I See London, I See France, I See Lessons In Barbie’s Underpants

vintage-blue-barbie-doll-pleated-lingerieBecause my first Barbie dolls had been my aunt’s, I had a lot of the original stuff, including those (now highly collectible) palest blue whispers of chiffon pleated underpants. I remembered being struck by the incongruity of such angles — the square-ish lines of the boxy panties themselves and the triangular points of the pleats — against the round curves of plump plastic. As I slipped them over Babs’ firm flesh, I wondered what her shape would do to the shape of those panties… Miraculously, some of the pleating remained when Barbie wore them — and in fact, the pleating was fully retained once removed from the doll. These were things I was highly suspicious of.

I wondered if those puffs of pleats remained beneath Barbie’s outerwear… They weren’t really visible; Barbie did not suffer from visible panty lines either. But like that refrigerator light problem, there was no way to see-to-believe, no way to really know.

While many blame Barbie for a plethora of society’s ills, I’m not so convinced. I learned many things from Barbie, including, but not limited to, the pure impossibility of comparing myself to a doll (let alone coming up short in such a comparison).

Barbie was a doll, her movements were not only dictated & restricted by manufactured bendable knees & stiff elbows, but whatever limited movements Babs had could only be made at my whim. Her permanently arched foot did not relax when her shoes were removed, nor when she went to sleep. (This, I would learn years later as a department store sales person, was quite probably the most realistic thing about Barbie.) When I cut her hair, it did not grow back. Ever. When her leg popped-off at the hip, you could just press it firmly back into place; no blood, no guts, just the glory of fixing a problem yourself.

Barbie was not real and I knew it.

Her lack of areolas and nipples did not make me question the existence of mine. The enormous size of her breasts and their skewed proportionality did not make me question the size and proportion of my mother’s bustline, that of any other female that I knew, or my own breasts when I developed them. Barbie’s flat tummy did not make me question my plump belly or that of any other female; hers was hard unforgiving plastic, ours were flesh — as flexible, purposeful and forgiving as our arms. Our bodies existed for more than posing, for draping fabrics, for pretending. We are not dolls; we are a human.

Of course, as a child, I didn’t exactly articulate these things to myself or anyone else; these were simply the lessons of play. (Are those the ingrained messages they want to protect children from?)

OK, so Barbie’s hyper-beauty was unrealistic, so what? I had a brain. I was no more in danger from this fashion doll than boys who played smash-up with Hot Wheels cars were from driving like the world was a demotion derby they could just get up and walk away from. Kids can tell reality from pretend, especially when they have emotionally & intelligently available adults who answer questions and talk with them, not at them.

(This is not to say that Barbie, media images, etc. do not have an impact; but that’s more a matter of a collective accumulation of messages. And I’ll continue to pull at those threads.)

However — getting back to Barbie’s pleated underwear, what started all this in my mind was spotting these vintage knife pleated panties.

vintage-knife-pleated-lace-edge-green-pantiesknife-pleated-lace-edge-panties-from-the-1930s

In jadeite green and blushy-peach, they are color variations of Babs’ fancy sheer knickers!

I instantly thought of the mysteries of those angles on Barbie’s curves, of how I wondered just how real flesh would react with those pleats… Puckers & folds in your pants or beneath a slip-protected skirt, would they be there under your clothes? Or would your flesh fill them out, curves rubbing-out the angles? If they were there, what would they feel like? Would they remain when you took those panties off? Puckers & folds, those are usually considered imperfections — yet here they are, for living humans, not just dolls.

These vintage panties are beautiful little mysteries to me. And until I find a pair in my size, this is how they shall remain to me.

Once Upon A Time… Gothic Romance Tales: Airs Above The Ground

Once upon a time, I read romances.

First of all, they were plentiful in my youth. Not only did the popular paperback novels go from house to house as the adults around me swapped and traded books, but one of my aunt’s neighbors worked for a mall bookstore and he often went (against rules of his employment) and raided the dumpster for the paperbacks which were dumped after the covers had been torn off and returned to the publishers for credit, sharing the free books with anyone who would show up to grab copes when he put out the call.

Second of all, when in junior high our family moved a few miles away from that home near extended family, I ended up at a new school. A shy bookish sort, I was sorely in need of a friend, so when befriended by a fellow reader, I tried to read what she did. And she read romances.

I quickly gave up her favored Harlequins and turned to the bit more complicated, less predictable, suspense and Gothic romance novel varieties. But the shared romance novel reading ended quickly — even before she stole my first boyfriend.

I can’t say that the devastating loss of “Skip” hasn’t tainted, by association, any appreciation of the romance genre (they are forever tied together in my mind), but I honestly had been bored and annoyed with romance novels prior to that tender teenage heartbreak experience. Really. When I was about eight, I had practically gone from horse stories to non-fiction, so I felt silly reading predictable sappy love stories.

Yet, whenever I’ve spotted a Mary Stewart or Phyllis A. Whitney novel, I must confess, I’ve felt a fondness…

At first I told myself that this was some simple sense of nostalgia, memories of early years happily reading at my grandparent’s house while the adults played cards combined with the remembrances of myself as an wistfully romantic girl. Such things would make romance novels seem comforting — like pulp versions of turkey pot pies. Yet there there seemed something more…

Something compelled me to remember these authors and their books favorably after all these years. If I was ever going to know the truth, my truth about these books, there was only one thing to do: give in, purchase a few, and read them.

mary-stewart-airs-above-the-groundI selected Mary Stewart’s Airs Above The Ground to read first because I knew it was not one I had read before (surprising as the book boasts of the beautiful Lipizzan stallions I was so dreamy about as a youngster) and figured that would remove the potential of too much nostalgia.

My copy is a 1970 printing (thrift store score for a dollar or less), but the work was copyrighted in 1965 (a year after I was born!) and that means there are some beguilingly sexist passages for a feminist reader like myself.

On page 216, “our young wife’s” husband asks her if she can manage the “hellish” walk that lies before them in the dark; this is our heroine’s response:

He was already leading the way at a good pace. The question, I gathered, had been no more than one of those charming concessions which make a woman’s life so much more interesting (I’ve always thought) than a man’s. In actual fact, Lewis invariably took it serenely for granted that I could and would do exactly what he expected of me, but it helps occasionally to be made to feel that it is little short of marvellous for anything so rare, so precious, and so fragile to compete with the tough world of men.

On page 219, along the “hellish” walk:

For me the night had held terror, relief, joy, and then a sort of keyed-up excitement; and drugged with this and sleepiness, and buoyed up by the intense relief and pleasure of Lewis’s company, I had been floating along in a kind of dream — apprehensive, yes, but no longer scared; nothing could happen to me when he was there. But with him, I now realized, it was more than this; more positive than this. It was not simply that as a man he wasn’t prey to my kind of physical weakness and fear, nor just that he had the end of an exacting job in sight. He was, quite positively, enjoying himself.

Another favorite, from page 234, about Timothy, the son of the friend of the family who accompanies her on this mystery adventure:

Something about his voice as he spoke made me shoot a glance at him. Not quite authority, not quite patronage, certainly not self-importance; but just the unmistakable echo of that man-to-woman way that even the nicest men adopt when they are letting a woman catch a glimpse of the edges of the Man’s World.

When one removes (or forgives) such things, as (or if) they can, and reads for the story itself, what remains?

mary-stewart-airs-above-the-ground-backOfficially billed as a “romantic suspense story” (presumably not officially labeled “Gothic romance” as it only has the air of the supernatural; there are more logical reasons for creepy mists and the seemingly impossible), Airs is not so much a will-he-ever-love-me romance as a is-my-man-a-dirty-rotten-creep mystery. This, of course, appeals to my jaded personality. So I quickly devoured the 255 pages, wondering if he is a creep, what his weak-arse story will be — and if Vanessa will fall for it (or, maybe, fall for the much younger Timothy?)

I won’t ruin the book for you with too many details or the outcomes. (However, I must tell you that the promised backdrop of Royal Lipizzan Stallions isn’t as rich and predominant as a horse-lover might like… But I’m supposed to have outgrown that romance too, right?) The bottom line is that Airs Above The Ground is, as far as expectations for a bit of romantic suspense fiction goes, pleasantly complicated enough not to be predictable.

