Monday, April 09, 2007

Morticia, Mary, Ann Marie and Me

by Brenda Roger

I have no shame about the fact that after moving to the suburbs in 2002, I became depressed. The suburbs can be a beige and lifeless purgatory. Some days I swore that David Byrne was sitting on my shoulder singing, “how did I get here?” I was forced to take a look at my expectations and the reality of my life thus far and to try and figure out why they were so far apart. It was a downward spiral of ugliness I’d rather not relive; I’ll tell you about the lighter side of the whole thing.

During the process of figuring out where I went wrong, I looked back on my childhood and tried to pinpoint the source of my ideas about what kind of woman I wanted to be. I’ve had cable television since the third grade. I was watching the day that “Video Killed the Radio Star” started a whole new genre of TV. I watched way too much of all of it. Somewhere in that visual overload I found enough information to form an idea of womanhood.

I always wanted to be Morticia Addams. It wasn’t that I wanted to wear that slinky black dress and be Goth, although, long sleeves a v-neckline are flattering on me. Frequently, when I’m handed something, I resist the urge to say, “thank you, Thing.”
As an adult, I can see that I wanted to be Morticia because she had power. In fact, she had total power over Gomez. Immobilizing him was as easy as muttering some French. She was also a painter, sculptor, knitter, cook and gardener. She could do it all. She was feminine, but not weak.

Then there was Mary Richards of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”. I blame some of my disappointment in myself on her. I thought that when you grew up you got a cute apartment, dated, wore smart flared legged pant ensembles and had great time with your kooky neighbor, Rhoda. Mary had no education debt! She didn’t live in her parents’ house! She was out there. Doing things. She was independent. That appealed to me. Still does.

Finally, dear Anne Marie from “That Girl.” It is all her fault that I thought that it was possible to do a commercial once every six months and afford an apartment in New York and a coat to match every dress. If you can’t have a Gomez and you don’t want to date around like Mary Richards, by golly Donald Hollinger was a good compromise! Anne Marie wasn’t toiling away at pointless jobs. She was pursuing her dream. To a kid in the suburbs, her life seemed like non-stop glamour.

I was born in 1973. Ms. Magazine was started in 1971. My mother and aunts just barely missed the feminist movement. I know that the spirit of it invaded their subconscious. They were probably the last generation of women who were told to get married and have babies. My mom and her sisters had an inkling that they might have sold themselves short. My mom in particular was careful to make sure that I thought I could do anything I wanted.

Therein lies the disappointment. I found myself in the ‘burbs in 2002, surrounded by women going the route that I had tried so hard to avoid. I wasn’t one of them, but I hadn’t really managed to DO anything significant either. In fact, I struggled to do what little I had done. Doing anything you want comes with a heaping helping of responsibility.

Since all of this soul searching, I have formed a much clearer, revised picture of who I want to be. The crisis has passed, but the enlightenment remains.

Does anyone have any funny stories about popular culture and self-image?


Nancy said...

My best friend and I always discussed which twin we'd be from The Patty Duke show. The kooky one or the....boring one. And which Star Trek guy was sexier---Kirk or Spock? (Yes, those were desperate times.) Or would you rather be Jeannie or Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched? (It's interesting, because one was empowered, the other one kept locked in a bottle!!)

My kids watched The Brady Bunch for all kinds of cultural cues. And really, who wouldn't want to be Marsha?

I love your Morticia Addams observation, Brenda! You're right---she had everyone in thrall. Definitely a role model for us all.

Tory said...

I think I watched TV more looking for who I would date than who I would be. I always went for the brainy/ nerdy ones, like Adam on Bonanza and Jarrod on The Big Valley. Mostly, like you, I didn't find anyone there that really had much to do with the people I've actually dated.

I think current TV shows are much better for role models. Temperance Brennan on "Bones," is someone I'd definitely like to be. And I'd DEFINITELY like to date her partner. The unreality in her case is having a more than full-time, prestigious job and then able to write and publish best-selling mysteries in her spare time. And to have time on top of that to date! I guess the TV characters have to be "bigger than life" in some way to make good fantasy material.

Cathy said...

The important point is that when you moved into the suburbs and were surrounded by women you didn't want to be, at least you knew there was something else. There can be no hope without that.

Great fun reading about Morticia and you!

Kristine said...

Great post, Brenda! I think all of us can relate to your journey. I also live in the suburbs now and understand what you are feeling. I love my neighborhood, but will I ever fit the stereotype of a soccer mom or trophy wife? Not a chance. Okay, yes, I drive a SUV, but that's where the similarities stop.

I grew up watching the Brady Bunch and the Cosby Show. I'm so glad TV shows have changed for the better in portraying a somewhat more realistic view of life to kids today. My role model was always Maggie Seaver, the mom on Growing Pains. She was a journalist. She had a career and raised four kids. She had a successful marriage. That's how life was supposed to turn out, right? (Again, the whole reality vs. television thing.) Oh, and I also had a crush on Kirk Cameron when I was a teeny bopper. LOL!

lisa curry said...

The last thing on earth I ever wanted to be was a suburban soccer mom. And guess what? I live in the 'burbs and my firstborn plays soccer. Oh, the sacrifices one makes for those offspring! All I lack is the minivan with the soccer ball magnet on the back. I cried when I was pregnant with said firstborn and traded in my sporty little Mazda on a four-door mom sedan. Now I drive an SUV and console myself that at least it's not a minivan. How pathetic is that? I find myself fantasizing about the sporty little cars I might own once again when I no longer have to haul children and their associated sports equipment around, should I live so long...

Pat said...

Pathetic, single, man-hungry Rose Marie....
Ditzy, skinny, charming Laura...


Rose Marie was one of three writers on a very successful comdey show, lived in NYC, and absolutely free to date whoever she pleased though the writers of Dick Van Dyke sentenced her to Herman Glimcher.

Laura gave up her dancing career, lived in new rochelle and was known to wail "Oh Rob!" when overwhelmed.

This was a confusing show for female role models.

Gina said...

OK, I grew up in the fifties and never identified with any of the potential role models on tv. Most of the women were pretty boring. The closest I came was a mare named Rocket in one of the Flicka movies -- she ran really fast and could jump over just about anything. Of course, she ended up dead in the end . . .
I didn't see many guys I'd want to date, either -- well, ok, George Maharis on Route 66 and a slight preference for Spock on Star Trek but, really, the cute one was Checkov.

kathie said...

Super post. I don't think I ever wanted to be anyone in particular on TV, but I def. got the idea I wanted to be very rich from TV. I'm still headed to that destination. But my mother's most oft dropped phrase was "Well, we're not the Brady's, now are we?" I'm in the burbs and I comfort myself with the thought it's Oakmont, has a town feel. But I miss the city--when I moved to Pitt as a freshman I fell in love--with city life. And I have a mini-van and love it. It'll do until the kids are in college and I'm back on Kentucky Ave. Plenty of time for everything. I'm glad you found what you needed and did something about it. Nothing is worse than life in a hell of your own making.