As a teenager I watched Beverly Hills 90210. I loved it. To the point where I’d chuck a tantrum if I couldn’t watch it. (Mind you, that’s not sayin’ much because I threw a lot of tantrums in my teens – I had a lot of unresolved anger and frustration that would just explode out of me, and without a strong relationship with my family, I felt utterly alone. I knew there were different lives outside of our shitty little town but they just seemed so very far away. I imagine a lot of teenagers feel like that.)
Anyway, as you can see in the little widget way down on the right, I’m reading Enlightened Sexism: the seductive message that feminism’s work is done, by Susan J. Douglas. In the first chapter, she traces the start of enlightened sexism – using the idea that we’ve achieved true gender equality to put women back in their place, as sexually attractive playthings for men – back to this show:
So 90210 was an important early building block of enlightened sexism because it insisted that the true, gratifying pleasures for girls, and their real source of power, came from consumerism, girliness, and the approval of guys…
What was really retrograde about 90210, then – aside from the fact that there were no people of colour except for African American athletes who, duh, needed tutoring (and, briefly, Andrea’s Latino husband) – was how it magnified the absolute centrality of thinness, beauty, fashion, sexual objectification, and boyfriends to teen girl happiness… Whatever the plot lines, these young women were, first and foremost, sexual objects on display who maintained their attractiveness by buying things.
To be honest, I don’t remember much of the show. Which isn’t surprising when you consider the amount of alcohol and drugs I consumed in my teens and twenties. Sheesh, it’s amazing I can still string a sentence together. (And shit, wasn’t it fun? As the tail end of Gen X ages, I suspect we’ll see a lot more dementia from all the shit we put in our bodies because we didn’t have mortages and children.)
What was I writing about? Oh yeah, 90210. There wasn’t really any “fashion” at my high school. It was always the same look – almost everyone wore surf brands (remember ripple sole desert boots and Kuta Lines streaky jackets?) and I wore a lot of Vinnies stuff but no one ever gave me shit about it. I do remember one particularly special pair of new jeans that featured wide stripes of white, maroon, green and navy. Nice. Oh, and a blue gingham bodysuit that I made. Can you believe bodysuits are back? In summer? Because nothing says sexy like a row of moist press studs on a gusset that will eventually be hanging out the back of your jeans because you’re too drunk to remember you’re wearing it.
So, not being a girly-girl in my teens (or my twenties and early thirties for that matter – I’ve only recently got into eyeliner and lipstick), I didn’t notice the hair and fashion and sex and consumerism. For me, 90210 was about escaping, albeit briefly, from my boring life in a log cabin 50km out of a town where teenaged girls were judged by the deepness of their tans and the whiteness of their socks and how long they could lie on the beach while the boys surfed (hence the deep tan). It was the only show that no one else in my family wanted to watch, so I had the living room to myself. And in a family of seven, that was pure bliss. So I didn’t pick up on any of the stuff that Douglas is writing about. But that’s kinda the point, isn’t it? We’re not supposed to notice.
I’ll write more about this book later – and make it about the book rather than just about me – but I’ll leave you with this gem from The Fauves. They were my favourite band in the 90s, I must have seen them a hundred times and I even own the hard-to-get Drive Through Charisma and The Young Need Discipline.