It won’t win any awards from me; it is what it is. But I cannot disparage it. And maybe that means I ought not disparage the genre… A few more books will tell.

My Summer of ’79

At 15, I was straddling the simple romantic fantasies of girlhood by day — and the hormonal induced sweaty-pink-bit-manipulations by night.

By day, I still played with Barbie & her friends. Still playing with Barbies was not something I advertised; I didn’t invite my girlfriends over to play with me. Like my nocturnal activities, this was the solo-play of self-discovery.

Playing with Barbie was like warm comfort food; I understood the rules and romance in playland, even if I didn’t understand the ways of the boys around me who had suddenly started reacting to my well-beyond-just-budding breasts.

But at night, I got hot and sweaty for Andy Gibb — via his posters on my walls.

angy-gibb-posterEspecially that poster of Andy with his dark blue satin baseball jacket worn open to expose what I could only then (and now) best describe as a tree of hair — with a trunk that went down past the navel to what I could only then bear to imagine as another system of hair at the root… Leading to that something that beefed-up his tight satin pants. And that magnificent mane of hair on his head, ahhh... it still works.

But before I begin to get lost in teenage masturbation fantasies, let’s just say that solo-play was far more productive in terms of my nighttime studies; learning the ins-and-outs of myself, physically & emotionally, was easier than figuring out interpersonal play by myself. But I did learn much about me.

At 15, I knew the score — or at least what scoring was — even if I wasn’t ready for it. At least not with a boy. If I was going to give in — and I wasn’t sure I was — it would be with a man who knew what he was doing.

Since I was an avid reader, Barbie wasn’t my only form of entertainment. (Nor was masturbation — quit trying to get me off the subject!) As an avid reader with a voracious appetite for books, my parents let me read freely from anything on the bookshelves at home and at the library. I hadn’t needed my parents’ permission for any reading material since what, I was 6, 7? I read what I wanted, and asked questions when I needed to.

For example, when I was about 10 I read a mystery book which presented a mystery it hadn’t intended. I forget the title and author, but the passage went like this: “and then he threw the flaming faggot into the fire.” Since the only definition for ‘faggot’ I knew was the same for ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ (hey folks, it was 1974, and folks were ‘out’ in theory even if I didn’t know anyone personally); I was at a loss. How could a man who was alone throw another man into a fire? And if there was someone around, why hadn’t he been mentioned earlier? Shouldn’t there have been some sort of exchange or motive? Was it just bad writing?

Book in hand, I approached my mother, showed her the passage and asked for help. How she kept a straight face (no pun intended) while explaining that ‘faggot’ was an English word for cigarette, I’ll never know… But I do know that not only had she helped me with my vocabulary but I helped her by letting her know what I knew. That’s what parenting is all about, yes?

So, flash forward five years to me at 15 again. I dragged myself away from Andy Gibb’s gaze, left Babs alone (that’s not a euphemism; I refer again to the classic fashion doll), and look for a book on my parents’ book shelf.

summer-of-42-coverA title caught my eye, The Summer of ’42 — something about it was familiar. I remembered vaguely the book making news… Something about sex & banning the book… Hmm, I thought, I hope it’s not as dumb as Catcher in the Rye. (That book did nothing for me, sorry.) But curiosity won, and I took Summer of ’42 to my room and read it.

The book was well-written, but it was from the point of view of a boy, which I found faintly disinteresting. A group of boys who want to get laid, gee, that was news to a 15 year old girl with big boobs. But I hung with it (to date, I’ve only quit reading 3 books — I’m a girl who believes in commitment), and I learned a few things.

Like Hermie’s date with Aggie. Hermie thinks he’s getting lucky by touching her breast — a deformed breast lacking any nipple — only to discover later that he’d been fondling and groping her shoulder. (Hey, Andy Gibb would never, ever, have made that mistake!) This only confirmed my belief that boys were stupid. They were in such a rush, they missed pretty basic stuff. Idiots.

But at the end of the book, the cumulative lessons learned left me once again surprised: I’d read another banned book that left me wondering why it would need to be banned. Frankly, I still am.

Sure, Hermie (an under-age boy) has sex with an older (adult) woman; but it’s depressing. It’s not erotic. Nor is it abusive or crude. In fact, it scared me about my fantasies about Mr. Gibb. I mean Hermie was in love, head over heels in love — ga-ga — and after what he thinks is such a beautiful moment, this woman cries and leaves him. Sure, she was vulnerable with her husband’s death and all, but clearly, she didn’t want some kid. Ouch. And hey, Hermie’s got feelings! Who knew boys had feelings?

This was not some sex-filled-romp of adolescence. This was not some titillating erotic entertainment piece. This was heartbreaking. Even at 15, a never-been-kissed-by-a-boy girl, I recognized the agony of misplaced virginity. I knew that a first time, a first love, a first f***, was sacred. This wasn’t some fodder for a solo-f***-fest, some sensationalized erotic entertainment — far from it. It was a warning. Not only were young boys not practiced enough to find a boob, but they were immature enough to not know they should protect their hearts. While I felt that I would fare better in the groping department, I knew I was likely as lame in matters of the heart.

Not long after, Barbie was put away and didn’t see sunlight until we had a garage sale. I had mastered what I needed to know: romance was a fickle bitch, boys could indeed be hurt too, and romance could be as plastic — as one-sided — as a fashion doll.

I still masturbated to images of Andy, but I no longer romanticized meeting him after a concert and that he’d fall in love with me. It was just sex — just sex in my mind. And it was safer for me at that time to leave it at that. Too bad Hermie hadn’t been that self aware, hadn’t protected himself… And no wonder the older woman who should have known better, but was so affected by her own broken heart she couldn’t think straight, left town asap.

I grew up quite a bit reading Summer of ’42, and I likely saved myself some pain. I’m not saying I mad no mistakes; my life is a character-building exercise. But I made less mistakes, less painful ones. I have Herman Raucher to thank for that. And my parents — for they let me read.

Just last week I asked my mom if she knew that I had read Summer of ’42; yes, she had. I asked her if she was, well, creeped out by it. Her reply? “No. You always came to us if you had questions. …It was a sad story, wasn’t it?”

Yeah mom, it was sad. Sadder still to know that some kids weren’t allowed to read it. Thank you, mom and dad, for being good parents.

banned books Epilogue: Some kids and adults are still not allowed to read or view Summer of ’42 because it has been banned from their libraries. Or they’ve been told to avoid such ‘horrible’ works. I can’t speak for the film, but if you get a chance, read Summer of ’42. It might be too late to save yourself from past mistakes, but it’s never too late to learn something.

Read it this week, Banned Books Week, buy Banned Books Week merch, blog about it and read what others have to say — and celebrate your freedom to read.

This Just In… Timeless Television

When I’m not busy killing squirrels & scaring neighbors, I’m researching & writing from home — in between the usual parenting & home life disturbances.

richard-dawsonToday, while researching a vintage plastic donkey (don’t worry, you’ll hear about it all later), I am absentmindedly aware that my son has left the TV on and that an old episode of The Family Feud is playing on GSN.

It’s that final round, and it goes like this:

Richard Dawson: Name something that little boys like that little girls don’t.

Male contestant: Balls.

The audience snickers through the rest of round.

I do believe that when it came time for the “survey sez” that “balls” got bupkiss. But that’s not the point, now, is it.

The Fear Filled Prophecy For The Monday Move Meme

This week’s Monday Movie Meme topic is “fear.” I don’t particularly enjoy being scared; life is scary & fragile enough, thanks. Nor do I find any entertainment value in repeated bodily harm & numerous deaths — no many how many forms the gore takes. So I obviously do not watch many horror or slasher films. But I have managed to see some though — like I was there (with my mom) to see the original Halloween (1978) and I think I saw at least one more part in the classic horror series… Mom needn’t worry that I’d be up late with nightmares because, gross as the films were, they were rather forgettable to me.

