Jessica Fletcher, Buffy, Roseanne, and other wonder women
Before the Doctor, we had to rely on the Golden Girls for female role models
Jessica Fletcher, a hero steeped in death
So the new Time Lord is Jodie Whittaker. The columnist pretends to splutter tea. What? A Time Lady! A Doctress! A Whoman! I mean, can women even be doctors? Well, I never . . . etc. To be fair, most people, even the easily riled man-tots of the Whoniverse seem happy with this choice and, more importantly, generations of female sci fi fans are made up about it. There were limited female heroines to choose from in the olden days but here are some of my favourites.
The product of an era when the theme tune for a TV show was usually a funk riff over which the show’s title was catchily sung (they should do this more today: ‘Doo, doo, doo doo doo GAME OF THRONES! Doo doo doo doo doo doo GAME OF THRONES!”), Wonder Woman fought aliens and Nazis while dressed in a patriotic leotard. The original character was developed in the 1930s by psychologist William Moulton Marston who was both a pioneering feminist and a pioneering S&M perv. Nobody’s perfect. Still, the sight of a woman beating up baddies had a lot of power. Diana Prince became Wonder Woman by spinning around in a circle really fast and kids in my neighbourhood did so to the point of nausea.
Misgivings: It was possibly a patriarchal plot to make young feminists too dizzy to take power.
Lynda Day from Press Gang
Lynda Day (Julia Sawalha) was the no-nonsense editor of a remarkably well-resourced school newspaper called the Junior Gazette that produced the kind of investigative journalism that, quite frankly, we at The Irish Times can only dream about.
She had a flirtatious relationship with a problematically-accented American named “Spike” (Dexter Fletcher), had frequent run-ins with the patriarchy in the shape of deputy headmaster Bill Sullivan, and wore unfeasibly large jumpers. Really huge jumpers. Seriously, they were massive.
Press Gang was funny and dark (the jumpers alone) and better than most adult dramas. The writer Steven Moffat went on to produce Doctor Who and Lynda Day became an icon for a generation of journalists too young to appreciate Watergate and consequently obsessed with breaking stories about school lunches.
Misgivings: Day didn’t give a damn about work/life balance or child labour laws. In retrospect she was a bit of a Thatcherite.
In the eyes of regular America the working class are punchlines or Horatio Alger stories waiting to happen. So Roseanne as the matriarch of a blue collar family who struggled and strived and packaged her class politics in cutting one-liners was an exciting anomaly. The upcoming revival probably sees her roaming the northern wastes like Mad Max.
Misgivings: Despite being money-strapped, the Conners still lived in a house large enough to graze cattle in.
This memoir had everything: poverty, emigration, death, devout Catholicism, a passive aggressive protagonist, a potential dance (“I am an old woman now, with one foot in the grave and the other on its edge”). It was, basically, Ireland: The Book.
Misgivings: This was probably taught in schools to demoralise those with notions. Nonetheless, I’m still crowd funding for my anthropomorphic children’s spin-off Pug (send your bank details to the usual email address).
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
A small girl is underestimated and beats everyone up. I wonder why this programme was popular among heroine-starved women? Buffy is also a metaphor for the show itself, a (then) overlooked teen-drama that ended up remaking television.
Misgivings: Pop-cultural references and epic story-arcs have taken over television dramas that aren’t half as witty or clever.
The Golden Girls
Everyone loved the Golden Girls. So much so that its core characters – a rural simpleton, a conniving sex maniac and a neurotic with mother issues – became both my guide for flatmate selection and the template for Fianna Fáil front benches for years after.
Well, before the supposedly boundary-breaking free spirits of Sex and the City, this quartet of legends – Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia – showed us how to live. And it was awesome. Between The Golden Girls and Murder She Wrote there was a surprising number of hit shows centred around plucky older dames in the1980s (well, two shows). This was a legacy of Roosevelt’s New Deal. Most Americans don’t live past 30 these days.
Misgivings: Bea Arthur aka Dorothy also appeared in a disturbing Brecht-inspired song sequence in the Star Wars Holiday Special. This still haunts my dreams.
Jem and the Holograms
Jerrica Benton is also, thanks to a supercomputer created by her genius father, a holographic pop star called “Jem”. There are a lot of questions here about her father’s sociological priorities but Jem has more pressing issues, namely a beef with the Misfits, whose theme song include such stellar trash talk as, “We are the Misfits, our songs are better.”
Jem on the other hand has a theme song that attests to the fact that she is “truly, truly outrageous”, arguably predicting the age of outrage in which we now live and in which incredibly sophisticated technology is also used to do perplexingly inane things.
Misgivings: I like the Misfits, their songs are better. They also, coincidentally, have the same names as my nephews, Pizzazz, Roxy and Stormer.
Jessica Fletcher on Murder She Wrote
With her trench coat, twinkly smile and hair like a fluffy golden cloud, crime novelist and amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) was an excellent role model for murder-loving children of all genders. Here’s a synopsis of an Irish-set episode (there were several) I watched on ITV3 at the weekend.
Jessica is in Cork or a Corklike place in which people are secretly from Northern Ireland or Stage Ireland or I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Ireland (Scotland). Before long, because Jessica is visiting, a man is bludgeoned to death with a stone.
“We’ve a murder every time you’re in Kilkeer, Mrs Fletcher, ” says an observant garda.
“Maybe it’s the luck of the Irish,” says Jessica brightly and slightly racistly. It shows what a trooper Jessica is that she says this instead of staring blankly off into the distance and saying, “Oh officer, I have seen so much death.”
Why has this tragedy occurred? Well there are a few theories. A giggling waitress suggests the murderer could be “the wee people”, which is code, I think, for “protestants”. There’s also a nefarious American in town, who’s encouraging the Irish to dig up the hillside in search of gold instead of following the old ways (teaching yanks to fish while talking shite to them). This has created a rift in the community.
“We’re an urban people now, industry is the future of Ireland, the engine that’ll run the Irish economy,” cries one Fine Gaeler (his party loyalty isn’t stated, but I worked it out). “They got through to you with a bill of goods,” cries one of Jessica’s chums, who wear flat caps and are possibly proto-Healy-Raes migrated east like swallows.
The suspects include: the blue-shirt, the American, the most badly poured pint of Guinness I have ever seen (there’s a pub scene), Jessica’s local chums (they have form, they’ve already murdered the Cork accent), and a drunk English couple. They do not include Jessica Fletcher, for she is above reproach although steeped in death. So who done it? Spolier alert: it was the Brits (the reviewer instinctively clenches his fist and mutters “The Brits”).
Misgivings: I have no misgivings.
Ms Pacman can do everything Pacman could do while wearing a bow and being harassed by digital ghosts (a prescient metaphor for being a woman on the internet). Unlike the reactionary Serena-Joy-like Mrs Potato Head, Ms Pacman is not married to Pacman and will definitely not change her name if she does get married. The “Ms” is clearly a reference to the Gloria Steinem-founded magazine of the same name.
Misgivings (or Msgivings): she is lightly sexualised in the original promotional literature. Well, sexualised if pouting leggy spheres are your thing. Each to their own. You’ll get no judgment here.
Ms Pacman’s bow has got me thinking. R2D2 is a robot. Why is it a “he”? Is it simply the absence of a bow? Is that it? Well, I’m calling it. R2D2 is a girl.
Misgivings: R2D2 has to take on an awful lot of the emotional labour in her relationship with her highly strung male best friend C3PO. C3PO is definitely a boy, the big brassy whinger.