May 7, 2010

The influence of TV on the young TV

Friday is a good day for welcoming an odd turn in the road of ones thoughts. And so the jalopy between my clip-on earrings is about to leap a curb and career through an odd ditch or two. Seatbelts remain optional. Hope you enjoy the trip.

First off, credit to the source of today’s excursion goes to the lovely and talented Leslie Ann. She privately blogs over
here at Out of My Mind on matters of gender, and also maintains a newish blog having to do with music. Don’t Be Like Me is an experiment in getting songs that are stuck in her head dislodged by writing about them. This seems to me a sensible approach to purging earworms. My only tried and true medicine when a musical squatter has taken over my higher mental functions is to chase it out by humming The Girl from Ipanema. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

In any event, a comments debate has been raging on DBLM having to do with the question of what the greatest Beatles album is. Somehow or other Leslie's demented friends jumped all over the pop culture trampoline until somebody bounced out a reference to Josie and the Pussycats.

Weird yes, but it stopped me in my tracks.

I got to thinking about very young and still unknowing yearnings I felt at certain moments in front of the bulky walnut cabinet telly nestled deeply in 2 ½ “ of burgundy family room shag carpet. Long before the dawning of puberty I paid close attention to women on the small screen. A small number of them really animated my imagination. Some of them were animated too.

Amongst the animated ones, Josie and the Pussycats really stood out.

Not to take anything away from the breathtaking Rosario Dawson and friends who appeared in the lamentable 2001 big screen remake of the classic 1970 Hanna Barbera cartoon series, but really, they didn't stand a chance against the originals. Josie, Melody and Valerie in cheetah print leotards, with their long tails and ears for hats really had it all going for them. Each week, in a flourish of independence, ingenuity and generosity of spirit they would help their host town avoid some horrible calamity, and then suit up for a gig.

They looked hot, and they hit their marks dammit. With all due respect to Tracy from The Partridge Family, nobody, and I mean nobody worked a tambourine like the lovely Valerie. She was the first in a long line of total crushes I held for women with better, richer, deeper complexions than I was blessed with.

To this day, animal prints and women of color remain at the very center of my aesthetic sweet spot.

TV was not all about Saturday morning cartoons though. In my elementary school days, walking distance from class, lunch was taken at home with a 12:30 Batman performance. I knew kitsch when I saw it then, and got most of the jokes for what they were. The Villains, so many legendary performers amongst them must have had the time of their lives. The Villainesses too, especially the menacing come-hither parade of Catwomen (bless your hearts Julie, Eartha and Lee) were something to marvel at. For me though, the real treat came about when the Gotham City’s peril was too great even for the Dymanic Duo.

Enter Barbara Gordon a.k.a Batgirl, played by the delightful and effervescent Yvonne Craig. Of course there was the 23" waist that flared out into a gorgeous callipygian rump, the jaunty utility belt hung smartly low on the hips, the skintight synthetic bodysuit, the to-die-for heeled booties and the endearing mystery of the mask, but there was more, yes.

She was a Librarian. Again with the hotness. Smart and unassuming, wise to the ways of the world, desirable and unattainable behind the bullet proof acrylic shield of her crime-fighting-bike and lost deep in the dusty reference stacks of Gotham Municipal, I could not get enough of her.

I don’t have quite the Pavlovian reaction to tight leather clothing today as I did in earlier years (which was then complete with panting, and perhaps on occasion, salivating), but smart women, women who love books, well that love affair has not dimmed a watt.

And I must confess to a fondness for clingy, body-conscious looks in my own presentation today.

These pre-teen obsessions somehow did not retard my growth entirely. In the fullness of time I entered real teen years, and was granted television viewing rights in the 9:00 p.m. weekday time slot. Sgt. Pepper Anderson, played in the mid-70’s by proto-Cougar Angie Dickenson touched off in me another cascade of feeling that echoes in the present.

Angie’s flawless legs, impractical shoes, satiny blouses strained to bursting, and tousled hair provided much in the way of visual appeal of course, but naturallement there was more. Pepper labored heroically for the acceptance of men either not smart or confident enough to appreciate the obvious and considerable contributions she was aching to make.

I wanted to be there for her, with a bottle of Chianti and a small harvest of groovy LP’s, ready to respect and console her, and to help with the tidying up after an intimate fondue dinner in front of the roaring hearth. Which I suspected would happen just before whatever was supposed to happen after that.

The unfairness of the world was visible to me then. Strange how this somewhat exploitive drama would contribute positively to my appreciation of the fairer sex. Ginger Rogers famously did Fred Astaire’s work backwards in heels. Pepper Anderson did all that and caught the bad guy in heels without pay equity, a decent shot at promotion or positive role models either.

I believe that the inherent difficulty of figuring out that puzzle, of walking the impossible womanly path, of somehow maintaining feminine allure without a compromise of integrity is something that has always drawn me to wanting a better view of the female experience.

I do not think, looking back, that I wanted to “be” these heroic, admirable beauties. I did however wonder what their experiences felt like to them. I wondered about what the worlds obstacles and opportunities looked like through their hopeful but wary eyes. I wondered how women felt when being looked at, and whether they knew just how potent charms and assets were. I wanted, and want still, decades later, a better taste, a fuller understanding of all that.

Some much appeal on the surface. So much complexity just beneath it. This contributes, in some way I am sure, to the “why” I Cross Dress.

I am privileged to get to take small steps towards improving my understanding of all of this every time I give a proper airing to the Petra parts of me.

And I have a wardrobe styled in part by Josie, Barbara and Pepper too. Top that.

TV worth watching indeed. How about you?


Halle said...

As impractical as being able to keep up to Fred while sporting 4 inch heels and going backwards always was, you have hit on the feeling perfectly!
It is about wondering how it felt to be them: to experience the world as them.
Such powerful imagery. Bang on Petra! Thanks for that insight.


Leslie Ann said...

I, too, had crushes on cartoon characters. Penelope Pitstop comes to mind.

Then there was Susan Dey, who was twice the pretend musician as sister Tracy. She fascinated me, and influenced my love interests into high school. Not that I ever followed up on any of those. They were just as unapproachable as the sirens on the glowing screen.

Or Peggy Lipton on The Mod Squad. Or Laura Petrie, way too hot to be hanging with Dick Van Dyke.

Great, great piece, Petra. Many happy memories.

Tights Lover said...

I feel so much better about wanting to grow up to be wonderwoman, as a kid, than I did five minutes ago!!

In fact...I'm so glad you just gave me the excuse to Google Image her for the rest of the afternoon...

Klaudia said...

I'm squealing "ooohhhh!" Thanks not only for the post and alerting me to it, dear Petra, but for inspiring a story!

(The story is off on a tangent -- aren't the best ones? -- but you & your post made me remember it!)

You're on "heel" of a best friend ;)

Petra Bellejambes said...

Halle - thanks for the gracious note!

Leslie Ann - Hall of Famers' each one of them. I remember one Partridge Family episode where Susan wore hot pants and dark sheers, and I just about died...

TL - O yeah, Wonder Woman. Spellbinding, and

Dear Klaudia - such a pleasure to see you here. Looking very much forward to your story you sexy librarian you...

xxoo - Petra

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