But then I saw Prophecy (1979). Nothing, I mean nothing, had scared me as profoundly as that film.

prophecy-the-monster-movieProphecy is about a burned-out inner city doctor (Rob, played by Robert Foxworth) who is given the chance to escape to the country (Maine wilderness) for some meaningful (70’s hot issue) environmental science by investigating a dispute between a paper mill and the local Main Indians. He takes along his classically trained musician wife (Maggie, played by Talia Shire) — because there’s an important personal (and another political 70’s) sub-plot involving the couple: the embittered doc doesn’t want to bring another life into this horrible world, and she’s not only knocked-up, but isn’t so keen on (what I recall to be) another abortion.

When they arrive in Maine, it’s pulped into your head that a crisis is at hand at the paper mill. It’s the environment vs. progress, land vs. capitalism, with the lumberjacks on one side and the Indians on the other. In fabulous retro kitsch film style, Armand Assante plays the young Native American activist, angrily defending the old world traditions with modern gangsta style; gotta love the irony of a film trying to make points about the wisdom of native cultures using an Irish-Italian actor to play a Native American.

The idealogical & political war has been going on for quite some time now, but things are coming to a head. People are missing and the lumberjacks are certain it’s the Indians who, upset that the paper mill is damaging the land, have taken or harmed the people in the name of politics. But something else is going on… Something just below the surface… And we are shown that literally when a duck, floating atop the water, is gulped as dinner by a fish below…

Long creepy story short, the menace is a native alright; but it’s not exactly human.

The Indian legend has it that the creature is Kataden, there to save them, their land, their way of life — but really, it’s a bear that, due to the paper mill’s dirty pool (poisoning the water pools) has mutated into some sort of hideous & huge bear-pig.

prophecy-movie-horror-monster-kataden

As I too vividly recall, the Native American lore says that the legendary Kataden is a being which embodies “every other living creature” — something scientifically paralleled in a Darwinian theory of fetal development when Kataden’s drowned cubs are found by the doctor who supposes these babies are the results of the paper mill’s mercury poisoning. This made everything all the more “plausible” & frightening to my then 15 year old mind.

Like most horror films, the cast of characters is slow to catch on to the real problem, giving way to lots of violence — violence which serves to bloodily & bodily illustrate all the issues at hand.

Along with the paper mill vs. Indian clash, you have the clash of ways and beliefs between the younger Indians & the older Indians, the corrupt and ignorant/innocent paper mill persons, and the “exploration” of modern life via the personal issues of a modern couple. She’s emotional & artsy (feminine) and he’s all hard(ened) science (masculine), which echoes the other film’s value laden battle themes (nature vs.money, faith vs. pragmatics, traditions vs. modernization, the gift of life vs. quality of life).

The dangers of each are literally & graphically presented in such scenes as one of Kataden’s babies trying to suckle from Maggie’s nipple, the attack on innocence represented as a child in a sleeping bag, and the elderly Indian leader meeting his maker as he smilingly goes to meet his savior, Kataden.

And then there’s the matter of her pregnancy… Will the doc bring a child into this world? Does he have a choice? How much does he resent her — enough to not save her as his masculine protective duties dictate? Has she eaten too much of the mercury poisoned fish? Will the monster bites she’s suffered be a problem? Dogs & cats Bear-pigs & men living together; mass hysteria.

At the end of the film, life is affirmed: nature & femininity wins, overcoming corporate masculine greed with a show of traditional human survival instincts rooted in love. But at the end another creepy creature is seen, suggesting a sequel…

Did we learn the right things? Will the thing grow up, then rise up to teach us something new? Only it’s 1979; the 80’s are on the horizon, our backs are turned on the lessons learned, and no sequel has yet to come.

But I’m unable to forget it all — or the images in my head.

Yes, Prophecy is blunt heavy film — heavy on the cliches, ham-handed in using horror to punching them like a fist to your face to make the point — but it was also effective in scaring the crap out of me & placing issues heavily in my heart.

I’m not sure if “adult me” would be so moved. I did catch parts of it on late night television one night, but I wasn’t prepared to sit & give it it’s proper attention (it was on while I worked to meet a deadline) and it was so edited for content that I felt ripped-off. But I’d really like to see it again and see if it holds any of that old (black & terrifying) magic. It must hold something if I retain it so vividly 30 years later.

Click the pic & watch a clip!

For info, images, quotes, opinions, etc. on this film see BadMovies.org & Kindertrauma.

But Maybe I Should Leave My Fantasies Of Isaac Out Of It

To celebrate National Romance Week, Princess Cruises has joined with Cruise Critic to conduct a search for real-life love stories that have taken place on the decks of Princess ships. Jan Swartz, Princess’ executive vice president, says:

Over the years, we’ve heard many romantic stories from our passengers – everything from meeting their future spouse onboard a Princess ship to unexpectedly reconnecting with someone with whom they develop a new relationship – and so we’re launching a search to find as many of these heartwarming stories as possible.

So why would you confess such things as bumping into an old flame & rekindling a romance aboard a cruise ship, or, a la The Love Boat, hooking up with the ship’s doctor — let alone have them published on the Princess website?

Well, Princess Cruises says it’s for the love of romance — and the prize. (The winner will receive a seven-day Princess cruise to the Caribbean, including airfare.) But I think it’s the opportunity to have Captain Stubing judge your love exploits at sea.

stubing_mcleodThat’s right, one of the judges of this contest is “Princess’ well-known ambassador and member of the line’s ‘Department of Romance’,” Gavin MacLeod.

MacLeod and Cruise Critic editor-in-chief Carolyn Spencer Brown will pick their five favorite stories from among those submitted, and then the Cruise Critic community will then vote on the top five to determine the most romantic story. Entries will be taken until August 28, 2009; the most romantic story will be announced on September 28, 2009.

I’d like to win a free cruise — who wouldn’t? But I’d really like to impress Captain Stubing. (Maybe enough, along with all the other stories, to reignite a campaign to bring back Love Boat; oh, the many happy nights of watching, giggling, dreaming about Isaac, “My Bartender.”) At least that’s why I would enter — if I’d ever been on a cruise, let alone a Princess Cruise. Donations accepted.

issac-my-bartender

Remembering Retro Risque T-Shirt Iron-Ons

retro-lets-boogie-iron-on-t-shirt-transfer Back in the day, you couldn’t go to a mall and avoid a visit to (or the smell of) the t-shirt shop.

There you could select your t-shirt style (ringers were de rigueur, but then the baseball shirts with contrasting sleeves came in — oooh!), get your size, choose a color, pick out the funkiest iron-on, and even have it all personalized with letters (including glittery & puffy versions) spelling out your name.

Ah, those were the days, my friend…

Sure, now you can use your computer to design your own graphic and print it out at home on some iron-on paper and iron it on yourself (if you even own or can find your iron), but it’s not the same.

stolen-from-mabels-cat-house-customer-comes-firstDon’t argue with me; it’s not the same, I tell you!

The 70’s were the Golden Age of Iron-Ons.

There were rock iron-ons, iron-ons with drug references and slang (that you had to be cool to ‘get’) — all sorts of stuff.

But the best, the most memorable, were the risque & down-right lewd t-shirts which had designs running the polarized gambit of responses to women’s liberation. You had sexist men, trying to exert their dominance through sexual bravado, sometimes cloaked as jokes, one one end; and on the other end, women trying to make their point that they were equal & could be dirty too.

typists-do-it-sitting-down

I’m not sure that Typists Do It Sitting Down was exactly liberating or showing support of the ERA (more likey to feed the naughty secretary mythology), but, hell, they were worn by the libbers at PTA meetings — I mean literally worn at PTA meetings.

70s-male-chauvinist-pigSometimes a chauvinist pig & a demonstrating libber had on the same shirts. Was “Sex is Like a Bank Account, as soon as you make a Withdrawl, you lose Interest” supposed to be sex positive? Or was it ironic? You didn’t always know…

I’m pretty sure a lot of the adults wearing them didn’t know either.

It was confusing.

I’m sure part of the reason so many of these iron-ons and finished tees were seared into my brain as if the press-iron had melted the plastic goo-graphics into my brain had a lot to with my age.

retro-kitsch-pervert-of-the-yearBeing a teen-aged girl standing behind a guy who’d just made/bought a “mustache rides” tee — who smiled at you just a little too long — makes you understand the classless menace even if you don’t know what that sort of ride is… And then, when a friend’s older sibling tells you what it means, you die another special little death.

