I was going to do another pretentious religious post today but I had a great conversation with a friend tonight about the move from identifying with characters to identifying with story, which is a major topic that you can’t attack all at once.
So I will ask you, to start with: What or who are the TV characters that you take on, or have taken on, so personally that it changed your life?
I will tell you some bad ones in this blog right now, because there are roadblocks and bumps, but it’s implied that they’re only problems because of my job, not objectively. (Well, actually if you get to this level with any fictional character, that is a problem and you need to get a life, but I’m trying out this idea of not being super judgmental and it’s lasted almost four days so I think it’s a success. Plus, I’m disclosing my own personal shit on that level so “get a life” has a specific meaningless meaning here.)
1. Is obviously going to be Buffy Anne Summers. Our moms died the same week, we turned our sex lives into nightmares the same week (multiple times), we labored under the super-special unique snowflake drama of the gifted child all the time together, we made self-hating sexual decisions together… I was raised, by a witch, to believe that I was going to do something amazing to save the world. That is a lot of pressure (and explains a fuckload if you know me at all). It doesn’t mean I don’t still believe that is true, lol, but Buffy really did help me deal.
It wasn’t that I looked up to her or even liked her that much: We were just in the same shitty situation, and she always did the thing I would do, so it didn’t occur to me to like or dislike her. We were brothers. She was Artemis, I was Apollo: Who discusses that? Perfect sync, perfectly crafted mistakes. I think this made Riley a lot easier to take for me than most viewers, because you take one look at that dude and you’re like, “This is going to suck when I break you.” Which is what he was for: Teaching Buffy that she walked through this world, like all of us do, warping everything and everyone around us, with power we didn’t even know we had.
I still love Riley. (And while I’m grossing you out? I fucking hate Willow Rosenberg. She is the worst. She writes herself passes on the reg that make me sick. I cannot handle self-dealing, because I am naturally a manipulative person and I believe you have to fight your skills to grow because everybody lives best in the house of their best accomplishment. I only liked her from mid-season six on, and by season seven she’d become my favorite character.)
2. Eva Longoria’s character Gabriela Solis on Desperate Housewives. Not only is she the most talented and (sorry to say it but it’s an Olympic race not a Special Olympic one?) beautiful actor in the cast, but I have always identified with the traits she represented: The girl who is judged entirely by her outsides to the point that she forgets she has insides. Again, it was less a matter of liking her and more a matter of watching her make the same decisions I would make, in every situation, over and over.
Basically the only non-depressing thing about the very sad situation of that show — which has become, I know you don’t watch it so I’ll tell you, a fucking racist Teabagger jubilee in which all women are idiots, all fags are 80s faggy, and women with opinions are worse bitches than women without, it is so gross, you guys; I love writing about it! — is Gabby, because (when she’s not embodying some horrific gay stereotype or playing one up) she still speaks for my major part, which is: You make a deal to be an object, a sexual object, and you take the power that gives you. You know you’re negotiating with a smart clear head, but the object of the game is never letting on that you’re smart or know what you’re doing.
On my actual favorite show Grey’s Anatomy (why I love it goes in a forthcoming conversation, because that is a fucking doozy) my identification character was Izzy, basically for the same reason. “Oh, you think I’m a whore? Well, that’s not going to change. But I’m happy to act like an idiot for a second to calm you down.” My relationship with Izzy was more powerful and influential than anybody on TV, besides #1 and #5 on this list. I fucking am still insane for that girl. (It’s also funny that Blogger thinks I should link to the Stardust post, because I don’t even know who I identify with, but I think it’s a combination of the two leads because they’re two halves both necessary, viz the Stardust post. Still the coolest thing I ever wrote, for me to reread, besides that one Starbuck one.)
As a feminist, as a queer man, images like this helped me make so much more sense of my life than trying to fit other people’s random boring 1969 white male narratives into what I was and still am being subjected to. Not the diva, just every girl that ever said “You know what? Fuck it, yes. Fine. Treat me like I’m an idiot and in five years when I have your job we’ll see what happens.” They’re already playing this game, and we’ve been playing it since we were born, so it only makes sense that you fake it and keep playing — with an eye to win.
3. Mrs. Zoe Washburn. To a casual viewer — to Joss himself, to Himself himself — it’s River that plays the Buffy role. Mal is to Giles as Buffy is to River: The butterfly psyche that must be protected and loved and never restricted, the anima that fights our fights. But to me watching Firefly, it was Zoe that carried me because the fact is, I belong personally in the Loyal Bodyguard role. Not sidekick, not wingman, but a more vital and passionate figuration of both. I am the Riker, the Chakotay, the Nerys. Zoe is Neo’s Trinity, and to me it’s not a contradiction because in this formualation Buffy represents the Loyal Bodyguard … of Everybody. (Class Protector. Obviously, I know, but I’m trying to equate Zoe and Buffy here, when any sane person would tell you it’s Mal or River who is the Buffy.)
Saving the world is for figureheads and activists and special snowflakes. (Saving the world is what misers do: I want to see how you change it.) Just give me somebody amazing to love, and I’ll do the rest. That is how I do my part, in the story about me. (PS: Do not ever tell a guy you feel like/want to be his bodyguard, you lose, the end.)
You should always be the star of your drama, but it’s possible to be amazing while also preserving somebody else’s untenable idealism. You heal each other, doing this: Your dream lives on in them, and you remind them to eat and you fight their fights when they’re busy. Mary Magdalene and Molly Millions/Sally Shears/Stepping Razor are all the same thing: Deadly beauty that preserves the dreamer’s fragile intuitive beauty. There is nothing more wonderful than that, to me.
