Brainy Women at the Rock-A-Hula Luau

2 Feb

2000irises: Brainy Women at the Rock-a-hula Luau

As you no doubt remember, when the new school year opens on Grease 2, our heroine Stephanie (Michelle Pfeiffer) has spent her summer pumping gas and wriggling out of the arcane social contract tying the Pink Ladies to the T-Birds. She’s managed to shuffle off her toad of a boyfriend and repeatedly insists to anyone in earshot that she will not go back to dating just any idiot who comes along. She’s a free woman now, and she’s going to hold out for a guy … with a motorcycle. Whatever. She exclaims this new manifesto while dangling from a ladder, which I respect, singing “No ordinary boy, no ordinary boy is gonna do, I want a rider that’s cool.”

Then she dances off across the parking lot doing this weird little hopping step. As you do.

Stephanie doesn’t have to wait long for her “dream on a mean machine.” Moony uber-dork Michael (Maxwell Caulfield) devotes himself to fulfilling Stephanie’s every desire and winning her heart. By day he does her homework; by night he’s a self-taught Evel Knievel in a leather jacket and a shiny black helmet.

But, oh the angst! Which identity will Stephanie really fall for: Shakespeare

or Cool Rider?

Stephanie’s no dummy. “Are you crazy?” she says, “I got two for the price of one!”

That pretty much sums up my feelings about pop culture.

I love stylized spectacle. I love fast-paced glamour and excitement. I love catchy tunes, throbbing beats, flashy choreography and over-the-top costumes. I’m a magpie: I want shiny colors and dancing lights. I thrill to thwarted romance and sparky dialogue. I love to laugh. I love to sing. I love to watch other people laugh and sing.

But sadly, spectacle just isn’t enough for me. I don’t buy it for long. I get bored. Stephanie’s interest in Michael would have died out instantly if he’d turned out to be only Shakespeare (too brainy to identify with) or only Cool Rider (all flash and daring, but little substance.) I feel the same way about mainstream entertainment. I want excitement and fun, but damn if I don’t want substance too. I am a Brainy Woman, I’m overeducated, and I really just want to be surprised. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Imagination, craft, and (dare I say it?) genius aren’t only found in high culture. I do enjoy literature, foreign film, fine art, and so on, but brilliant, thoughtful entertainment is possible beyond PBS, and sometimes it’s even more fun because it’s unexpected. Furthermore, as a Brainy Woman, I get really jazzed when the mainstream meets feminism. I am constantly on the lookout for nuanced female characters, television shows and movies that pass the Bechdel Test, and work created and inspired by other Brainy Women. It’s unfortunate we have to look so damn hard for these qualities in pop culture, but finding them is like discovering buried treasure.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge anyone their guilty pleasures. I’ve been known to devour paperback romance novels, dial into American Idol, and download Katy Perry. (What? I like “Hot and Cold,” okay?) But while I think these things are fun and diverting, none are exactly inspiring. I want to be inspired. (I blame the Master’s Degrees. Once you’ve got a graduate degree in English, your only option is to laser it off. )

All this meandering exposition is actually leading to an explanation of what I intend to do with this blog. I mean to seek out examples of witty, intelligent, women-positive pop culture and write about them. This is a worthy challenge because mainstream entertainment, even when intelligent and women-positive, is rarely unproblematic. When we talk about 30 Rock or Lady Gaga or The Hunger Games, we need to think about what makes them smart as well as how they could go even further.

What I’m not interested in doing here is an all-encompassing feminist critique of pop culture. For one thing, several magazines and blogs already do that very well – far better than I could. (See my blogroll.) For another thing, like most Brainy Women, I despair at the pervasive misogyny of our culture. Analyzing and dissecting culture is a crucial but never-ending, often grim, thankless task. Such critiques are essential to fostering feminist consciousness and debate, and I enjoy reading them, but just thinking about single-handedly undertaking such a task in my tiny little blog exhausts me. I think this explains the intense burnout rate among feminist bloggers. I can think of six misogynistic things I’ve seen today. If I tried to research and explicate the constant barrage of anti-women messages and images, I would be full-on depressed within a week. I don’t want to ignore them, but I don’t want to focus on them either.

So, instead of studying the pervasive misogyny of the entertainment industry, I’m going to look for the glimmers of light in the fog. I do hope you’ll help. And then, at the end of the day, we can have a luau.

(Also, for the record, Grease 2 absolutely does NOT meet the Brainy Woman requirements. But I like it anyway. Don’t tell.)

6 Responses to “Brainy Women at the Rock-A-Hula Luau”

  1. Jaime M. February 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    I cannot wait for more of this blog! Being both a “Shakespeare” and a “Cool Rider” (I thought I was the only person who had seen “Grease 2,” by the way) is such a sore subject with me. I was watching TV during lunch at the office one day, I don’t remember what… maybe it was “America’s Next Top Model” or some such nonsense… when a co-worker came in a made a face. “Jaime,” he said. “I can’t believe someone smart enough to get on ‘Jeopardy!’ would ever watch such garbage.”

    Frankly, I had no idea what one had to do with the other. Great first post!

  2. Danielle S. February 11, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    Hurrah! I look forward to what you have to share. I’m afraid I don’t share an enthusiasm for either Grease movie, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the comparison. I have plenty of guilty pleasures even while I too hunger for media that will pass the Bechdel test or even combine the two.

    I’ll keep this blog bookmarked.

  3. Jacki B February 12, 2011 at 6:38 am #

    Loved your first post! Can’t wait for the next. I, like Danielle, will be keeping this one bookmarked…may even quote you a little here or there ;)

  4. Darlene February 13, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    Thank you all for coming and saying hi. It means a lot.
    Jaime: I have had the exact same thing happen. Or alternatively, I’ll feel embarrassed talking about one of my enthusiasms, because I am afraid someone will judge me in just that way.
    Danielle: I forgive you about Grease 2, but then, I know about the Korean dramas.(*Tee hee*)
    Jacki: I’m so glad to hear from you! Thanks for coming to see my little project and I hope you’re all well. I look forward to seeing you around.

  5. Djinnjer February 13, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    Yay! I love reading about the things/characters that my friends are enthusiastic about. Even when it’s something like Grease 2, which I’ve never seen. Looking forward to the next post!

  6. Darlene February 13, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    Djinnjer: <3

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