Ah, good times.

But what’s really surprising is to look at what’s left of these original retro iron-ons and realize just how many you don’t understand. It’s not just that I don’t recall seeing them before; I honestly don’t understand them.

retro-lab-iron-onLike “LAB Large American Breasts” — was that for men or for women? The nipples on the ‘B’ indicate, a large American no. And was “LAB” supposed to be a parody of another LAB? The League of American Bicyclists? The Liberation Army… Uh. I don’t know.

Maybe it’s just as simple as men boasting they wanted big breasted women & I’m over thinking it.

But what about this? If “The more I know MEN… The better I like my DOG” was an iron-on for woman to wear, does that mean “The More I Know Women… The Better I Like My PUSSY!” was for men? Um, that iron-on doesn’t really transfer — the concept, I mean (I’m sure the image went/goes on a shirt fine). …There aren’t any rainbows or triangles to signify any LGBT significance.

the-more-i-know-men-iron-onretro-the-more-i-know-women

Maybe I’m just too obtuse. Or too cerebral… This was the 70’s. I probably shouldn’t expect a lot.

But I want to add these iron-ons to my collection. That way, as usual, I’ll have some time to ponder the individual messages and their part in the collective message — and maybe that will help me make more sense of it all. Maybe.

hands-off-my-tuts

Of Farrah Fawcett & The Trouble With Feminism

I was kitsch-slapped myself, reading this line (in one my feeds) from Linda Lowen’s post regarding Farrah Fawcett’s death:

Considering the fact that Fawcett was one of those impossible-to-live-up-to female images that feminists rail against, there’s been surprisingly little commentary about her passing or about her role in pop culture history from feminist circles.

Ugh, where do I even begin?

farrah_fawcettI could try to rectify the “little commentary from feminists” comment by showing all the other posts I’d read (and skimmed in feeds) in which feminists eulogize Farrah; but I’m a bit too lazy — and hot under the collar — to gather them all.

Then there’s the matter of this, Lowen’s response to Lisa Westerfield’s “feminist Farrah Fawcett” piece (originally published prior to Fawcett’s death; republished the day the actress died):

Still Expected to Cook Dinner
Westerfield doesn’t make this point, but Fawcett’s marriage to actor Lee Majors (who played the Six Million Dollar Man) was more of the same old ‘Cinderella marries the Prince’ story than a fresh, modern tale of a strong woman controlling her own destiny. (Westerfield, however, does acknowledge that Fawcett had to leave the show in time to go home to make dinner for her husband each night.)

Sorry, but this is not the stuff that feminist icons are made off.

So marriage makes one less of a feminist? Or is it just specific kinds of marriages, left undefined, that Lowen doesn’t like? I can’t tell. And then she mentions the whole “making dinner for her husband thing.” So boring. But more upsetting actually that here I go again…

farrah-fawcett-lee-majorsThe truth is, we cannot know exactly why Farrah wanted out of Charlie’s Angel’s… Whether if was for “bigger bolder career reasons” or if she “had” to be there to make Lee’s daily dinners, or maybe, and this is too often left out of the conversation, Farrah herself wanted to be there make, serve & enjoy those meals with Majors more than be on TV. If she wanted to be there to make his man-meals after work or instead of her own career, that was her damn choice.

That’s what feminism is about; a woman’s right to choose the life she leads.

And yes, that includes the right to play 1950’s atomic “mommy” to her man. It may be, for some folks, harder to swallow than that retro lime Jell-O with its suspended carrot shavings; but suck it up & choke it down, because that’s still an option a woman has the right to choose. You have no more right to tell her she can’t than anyone else can tell her she must.

If she made that choice to be “Mrs.” rather than focus on a “career,” that is the stuff feminist icons are made of.

If she didn’t really, or freely, make that choice, as many claim, let’s look at why that would be… She went, as most women then did (and many still do — or are expected to), from Daddy’s Little Girl to The Little Woman. Breaking out of such family dynamics isn’t as easy as marching on Washington, you know. It is an individual act, done in isolation, railing against a patriarch you love; while the latter is undertaken en mass, railing against a The Patriarchy. Standing up to a man you love (whose face you adore), as opposed to standing up to The Man (who is anonymous & faceless), requires a maturity most women, especially without personally accessible role models, do not achieve until they are in their 30’s or beyond.

This Farrah did.

Isn’t that the stuff feminist icons are made of too? Or must we only be recognized if we are born with the power of rebellion, railing against things we don’t yet understand?

But what sticks in my craw most, are all the assumptions packed into one neat line in Lowen’s article: “the fact that Fawcett was one of those impossible-to-live-up-to female images that feminists rail against.”

Fact?! Who the hell says that all feminists rail against beauty? Most of us may rail against the need &/or pressure to conform to (white male) versions of “beauty,” but many of us are wise enough to realize that when a female is beautiful, impossible to live up to or not, she’s, well, she’s just beautiful.

Beauty, by itself, means nothing more, nothing less; no objectification necessary.

Nor is there a need for hatred or jealousy, or whatever pretense the stereotypical snark is supposedly serving. Such things are patriarchal constructions to divide & conquer women; crap I, and others, simply won’t perpetuate.

Some of us are also wise enough to see how beauty can & will be used against the one who possesses it. Not just in Hollywood, which rakes in money exploiting fair face & figure, while unfairly limiting actresses (such as Marilyn Monroe, Farrah Fawcett, Lucille Ball, and, recently, even Tina Fey) to (stereo)type; but everywhere.

Farrah fought against such things, not just with her stage & screen roles which eventually earned her some respect, but in her own life. Why diminish her to mean-spirited comments disguised as wit, like this comment left at Correctly Impolitic:

Here’s why the hoopla about MJ and not FF:
Michael Jackson was a spectacular talent who had mediocre hair.
Farrah Fawcett was a mediocre talent who had spectacular hair.

To mock a woman & diminish her value to only that of an icon of beauty, or “spectacular hair,” is abusive. Like an abusive spouse, such devaluation at the hands of an individual or a group culturally is an attempt to isolate and control.

To mock a woman & diminish her value to only that of an icon of beauty, or “spectacular hair,” is objectification. You are objectifying her.

farrah-fawcett-playboy-cover-1978And don’t give me this BS that she’s asking for it; no one, Playboy fantasy girl or not, wants to be viewed solely for their occupation or one facet of their life.

Fawcett fought to have others see her many facets. She fought to make some decidedly feminist productions. But even if she had opted to make a career out of jiggle TV & silly bimbo roles (stuff our culture digs with a big spoon, allowing “dumb bimbos” to laugh all the way to the bank), she’d still be a feminist in my book. As long as she had choices to make & was exercising her right to choice, she was a feminist.

A beautiful feminist.

Why is that so difficult to accept?

farrah-fawcett-july-1997-playboyYou know, it’s so damn weird that people actually spend time discussing whether or not so-and-so’s hair coloring is real — and if she colored/bleached it, if she’s doing it for the patriarchy. Why waste your time on that? Isn’t it enough that there’s an asshat ready to call you old, fat & ugly the minute you stand up for yourself or dare to assert your rights as a female? While their words are no sticks & stones that can break our bones, they are designed to hurt us, discredit us, and I resent the attempts. Are my words less important if I am ugly? No. Making oneself ugly to be taken more seriously or make one “more feminist” doesn’t work either. So beauty, even great amounts of it, do not remove one’s ability to be smart or dilute one’s ability to be a feminist.

It’s such a damn mess being a judged woman. You can be a bitched at beauty, or simply dismissed as a bimbo, one minute and then called a fat cow the next just for asserting yourself or educating another with some fact or other (maybe even for daring to mock Sanjaya). It happens at Wal*Mart, in academia, in the blogosphere, at family reunion picnics… Everywhere & anywhere. And I’m sick of it.

Stop this incessant bitching about who is and isn’t being a good feminist or feminist role model. Stop worry about who wears lip gloss, bleaches her hair, & why. Stop making snide gossipy comments about who is a stay at home mom, a working mom, or a true career woman; who does or doesn’t have kids; who does or doesn’t have a man — who doesn’t even want a man — and why. Just stop worrying about what people choose to do (99 times out of 100, it has nothing to do with anyone’s safety or your life) and start worrying about whether people have equal rights to control their own lives.

