learning from anne and marcia
February 1, 2001 02:58 PM

Anne Shirley was such a personal hero of my childhood. She was so emotionally decisive and clever. One of those fictional characters that people describe with idiotish words like "spunky" and "bold".

And I have to say something. Kevin Sullivan retold the books that followed the original "Anne" better than Lucy Maud herself. At least, from a modern audience's perspective. It's rather disappointing to read those books and watch girlish dreams turn into womanly acceptance of roles. That is - while motherhood is lovely, through modern eyes, the idea that motherhood is an end in itself for every woman, and that someone like Anne only feels ambitious until she realizes the absoluteness of love blah blah blah... well, it's just sad to me. Or it is now, when I'm grown myself and know how that dreams can just... grow. When I was a kid, the idea that romantic love could be the end-all of life was captivating. I'm sad that Anne's dreams are so distant for me. That I've outgrown her.

Not to discount love. And I've only outgrown the Anne of Windy Poplars and Ingleside. I'll always love Anne of college and writing. And, as I've said, Anne who is Megan Follows. I love Megan just for playing Anne, which makes me think of the 1939 Anne actress, who renamed herself Anne Shirley. When a movie really makes sense to you, the actors become the characters and vice versa.

The boy laughs at me when I do that - call actors by characters' names. It's symptomatic of both my tendency to overinvolve myself in films and my lack of attention to details (like actors' names). Last night, an itty Anne Shirley was a guest star on an ancient episode of "Facts of Life".

Which is, by the way, a better show than I remember. All about exploring roles for girls. Unfortunately, also all about dreadful 1980s fashion. But that Blair, the "pretty" and "stylish" (that is, shallow and vain) one - she's decidely plump by today's standards. It's striking how much the image of feminine beauty has changed in just the past 15 years.

More from the Nick at Nite realm... I've always thought of "the Brady Bunch" as a show about enforcing negative stereotypes of women. Here is a family show in the 1970s, heyday of Second Wave feminism, and Mom tells Marcia to drop out of an election so Greg can win. Because he's older, more capable, won't have another chance. And besides, he's a boy! On the other hand, Marcia in high school, clearly 14-15, has a slumber party at which the girls:

* talk about boys
* play truth or dare
* tell ghost stories
* hug
* don't trash their bodies (they even tell each other they look good)
* eat like horses
There's a better side to this story. There's clueless yet clever Cindy. There's the possibility that girls (and maybe women, by extension) lived in a tighter, more supportive community when their expected role was still subservience. Marcia Brady, surprisingly enough, has something to teach me about womanhood.

Of course, there are better teachers. Ones whose messages are less mixed and more relevant. But it's so easy to see all the negative things pop culture has taught. And I'm surprised. To find how much I've learned from Marcia, and Natalie, and even snotty Blair.

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