (more literary) on "Good Good Girl" stories, 19th C stories for girls about girls who get sick (or are very poor) and as a result of their misfortunes, learn to be "good girls" - they are disruptive tomboys before, brave patient young ladies afterwards. My children's librarian friend, M. Librarian loaned me "What Katy Did" awhile ago; it's one of these. Now that I'm done with my chapter (!!!) I'll read it.

And that is why my head is spinning so fast and I had so much to say on this topic. Sorry about that.

Good luck with this one.

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Blogger mzn said...

The character's power is mostlly in Busy Phillips's performance. One can hardly imagine anyone else playing Kim. Busy Phillips scares the shit out of me (and I think there's a similar thought in one of the commentaries or extra features on the DVDs). This effect is not necessarily a product of her playing angry or bitchy; I think it's in her basic demeanor in F&G. She could explode at any moment and that's just exciting. (It's not so much in evidence in her UPN sitcom Love, Inc., at least what little I've seen of it, and I think the difference is that teenagers are scary in ways that adults are not because teens can be assumed to be unpredictable, volatile, dangerous--is there a connection between this and children being unsocialized?)

The Kim Kelly is My Friend episode overdoes it on Kim's crappy family life. It doesn't have to be so extreme and it makes Lindsay's family look too good by comparison. But the key to the episode is how meeting Kim's family opens Lindsay's eyes to what the world is like beyond her experience and this is what makes it so vivid for us as viewers, being so closely identified with the Weirs. We see Lindsay's appreciation for her family but also her desire to be independent from them. Yes Lindsay is prissy (though she doesn't want to be) and judgmental. But the important thing is that Lindsay stands up for Kim. The whole arc of the series is about Lindsay finding herself and it's through the freaks that she learns to be different from her parents and the square kids like Millie. I find your anti-Lindsay feelings a bit confusing, actually, because for me she is the emotional heart of the show. We are constaltly being invited to feel with her. The secondary characters are all more colorful and appealing, sure, but without Lindsay there is no Freaks and Geeks.

(BTW have you seen Brokeback Mtn yet? It boasts a very nice, small performance by Linda Cardellini aka Lindsay among many other virtues.)

Congrats on being done with your chapter. Are you celebrating by starting right in on the next one? After my PhD exams one of my profs said I should give myself a break and not start writing my dissertation until, at the earliest, the following afternoon.

1:25 AM  
Blogger zoe p. said...

"this is what makes it so vivid for us as viewers, being so closely identified with the Weirs." Do mean narrative-structurally, the show places the Weirs at the center of the narrative? Well, yes, but I *feel* a lot of distance from them, actually . . . a pull between the offical, formal structure and the structure of my own personal affective experience.

Lindsay may be the emotional heart of the show (or the even diegetic narrator), but that doesn't mean I have to identify with her psychologically, or even like her. That said, I like Cardellini fine . . . but haven't seen Brokeback Mountain. I'm fascinated with the pose of the two leads in the promotional poster though.

"give myself a break and not start writing my dissertation until, at the earliest, the following afternoon." - that's pretty damn funny. I've got a pretty full slate, what with reading about alzheimers and balding and international fiction . . . and I've got to check in with my committee for a chapter review, next week. Depending on what, exactly, they hate about my chapter, I'll start another one. But I want to start the next one in response to their feelings about the weaknesses of this one. As for actually revising this one, I need some distance . . .

Having a committee is like having a second family, all the mysterious expectations and the blank-explain-yourself stares . . . . and the love, the strange love.

But wait, dammit, there's a lot at stake here, mzn. "Without Lindsay, there is no Freaks and Geeks." Do you mean without Lindsay we have no moral center by which to judge the Freak and the Geek?! That's me taking your language literally (all in fun), but I'd like that fine, just as I'd like a show that throws out the central narrator figure and throws its weight towards the "more colorful and appealing" secondary characters. Sort of like something spinning off its axis towards its periphery. More Ken, that is what I really want. More Ken!! I think its a preference of mine, but I love things structed by an ensamble cast as opposed to the central narrator . . . and F&G, I think, actually pulls both ways. I mean, you called your blog Haverchu(c)k . .. .

10:10 AM  
Blogger femme feral said...

I wish Kim Kelly had a spinoff. I really want to keep watching her. Ken is so much like one of my friends from high school it is eerie.

I loved Brokeback mountain. All these months I've been saying I don't think JG is anything special, and then...

I really identify with Kim. What else is there to do besides be pissed off in high school? High school fucking sucks.

your committee is going to love your chapter.

2:23 PM  
Blogger mzn said...

Lindsay isn't my favorite character. I'm not sure Bill is either, by the way. I'm extremely fond of Mr. Rosso and all of the freaks and of course I aspire to the culinary achievements of Mrs. Weir. I named my blog after Bill partly because I like the way his name sounds.

My point about Lindsay, though, is that the narrative attaches us to her more than any other character in two senses. We spend more time with her than the other characters and of all the characters' concerns, it is hers that are made most prominent. (If you're looking for a theoretical discussion of such issues, I recommend Murray Smith's Engaging Characters.) I'm not implying that we have to like her or identify with her in a strong sense, only that we see her as the central node in the network of relationships established by the narrative. The show would lose its focus without her in a way that it would not in the absence of any of the others. It might still be an interesting show but not the one we love.

I agree, by the way, that Lindsay is a standard against which we judge the other characters. She does function as a kind of baseline against which we can judge the freaks' freakishness. What makes them freaks at first is that they're not like Lindsay.

2:21 PM  
Blogger zoe p. said...

ah. one should never assume why another would name his blog Haverchuk.

and what would the name of the Kim Kelly spin off be? Like I said, there is something so beautiful and measured about "Kim Kelly is My Friend" . . .

But the "my" is one of those things that is totally evidence for the fact that the show is Lindsay's.

And in the interests of full disclosure, when I was in high school, my best friend was named Lindsay and I found her just a tad moralistic. So in the end, my resistance may be as simple as that . . .

9:37 AM  
Blogger mzn said...

Hey, I just came across a reference to The Little House Cookbook. Apparently a classic. Perhaps a source for good retro recipes.

Perhaps off topic but you do mention Laura Ingalls Wilder in the original post. Love the Zizek/Clooney separated-at-birth photos, by the way.

1:43 PM  
Blogger zoe p. said...

My elementary school had a copy of the Little House Cookbook . . . I remember brown-we-are-fucking-starving-on-this-frozen-prarie-bread. Very wholesome.

4:14 PM  

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