That’s what feminism & true equality are all about.

farrah_fawcett_poster_1976And if you’ve got spectacular hair, a killer smile, and only-too-happy-to-be-seen perky nipples, good for you. You’re beautiful! Why on earth should I make that your cross to bear or discuss if that makes you “feminist enough?” I’m only worried if you’ve got the right to make your own choices in life.

And to hell with the rest of ’em who want to put you in a box.

Especially when the only box you really are in is your coffin.

Farrah exercised her ability to choose how to live her life as best she could; and that’s as feminist as it gets.

Some Lessons In The Soiling Of Old Glory

the-soiling-of-old-glory-the-story-of-a-photograph-that-shocked-america-by-louis-p-masurAt Collectors’ Quest I just reviewed Louis P. Masur’s The Soiling of Old Glory: The Story of a Photograph That Shocked Americaa book I can’t recommend highly enough.

While the book is based on a very famous photograph, the Pulitzer Prize–winning photograph by Stanley Forman, taken on April 5, 1976 at a Boston rally against forced school busing, I’d never heard of or seen the photo before.

I don’t know why.

I was 12 years old at that time and I remember vividly Watergate, Viet Nam, etc.; so I obviously absorbed news. And I’ve always been interested in, sensitive to, and emotional regarding matters of race — something I’ve since put down not only to a combination of being human, being female (and so recognizing oppression), and “white guilt,” but as spiritual residue from being born on June 21, 1964, the date of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered (something I never knew until I was about 25 and rented Mississippi Burning). Plus, I’ve been a very avid student of history. So just how the incident & photograph escaped my knowledge is a mystery to me…

But once I found Masur’s book, my ignorance left.

And not just my ignorance regarding this (and other) incidents of relatively recent racism in this country (and in “the liberal north” yet!), but about photography, art, symbolism… And this country’s flag.

I had no idea that someone from my home-state of Wisconsin was so influential in the creation of National Flag Day, or that the Milwaukee Daughters of the American Revolution played a role in early anti flag desecration legislation. In fact, I had no idea that there was such concern over flag desecration as early as the late 1800’s. But what really rocked my cynical world was the reasoning behind it. Masur wrote (pages 98-99):

Even as the flag came to be venerated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it became subject to another kind of treatment: desecration. Of course, it makes perfect sense that the two might emerge side by side, an object worshipped and reviled, an icon and a target. Reports and pamphlets in support of legislation against federal flag desecration began to appear, primarily in response not to overt acts of destruction but to the commercial use of the image of the flag. Arguing that “old glory is too sacred a symbol to be misused by any party, creed, or faction,” one writer included a list of objects on which “old glory… is treated with grave disrespect or used for mercenary purposes.” The items ranged from pocket handkerchiefs and doormats to lemon wrappers and whiskey bottles. In 1890, the House Judiciary Committee recommended passage of a law that made it a misdemeanor to “use the national flag, either by printing, painting, or affixing said flag, or otherwise attaching to the same any advertisement for public display, or private gain.”

What strikes me so odd — not that it should, I suppose — is that folks were so upset by the commercialization of the U.S. flag.

What on earth would they think of today’s patriotism? Of our current state of ridicule of anyone not wearing or displaying, on person or product, an American flag?

That sound you hear is the thud of fainting conservatives from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Or maybe it is the screams of horror from the same.

Once I wrapped my mind around such societal flip-flop, I then was left to revisit my own memories of the flag. A flag I’d seen on so many things… And that was before 9/11.

Heck, walk down any major isle at oh-holy-Wal*Mart this week, and try not to find something with the U.S. flag printed on it — tank tops with the flag & little white puppies, disposable plates with flags on them, socks with flags & fireworks, seat cushions… Endless. And all made to be profited from.

Was the Bicentennial responsible for this?

Back then (and I don’t mean just 1976, but the years surrounding it too) we had our school pictures taken with flag backgrounds, ate off flag forks, plastered cafeterias with flag-printed crepe paper & balloons, even applied flag printed toilet paper to clean our dirty butts. It was as bad as Masur notes, and, as he quotes, by then at least one member of the Sons of the American Revolution was OK with such kitsch: “I see no harm in these Bicentennial products. There is no harm in making a buck.”

But while the Bicentennial was the height of flag kitsch, I had some memories of flag use and “abuse” before then…

Again from Masur (page 107):

The meaning of America and the meaning of the flag went together. As the counterculture of the late 1950s and the 1960s came into prominence, attempts to redefine America often meant desacralizing the flag by wearing it. The cultural rebellion of the 1960s necessarily implicated the flag. [Allen] Ginsberg came to sport a top hat with the American flag motif. In discussing Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters, and the drug culture of the 1960s, Ginsberg argued that “they didn’t reject the American flag but instead washed it and took it back from the neoconservatives and right wingers and war hawks who were wrapping themselves in the flag, so Kesey painted the flag on his sneakers and had a little flag in his teeth filling.”

This was as I recalled from my television set. The protest film footage, the body paint on Goldie Hawn & Judy Carne on Laugh-In (and if the girls hadn’t actually worn flags painted on their bodies, well, I said it was as I recalled it…) It may not all have been as commercial as the Bicentennial kitsch was; but it was there, making it’s own statement, whether you dug it or not.

In the end, I agree with Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson who, ruling on West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette in 1943, said:

To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the state as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.”

I don’t for a moment consider the use of the flag as a weapon to be anything other than criminal; that’s not my intent in any way. While the photo and exploration of the cult of flag connect in Masur’s book (they have to; the flag as symbol must be discussed), that’s not his point either. But what you have to see is a time, not long ago, when many felt the flag, like the country, didn’t represent them any more.

Here Masur repeats a quote Kenneth Clark published in Dark Ghetto:

The flag here in America is for the white man. The blue is for justice; the fifty white stars you see in the blue are for the fifty white states; and the white you see in it is the White House. It represents white folks. The red in it is the white man’s blood — he doesn’t even respect your blood, that’s why he will lynch you, hang you, barbecue you, and fry you.

There are many times I feel that way. Not just in theory. Not just as continuing amateur historian. But as a woman living her life here as a second class citizen. Without equal pay. Without the same recourse & credibility when she stands to seek justice. Without recognized rights to her own body. And with far greater (& societal accepted) risk of violence & sexual assault.

Why isn’t my gender’s blood part of the red on the flag?

I feel a reclamation-of-the-flag art project coming on.

Happy Fourth of July.

Police Woman: The Long Octopus Arms Twarting Female Police Detectives

police-woman-angie-dickinsonMost of us tend to think of Angie Dickinson when we think of police women — and it’s not just because she was Sgt. Suzanne “Pepper” Anderson on Police Woman in 1974.

Most of us tend to think of the 60’s & 70’s when those women’s libbers pushed and sued for the opportunity to be equals (including police officers) and Angie baby was in full mod swing then, so naturally we “see” her as the face (and bod) of the mod we’ve-come-a-long-way-baby policewoman. And the plethora of Police Woman dolls & toys — like this ridiculous “Sabotage Under The Sea” set with octopus — helped solidify this image for a lot of us.

retro-police-woman-sabotage-under-the-sea-set

But in truth, there not only were female cops before then, but they were the result of what we’d now call “unlikely feminists” — and some bad male behavior. These battles would be more dangerous than tangling with an octopus.

You may have heard of Isabella Goodwin, the first US woman detective appointed in New York City on March 1, 1912 (it’s the sort of “fun historical fact” people like to blog about, say, on March 1st). But few take the time to give you some real information about her — or at least some cultural context. But you know I’m all about the context, right?

There’s little information available on the web about Isabella Goodwin (save for the fact one-liner), but there is a story & a setting alright.

The story begins in the mid 1800’s when female prisoners were housed with male prisoners and so male officers, their wives, widows of policemen (called “bedmakers,” these women were paid out of the policemen’s own pockets), or “the maid at the police station” performed searches on female prisoners. Such mingling of the sexes shocked the general public — mainly because of the high number of poor men and women who came to New York City often found themselves forced to find shelter at station houses (these people were called “casuals”). According to the NYPD, “in 1887, at various times, up to 42,000 of these homeless women spent at least one night in a station house.” However, things were about to change.