4. If you haven’t seen Jennifer’s Body, or if you didn’t like Jennifer’s Body, you should go back and watch it again. Because the two leads in that movie describe the loveliest tango around those two ideas that it’s breathtaking. You know how Dark Knight keeps playing with this idea of the multiple Batmen and multiple Jokers and then it’s about order/chaos and the ridiculousness of having to force yourself into these untenable philosophical shapes and what it does to you, and then even Commissioner G and Two-Face get sucked into the multiplicity? That’s Jennifer’s Body, telling that story like it’s everyday life.
The best line of that movie is left out of the final product (“I’m not killing people, I’m killing guys!”) which is a shame, because it tells such amazing truths about what it’s like to be an object and to negotiate actual deals with actual people with your sexuality on the table. Truest movie. In the last decade I would say Jennifer’s Body and The Nines (which is not on this list because there are no people in that movie, besides you) are the only ones that come close to explaining what it’s actually like to be a human person. (Which explains why every privileged straight male hated one or both: They literally don’t speak the language, they hold no currency, they are surrounded by the sound of angels in the architecture etc.)
Jennifer (Megan Fox) a little bit moreso than the other one, but not by a whole lot: If you honestly want to know how fucking rank it is to be a girl or how many decisions girls and gay dudes have to make every second of ever day, first thing is you listen to “What It Feels Like For A Girl” which is the most brilliant song of all time, and then you watch this movie. My God, it’s verite.
5. Brenda Chenowith. Without her I doubt we’d be having this conversation at all, because I never would have gotten interested to this degree in writing about culture, TWoP, the whole thing. I never stepped back from my TV until Brenda. The internet was fairly new, even, back then. I didn’t know that spoilers were cancer, I didn’t know that shipping was cancer, I didn’t know that any of the things I was doing were fucking up my own game. All I knew was, Brenda Chenowith was literally watching myself brought to life on TV. She had my biography, she had my neuroses, she had my strengths and my weaknesses, the same books/dissertations were written about her that had been written about me, she had the same parents, all of it, and of course I was convinced nothing bad would ever happen to her.
And then she started doing the most awful shit! Suddenly all my sexual mores and priorities were being called into question, on a regular basis, weekly even, and did I rise to the occasion? No I did not. What I did — and that’s why I’m blogging about this entire idea — is decide the Six Feet Under had lost the magic. (And decided to blame Australians, which is a random racism that still haunts me but I’m convinced started here.)
The show had become stupid, too high on its own success, too up its own fundament, nothing mattered and everything hurt. And realizing, which I didn’t do for years, that this very hardcore critical viewpoint was predicated on a single simple thing — I didn’t like it when Brenda did the shit I was doing in real life, because she was being gross — getting too real. I watched myself cross the streams between “good” and “I like this,” which is the root of all fucking internet discussions that are useless. And even worse, I was liking or not liking it based entirely on whether my fictional puppet-self was being perfect or not.
I watched this happen and I was powerless to stop it, because I loved her too much. Four seasons of that show I watched, angry, because Brenda would never be me again. Even when she was, in all her complex ugly glory, still playing out my dramas and my weakness and my perversity: I rejected it so hard that I was rejecting the show.
And I’ll never get those years back. I recently started watching random episodes of the show just to test it, to push on the bruise knowing that I wasn’t that boy anymore — and I noticed that Claire Fisher is fucking amazing. Never noticed her the first time around. And the coolest thing about that is, I said something to that effect on Facebook — “I was so obsessed with Brenda that I completely missed out on the fact that Claire Fisher is an amazing young woman” — and the thought seemed so specific and self-obsessed and Facebooky that nobody would remark on it, much less like or dislike or quibble. Frankly, those pronouncements I always make on FB without expecting a response… But you know, in this case a couple people that I simply love came back to say, “I feel the same exact way.”
My job has given me hella distance from the shows I write about, at this point. I get letters you wouldn’t believe, imploring me with EVERY other WORD in all-caps, about the importance of Dan Humphrey marrying Blair Waldorf and how other configurations and characters are TACIT CORROBORATIONS of some nefarious sexist plot or another. And god knows I will wade into that fight without a second thought, because it’s my duty as the Zoe, as the Buffy, to explain certain things in a patronizing tone that won’t ever make a difference.
But what they don’t see — and you don’t see, because I don’t talk about this part of my job very often, the hatemail and the meantweets (!) and the professional scars — is that every time they strike out against an unfair and ugly narrative world, I am right there with them. As dumb as I find it, fighting for the personhood of Amy Pond who is barely a person and thus not subject to the rights of even a fictional person, I get it. We’re not talking about Amy Pond, we’re talking about you. We’re not talking about Joey Potter, we’re talking about you. Beautiful, wonderful, intelligent, complicated, angry you. You are Brenda.
And I am Brenda, I am Faith, I am every West Wing character that ever existed, especially the men, but most of all I’m Zoe and Buffy and I’m Brenda. I get it. I am on your side. But I can’t fight for it anymore, because that’s not what stories are about. I broke Six Feet Under for myself in a way I will never get back, and I’m still angry at myself for that. I needed a better bodyguard. A less invested one, at least.
Edit: Good question. No dudes. I don’t feel represented on television very often. Jason Street was probably the last time I felt that way about a male character. Plus, Alexander the Great works for most any purpose so I guess I don’t really go looking… The older brother on that show Jack & Bobby, Peter Pevensie, Peeta Mellark, Gaius Baltar, Riley Finn. Most of the men on your modern sitcoms like Happy Endings and Cougar Town. (I was going to say the ginger from Modern Family, but that would be cheating because I’m really just responding to the traits he shares with his sister.) Jason Stackhouse, quite often. St. John Rivers, from Jane Eyre. Most priests, actually, from Father Mulcahy to Qui-Gon Jinn. The entire cast of Full Metal Jacket. Billy Bibbitt, Fiver the Rabbit. Charles Wallace Murry.