"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 65
If the "Two or Three" Book Club actually met in a real world setting,
As I've mentioned, I saw one of the movie adaptations many years ago, and it coloured my approach to the novel when I finally started reading it. You could say that it coloured that approach blonde.
that a watched woman must have very much circumspection
to retain only a very little credit . . ."
Now I know why the light-haired Julie Christie was cast as black-haired Bathsheba in what is still the best-known version of Thomas Hardy's novel. It's the same reason English Essex Girls and American Valley Girls are usually pictured as blondes. That is, director John Schlesinger recognised that Bathsheba Everdene was not just any girl, but a certain and very specific type of girl. And we who are surrounded by visual media in a way Hardy never was have seen her repeatedly and can recognise her instantly. Let me give you a bunch of examples . . .
would have totally shortened it to Buffy
What's really interesting about Joss Whedon's long-running teen series Buffy the Vampire Slayer is its mythology. Every generation has its own Slayer, who comes into her super strength and fighting abilities when the last Slayer dies. I hope you noticed the feminine pronoun, because the point to underline is that the Slayer is always a young woman.
One critique of the show is that it bases its heroine's "Girl Power" on pure fantasy. In real life, there is no way that someone with Sarah Michelle Gellar's bird-like build would be able to beat up a regular guy, much less huge, hulking villains (yes, usually male) who attack her in a pack. Take this video compilation of some of her fights, which makes suspending disbelief fun . . .
So it's not realistic. Who said that was the point? On the contrary, the entire subtext of the Slayer mythology is that there is always more to the young woman tasked with saving the world than her appearance. To underestimate her because of it is to be worthy of a stake in the heart . . . or a beheading . . . or some other gruesome death . . . You get the idea.
Buffy cornered the
For those who haven't watched Legally Blonde, here is a (relatively) spoiler-free synopsis . . . After Elle Woods's politically ambitious boyfriend breaks up with her because she is a "Marilyn" (blonde) and he needs to marry a "Jackie" (brunette), she is determined to prove him wrong by getting into Law School and doing as well as he does in their classes. Again, everyone underestimates her because of her pink and fuzzy personality, but in the end, we get the same moral we do in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: being a good Law student, like being a good hero(ine), is not just about fitting the stereotypes.
You'll remember that this is exactly what Bathsheba says in Chapter 10 about being a good farm manager. Although she isn't quite able to pull it off without Gabriel Oak as her bailiff, we see at the end that her true abilities and value lie in another area.
Incidentally, busting out of the stereotypes was something Elle herself had to learn
In Legally Blonde 2, Elle goes to Washington, D.C. and tries to get a bill which she really believes in passed. My understanding is that the sequel was so bad that it slammed the door on the whole franchise and Reese Witherspoon needed to produce an atrocious direct-to-video third movie so that the second would look good by comparison. But let's not think that the story stops there.
You see, the character of Elle Woods didn't pop out of nowhere. Legally Blonde is the sequel-in-spirit to the high school movie Clueless, and Elle Woods is the the older version of Cher Horowitz.
Now that you see it, you'll never unsee it. =P Yeah, you're welcome. And the 90s were cooler than I thought, aye? LOL! Anyway, the point is that isolated stories may stop, but archetypes keep going. At the end of Clueless, Cher, a naturally talented negotiator, is helping her father out with an actual case--but it's not certain whether she will pursue her own career in law. Six years later, Legally Blonde came out and gave us a definite answer.
What's not clear, however, is how high Cher/Elle's political aspirations would have ultimately gone, and since it has been a decade since the sequel came out, we may never know. The current cinema trends favour dark-haired heroines who take themselves way too seriously, which means that the Pretty Blonde Girl has been taking a back seat for a while.
Turnabout is fair play even for archetypes!
Here's a quick survey of Pretty Blonde Girls in recent media. Let's see how many you recognise!. . . In 2010, a new teen series opened with the discovery of a Pretty Blonde Girl's body and goes on to suggest that even death is just an appearance you shouldn't be fooled by . . . In 2011, the Pretty Blonde Girl who was also the most unconvincing high school movie villain ever got her own direct-to-video spin-off in which she proved, contrary to appearances, that she could be the underdog in the right setting--such as Broadway! . . . And maybe we do still see Cher-Elle Horowitz-Woods on TV today, in a supporting role as a prestigious law firm's blonde senior partner, who was promoted not because she was the best candidate for the job, but because the first senior partner (Yes, a male--did you guess?) thought only that it would look good to have a woman in a top position. Interestingly, she's not also a Pretty Girl. Which only goes to show that there's more than one way a woman can "look good."
There's also more than one place to find this archetype. All media is storytelling media these days--and has been for quite a while. And during the 80s and most of the 90s, the news media told us the story of a Pretty Blonde Girl from real life who was torn between people's idealised visions of her and her own desire to build something that would endure beyond the ephemera of her image.
How she got from one to the other is a media epic
Say what you like about Diana Spencer, but you have to admit that she succeeded in that. And one day in the future, we may also be able to say that she was "of the stuff of which great men's mothers are made."
I wish I could say that our own decade's real-life Bathsheba is Taylor Swift, who made the Forbes Top-Earning Celebrities Under 30 list by leveraging the Pretty Blonde Girl archetype for all it was worth--which has turned out to be a cool US$55 million. And we seem to have a good case when we watch what is still her best music video . . .
. . . one in which she plays the Pretty Blonde Girl in reverse
as well as assorted other archetypes of girlhood . . .
as well as assorted other archetypes of girlhood . . .
. . . but the direction she has gone since then, baiting her ex-boyfriends but letting Kanye West off the hook, reveals that she is not the Slayer who will save the music industry. In fact, these days, her archetype is closer to "Maneater" (ROFL!)--which is completely different from what we're discussing here.
Remember that Hardy, Schlessinger, Whedon, et. al. are telling us that it means something when a young, good-looking girl inherits an estate on which hinges the welfare of many others: she may not be the type you'd want in charge of it, but you have to admit that what is behind her image is what counts. If you're only seeing the image, then you're missing the point. For instance, did you know that Paris Hilton's billionaire grandfather has said that the seemingly empty-headed heiress works harder than most CEOs he knows? . . . Well, now you do.
Behold Your Queen
It's also no accident that Hilton's career didn't take off until after a sex tape was leaked. There's more than one way to get caught bathing on a rooftop. ;-)
Seriously, she may make an excellent mother yet. And she has a finger in the real estate pie. Her son will totally be our Solomon the Builder. At least he will be as soon as she realises she wants a child more than she wants another chihuahua. =P The point remains the same: don't judge by appearances, people!
Image Source: a) Far from the Madding Crowd poster, b) Buffy the Vampire Slayer poster, c) Legally Blonde poster, c) Diana Spencer, d) Diana, Princess of Wales, e) Paris Hilton