The Women’s Prison Association of New York and the American Female Christian Temperance Union petitioned the Board of Estimate and Apportionment for the appointment of police matrons, and for the creation of separate prison cells for men and women. If it sounds odd to you that Christian women of the 1800’s would be involved in a feminist push for equal career opportunities, you misunderstand. The push was not for careers for women, but for the protection of women who could be victimized by men. And you must remember that once upon a time, Christians saw their role in society as to help the less fortunate, including through social reform, as opposed to the current day philosophy of “”convert them or judge them & leave them to rot.”

Pressured by groups seeking social reforms, the New York State Legislature passed a law requiring that female doctors treat female patients in mental institutions & that every precinct station house has Police Matrons to tend to female arrestees. This legislation was passed in 1888. But the New York City Board of Police Commissioners does not make any Matron appointments until 1891 — after Governor David B. Hill signed a bill that mandated the hiring of Police Matrons and the establishment of separate cells for men and women under arrest. This was a direct result of a police officer being found guilty the attempted assault of a fifteen-year-old girl at a station house and sentenced to prison in 1890.

Months later, the first civil service test was held for the title of Police Matron — with applicants being required to have letters of recommendation from at least twenty women “of good standing.”

In an attempt at humor, I suppose, Jay Maeder sums up the “new” police matrons with “thus creating the jail-matron system that remained a sinecure for many a stern, stout Irishwoman well into the 20th century.”

:sigh:

Maeder’s stereotype isn’t the worst, or even the first. Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History notes:

Of course the matrons were not installed without criticism, which by the way ranged from the prediction that women would become totally incapacitated at the sighting of a mere rodent to criticism that men wouldn’t stand a chance because women would completely take over, dominating the station house and their fellow male employees.

Police Matrons worked long hours, receiving only one day off per month, and just one week’s vacation per year. In 1896, there is one Matron per shift (one day, one night) per station house. Their duties increase too. Matrons are now assigned to search subjects; process, escort and supervise inmates; and to care for lost children. As of 1899, they were paid $1,000 per year as of 1899, and they would not receive a pay increase until 1918.

It is in 1896 that police widow Isabella Goodwin (noted as having four children) is hired as a Police Matron and begins her police career, which will culminate in making First Grade Detective in March of 1912, and being appointed second in command of the first Women’s Police Precinct in April that same year.

Goodwin’s appointment to detective came about through the Police Chief bypassing Civil Service requirements that discriminated against women — presumably in large part due to pressure from the public and lots of press regarding her role in “bringing to justice of the taxicab bandits,” as evidenced in Goodwin’s interview in The New York Times, March 3, 1912 (below).

You really should read it; where else can you read a real news story which includes characters called Swede Annie and Eddie The Boob?

The old newspaper article also includes Goodwin’s story of a bust of a (male) fortune teller. The problem of $2 readings were apparently quite prevalent, for The New York Supplement details of Goodwin’s testimony & the judge’s affirmation of the conviction of fake fortune teller Maude Malcolm on Janurary 18, 1915 (beginning on page 919).

Goodwin, naturally, ends the interview with a, “Despite my peculiar work I try not to neglect my home. A woman’s first duty is to her family, and I have tried always to remember that.” To which the author is only too happy to pander, prove (with assertions from Isabella’s children & the author’s own eyes) & compliment.

But if this seems, well, less satisfactory than the loud “long way baby” route of the mod 60’s women’s lib ladies, consider the following…

Such public adoration may have been new to Goodwin and to female policewomen at the time, but Jay Maeder notes it wouldn’t stay that way:

Matrons did women pretty much exclusively until 1912, when one Isabella Goodwin, theretofore detailed to the wayward-lass wing of the Mercer St. station, was assigned to take a position as a domestic in a household full of suspected bank robbers. Goodwin, swiftly getting the goods on this bunch, then became New York’s first female detective first grade. Subsequently, more and more women began to get pulled into crime-busting duties, and a full-fledged Bureau of Policewomen was established in 1926.

The city’s lady cops, many of them nurses and lawyers and social workers and other such college-educated professionals, were celebrated public figures all through the 1930s and ’40s and ’50s, always good press copy as they went often quite dangerously undercover to lure sexual predators and smash abortion rings and whatnot.

Isabella Goodwin may never have had a doll or octopus made in her honor; but then again, she was probably never called “a bitch of a detective” in some sort of twisted praise. Angie Dickinson, on the other hand, only played a detective on TV and got the doll, the octopus, the pinup poses in men’s magazines, and had her then-husband, Burt Bacharach, “compliment” her by saying, “”If she’s down a notch from me in the public eye these days, well, she should be up a notch—she’s a bitch of an actress.”

So I ask you, who was the more respected woman? Who should we think of when we think of “police woman?”

And why hasn’t someone made a collectible Isabella Goodwin doll?

Maybe instead of an octopus accessory, it can have a fake fortune teller accessory kit.

Does Sparkle Shine?

I’d never heard of the movie Sparkle. Maybe because in 1976 I was a white tween, getting my fill of film angst from The Bad News Bears (gawd I knew just what Jackie Earle Haley’s Kelly Leak wanted — and what Tatum O’Neal’s Amanda Whurlizer couldn’t give him!); I don’t know. But the list of names which accompanied the title on the cable’s info screen was intriguing…

sparkle-1976-movie-posterPhilip M. Thomas (later Philip Michael Thomas, the pretty one of Miami Vice fame), Irene Cara (Fame), Lonette McKee (a beauty whose career credits include The Cotton Club, The Women of Brewster Place & Jungle Fever), Mary Alice (an actress I don’t think has ever been given proper attention or credit — save for, perhaps, at Stinky Lulu’s), Dorian Harewood (a man who has been in so much it’s ridiculous!), & Beatrice Winde (a great character actress you’ll recognize on the spot).

So, even if Sparkle was a retro train wreck of a film — especially if it was a retro train wreck of a film — I had to watch!

Sparkle (1976) is approximately a twenty year old film which takes place approximately twenty years earlier, in 1958. Got it? Good.

The movie tracks the lives of three young sisters — biological sisters — from Harlem: Sister (Lonette McKee), Delores (Dwan Smith), and Sparkle (Irene Cara).

The eldest, is Sister, “the prettiest girl in Harlem.” And she knows it. She’s gonna be trouble for single mom, Effie (Mary Alice) — something Effie’s friend & Harlem busy body, Mrs. Waters (Beatrice Winde) is only too happy to warn the matriarch about. When we meet Sister, she’s being courted by the handsome but fast & criminal-element-attached Levi (Dorian Harewood).

Sparkle, the quintessential good girl, adores her older sister. Sparkle is 15 and never been kissed — until Stix (Philip Michael Thomas) steals a few while she’s getting the laundry off the roof.

The middle daughter is Delores, a good looking young woman whose beauty & strength are over-shadowed by the chips on her shoulder. Yes, that’s “chips” plural. Because Delores isn’t just the morality preaching (annoying) middle child who feels duty bound to correct both her older sister (commenting about Sister’s straightening her hair to look like Marilyn Monroe) and her younger sister (threatening to be a tattle tale about Sparkle’s kiss on the roof). No, Delores also has a sassy mouth she uses to lip off to mom with regarding mom’s work as a maid.

Delores: We’re old enough to iron for ourselves. You ain’t our maid.

Effie: I always iron clothes for the ones that I love.

Delores: I suppose you love them crackers that you work for?

Effie: You watch your mouth. Now, go get your homework before I give you a sign in a place you won’t forget.

So, you’ve got three very different siblings.

Yet they come together, at Stix’s urging, to form a singing group — first with Stix and Levi , as The Farts Hearts. (Hey, the MC made that corny slip; I’m just quoting it! The MC also had other stale jkes, such as, “You all heard about the Cookie sisters? Lorna Doone and Nuthin’ Doone!”)

The Hearts are a hit, especially with Sister’s sexual enticing of the audience, but then, because sex sells, Stix promotes the sisters as an all female group, Sister & The Sisters.

sister-and-the-sisters-perform-in-sparkleUnfortunately, as the singing trio begins to become popular, Sister catches the eye of Levi’s gangster boss, Satin (Tony King). No good can come of this…

Just as momma warns, Satin drags Sister into the gutter with him. Not just sexually (which wouldn’t exactly be a shock for Sister, or a film which has 15 year old Sparkle messing around with Stix), but she’s beaten by him — and hooked on drugs too. Classic lines (no drug pun intended) include Delores’ concerned & accusatory, “What else has he been pushing into you besides his fist?” and Sister’s pleading, “Can’t you see? Sister can’t fly on only one wing…”

The montages of Sister’s fall are told rather beautifully; even if the story seems clichéd, the telling of her downward spiral while the trio performs Something He can Feel is rather artsy.

In fact, at this point, I’m wondering why the film isn’t called Sister; where the hell is the Sparkle story?

Even poor old Delores has a better plot, a more fully developed character. For, upset with Sister’s weak victim status, Delores gives up her virginity to another of Satin’s cohorts in order to find out about Satin’s plans — which she promptly calls in to the police. But it all goes horribly wrong when the police shoot, then imprison, Levi — who Satin has sent in his place.

Distraught, Delores packs to leave home, where she is caught and engaged in a confrontational conversation with Effie:

Effie: Well, whatever troubles you got here are going right with you and that suitcase.

Delores: You don’t understand, Mama. Like, there’s education like there never was before. Mama, we don’t have to slaves to the white establishment anymore.

We don’t have to live off what the white man throws our way. Thanking him for his chicken-shit pay and chicken-shit jobs. We don’t have to run around shining his shoes and driving his cars and cleaning his floors and being his ma – …

Effie: Go on, now, say it. Being their maid. Hmm?

Delores: Yeah, Mama. Being their maid.

Mama, I seen you, ever since I was a little kid, getting up in the middle of the night to take the subway to ride for two hours to go to their house, to do their cooking and to do their ironing and do their cleaning and wash the shit out of their toilet. And for what, Mama? For WHAT?

Delores may leave with the final word, but you just know, wherever Delores lands, that her failure to save Sister plus get Levi in trouble, will be in that suitcase just as Effie said… And she’ll have the added baggage of knowing that her self-righteous and lame justification were tissue-thin too.

I’m not entirely sure the film should have ended right there… There is, after all, Sparkle’s story to consider. Delores’ leaving & Sister’s poor condition combine to leave Stix’s group unable to perform, so he too bails. He offers Sparkle the chance to leave with him, but she’s “the only one left who cares for Sister,” so she stays.

Montages of Sparkle enabling Sister, culminating in Sparkle’s singing at Sister’s funeral.

After the service, Stix, who of course is back in town, visits Sparkle — and this is probably the finest acting I’ve seen from Irene Cara. I’d quote from this scene, but it would read horribly — for it’s not the words or writing, it’s all Cara’s acting, her voice and body.

Perhaps this is where the film should have ended. Like some bleak film noir. But instead, Sparkle opts to plunge full-steam-ahead down the predictable path of fame & romance.

irene-cara-and-philip-michael-thomas-in-sparkle-1976

Now the film isn’t just a chick flick cliché, but 80’s kitsch too.

The guy wins the girl, with his help (via borrowing money over matzah ball soup with the man Effie works for) the girl cuts a record resulting in fame and a performance at Carnegie Hall (wearing 80’s fashions & singing an 80’s song), and the boy miraculously impresses a mob boss (the soup contains more than matzah balls!) by refusing to participate in a shakedown — managing to show up during the very 80’s Carnegie Hall performance, with none the wiser (including a mystified audience who wonders just how that all happened).

cara-as-sparkle-at-carnegie-hall

It’s this shoddy rush ending which leaves the kitsch taste in your mouth. One that prompts Jae-Ha Kim, at Amazon.com, to say that Sparkle has “somewhat of a cult following among fans that enjoy a good cry along with their kitsch.”

So, does Sparkle shine?

Like rhinestones. It may not be as satisfying as the real thing, but it has great charm — as long as you don’t inspect it too closely.

PS Another thing to note about Sparkle is the film’s music. While all the actors were considered good enough to sing the film’s scores by legendary Curtis Mayfield, the film never had a proper film soundtrack album — instead, Mayfield produced Aretha Franklin singing over the existing music tracks.

Has Fonzie’s Real Cool Happy Days Game Jumped The Shark?

For a decade, from 1974 through 1984, Happy Days was one of the most popular sitcoms on television. While the show was supposed to be centered on Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) and his family, quickly the star of the show became Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler). So much so, that in 1980, the Smithsonian honored the Fonz and the series for it’s role in American pop culture history by putting one of the Fonz’s leather jackets on display — and there’s even a Bronz Fonz in Wisconsin memoralizing the TV series. But when I brought home the Happy Days game from the thrift store (a paltry $1.75), neither of our girls (age 19 and 12) even knew what or who the heck we were talking about.

I guess our rigid TV limits prevented them from mindless hours of channel surfing & the discovery of reruns.

But I never let stuff like that, be it the ignorance or the distaste of others, stop me from enjoying a new-to-me find.

I cleared the table and invited them all to play Happy Days, “Fonzie’s Real Cool Game By Parker Brothers”, © 1976 Paramount Pictures Corporation.

happy-days-boardgame-cover

The instructions sheet states the goal of this retro board game as follows: “Heeeeey… the Fonz is hangin’ out at your house. Show him how cool you really are by being the first player to collect 16 cool points and light up Arnold’s juke box.” Which doesn’t tell you much — other than you’ve somehow appropriated Arnold’s juke box and are keeping it at your house. Or maybe the Fonz did the liberating? I don’t know.

In reality the game is based on collecting cool points; but you don’t spend time at your house or anyone elses (with or without the Fonz). In fact, landing on your home space or another home space can cost you in cool points. But I guess I’m expecting too much story from a story-based board game.

Anywhoooo…

The game is pretty simple. In theory. I’m not saying the ages 7 – 13 thing is off; I’m just saying that it’s more complicated to explain without typing the entire instruction sheet.

But I’ll try.

OK, picture playing Monopoly. You start with some money (in this case, a $3 allowance) and your playing piece starts at your own color-coordinated home rather than “Go”. Unlike Monopoly, you also get a Somethin’ To To card, have a peg in the juke box “cool meter” (with one cool point granted to you), and you only have one die to roll.

game-set-up

You roll the die, move that number of spaces, and where ever you land on the board, take the action directed — should you be able to. Because you might not have enough allowance to go on the date or activity listed on your Somethin’ To Do card — or you might have used-up your Somethin’ To Do card supply.

Round & round the board you go, going on dates, hanging out with pals, earning allowance & money for odd jobs (so you can hang out and go on dates) — plus earning and losing cool points.

game-in-play

The game is not monotonous. Along the way, you or another player may draw a Crusin’ card, which will direct you all to “stuff a telephone booth” or “play the pinball machine” — the winner of which, selected by being the high roller, gets two cool points. Of course, you can loose cool points whimsically too. Like when another player draws a Crusin’ card which says “knocked over Fonzie’s bike” or “the Fonz catches you wearing colored socks”. The penalty point loss isn’t given to the player who drew the card; they get to play it against an opponent.

But by far, the most fun are the Drag spaces on the board.

When you land on one of these two spaces, you get to challenge any other player to a drag race. Should anyone chicken out, the chicken loses a cool point and the other gains a cool point. Ah, but if you race, the action moves to the center of the game board, where you roll the die to see who reaches the finish line first — be careful, because you could spin-out or have an engine stall! The winner of the race gets two cool points and the loser is moved to the “Hey, Nerd!” space of the winner’s choosing, where he or she loses a point. Plus the winner of the drag race gets to place themselves anywhere they’d like on the board.

So while the game play is pretty simple, the game action is rather varied — and we all had a blast.

I know what you’re thinking — I’m a silly board game geek and a lover of retro chic, so of course I liked it, and therefore I’m probably imagining that everyone else did too. Plus, I won the first game. But honestly, the kids insisted on playing three more games (Des, the 12 year old, won twice) — and both girls whined when hubby & I had to call it quits for dinner.

And the rest of the night, “Hey, Nerd!” was shouted and giggled at one another for any old thing. Not just by the kids either.

It almost became annoying. Almost.

So I totes recommend the retro Happy Days board game; it has not jumped the shark. It’s even fun if you don’t know the show.

destiny-ayyyyyy

The Black & White Of Seeing In Color

When I was young, my family was one of the last to get a color television. We were among the first to get a microwave though; because both my parents worked, a microwave was considered practical. Original microwave ovens were about the size of TVs at that time, but probably even more expensive. I remember my sister and I sitting ’round the microwave making more s’mores than we could stomach because we loved to watch the marshmallows expand — something that drove my mom nuts because, like the early television myths (and masturbation), watching the happenings inside a microwave would make you go blind.

But hey, we didn’t have a colored TV to watch, so sis & I entertained ourselves with the microwave until the novelty wore off.

We entertained the neighborhood kids with the microwave too. Something quite handy when it came time to force friends to reciprocate when their families got those new-fangled video cassette machines. Our cousins, who lived out of state, were the first we knew to get VCRs — I think they even had one before we had color TV even. Being technology geeks, they were into Beta not VHS. I remember them bringing the machine and the tapes along with them when they visited for holidays like Thanksgiving. My sister & I thought our parents would hop on video players asap — we thought the convenience of watching movies when it suited them was like the convenience of microwave ovens. But no. TV was a very low priority in our house.

But I digress.

We had black & white television for ages — until the early 80’s, I think. But my sister and I saw the programs in color.

Through the magic or our minds, we took in black & white and deciphered it into color. Something which both made our parents marvel — and further delay purchase of a color TV set.

We knew what we saw (deciphered) was correct because, say, we’d be watching the Miss America pageant, and I’d say that Miss Oklahoma’s hair was the same color as Rita Hayworth’s and my sister would say she loved the fabulous blue bikini’s in the swimsuit competition — and then, the next morning in the paper there would be color photos of the contestants posing in bright blue swimsuits — and proof of Miss Oklahoma’s red locks too.

Whatever this ability to view black & white yet “see” color was, I lost it somehow during all the years of viewing color television. Occasionally, watching classic films, I get it right (verifiable via color promotional photos etc.); but for the most part I am guessing, not seeing as I once did.

I wonder if my sister has lost her ability too… I’ll have to call her and see.

“My brain is a poor cocoon — the Libby’s jingle goes in like larva, but it never enters the pupa stage and morphs into a beautiful butterfly leaving me with an earworm.”

I spotted this retro doll, a promotional piece for Libby’s foods, at an antique store.

It reminded me of the following:

1) I am getting really old because more and more stuff from my time is now entering the “collectible” category and being sold in antique stores (if not, yet, actually as antiques).

2) I have a friend whose nickname is Libby; it’s a shortened form of her online user ID “Libertine”. I am forever singing, “When it’s got Libby’s Libby’s Libby’s on the label label label, you will like it like it like it on your table table table,” to her. It’s especially a hoot if you wiggle your eyebrows during the “you will like it like it like it on your table table table” part of the lyric.

3) When you reference “online user ID” in conjunction with “retro 70’s” stuff, your brain hurts a little.

4) No matter what you put in your brain, if there’s a jingle in there, it will over power it all and come out victorious. My brain is a poor cocoon — the Libby’s jingle goes in like larva, but it never enters the pupa stage and morphs into a beautiful butterfly, leaving me with an earworm.

5) Funny thing about recalling jingles, no matter how many times the earworm loops, no matter how many times you find yourself singing it aloud, you suddenly wonder if the version you are singing is the accurate version…

I searched the Internet for a video of the old Libby’s commercial; but none had that jingle.

I wouldn’t call all this a waste of time, an hour later I have these two gems to share with you:

First, a 1960’s commercial in which Libby’s makes up a “Sloppy Joe” dance craze to peddle product:

I’m too young to remember that one; but I’m betting if there were any of those t-shirts etc. still around in an antique store I’d want one. Bad.

I vaguely recall this Libby’s canned vegetables ad with Tony Randal:

I don’t recall these 70’s ads for Libbyland dinners…

But then, we weren’t allowed to have TV dinners, so maybe I had no dietary connection to leave a lasting promotional imprint… Those folding tray/boxes are completely fascinating!

Jane West: The Movable Cowgirl

I have a mild interest in the Johnny West toys by Louis Marx & Co.. Like so many retro toys, it’s really rare to find them with their original boxes; so when I saw Jane West with her box in a display case at a local antique mall I had to take a closer look…

Is it just me, or does the wording on the box, “Jane West The Movable Cowgirl” and “She Will Pose For You 1001 Different Ways”, sound erotic?

Hubby says it’s just that Marx marketed their toys differently than most. They weren’t dolls and they weren’t action figures. What he said next rather removed them from the toys category too: “If Marx were making things today, they’d be seen as made for the collector market.” So, if they aren’t for kids to play with, they’re adult toys.

Which intriguingly brings me back to Jane “posing for me” in 1001 ways…

Johnny West may have been a fighter, but he was a lover too. At least my Johnny was (and I couldn’t have been the only one doing this) so I know from personal experience of playing with Jane and Johnny that many of the poses were most unnatural. So many joints on Jane provide a flexibility that Jenna Jameson would envy.

Maybe that’s why there were so few female figures made by Marx… If you’ve got one bendy cow girl willing to pose for you in so many ways, why bother with another? Sure her face wasn’t real pretty, but how many of the poses meant you actually had to look at it?

Besides, one bendy chick — with blonde hair yet! — was already luring too many of those Indians.

The Verrry Interesting Laugh-In Lunch Box

Growing up, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In was on too late for me to stay up & watch; it began airing in 1968 when I was just four. But hearing my parents talk about the show, I wanted to see it in the worst way. So eventually my whining bore fruit; mom sent me to bed with my younger sister, but as she tucked me in she whispered in my ear, “Just pretend to sleep — I’ll come back and sneak you out past your sleeping sister before the show starts.” I was so excited!

But that must have been too much excitement for me because mother found me passed-out, sound asleep, when she came back for me — but my little sis was awake and she got to watch the show! Drat! Just another reason for a little girl to dislike her little sister.

As the show ran until 1973, I eventually grew old enough to stay up and watch it — not that I understood most of it. Laugh-In was a show built on political humor and sexual innuendo; not something your average kid knows. Well, I understood enough to know there was naughty stuff… and most of the cultural comments were even further over my head. But Arte Johnson was wacky enough for me to genuinely giggle at.

All of this came flooding back when I spotted this old Laugh-In lunch box at a local antique mall this past weekend.

It was a delight to spot — but I carefully replaced it up on it’s lofty spot on a shelf when I spotted the $125 price tag. (Which, apparently, is not out of the norm for such retro Laugh-In lunch boxes.)

But what really makes this find noteworthy is the fact that Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In was not a television show for kids — so why make kids’ lunch boxes?

I mean kids didn’t understand the show — and by the time they would have, wouldn’t they be too old for lunch boxes with thermoses? I can imagine the beating 16 year olds took for toting mom’s PB&J in a lunch box.

So just who were these lunch boxes with “Sock it to me” on them marketed to? Kids who, like me, wanted to watch the show because their parents thought it was cool? Parents, who wanted their kids to look cool?

Well, it seems to me that in the late 60’s to early 70’s parents didn’t push their kids to look like mini-adults like they do today… And while there weren’t the same judgments & finger pointing at parents for kids having risqué knowledge (hey, back then we kids traveled in cars without seat belts, even riding on those backseat ‘shelves’ under the rear windows, and we kept our parents company in taverns without any finger or tongue wagging), parents hadn’t yet given into the permissiveness of letting the children dictate to them, especially about adult things. We sat in taverns because parents wanted to go, we rode in the car that way because no laws yet forbade it, and we got Disney and Muppet stuff because we were kids.

It was just that sort of upbringing which makes me covet such a lunch box. It’s familiar & nostalgic, but it was never mine because I was too young — now that I’m older, I want it bad.