By: Georgia Clark, Guest Contributor August 09, 2016
I’m 19 years old and living in my first share house in Newtown, Sydney. There’s rising damp in every room, so we use our gas oven as a heater until someone tells us that’s a dangerous health hazard. My roommates are all students like me, balancing shitty jobs, scrappy study sessions, and a lot of time at the pub. We’re rarely home together, except for Thursday night at 10:30pm when Buffy the Vampire Slayer airs.
We are all student activists, outdoing each other with who can be the most progressive, the most open-minded. I won’t be friends with anyone who doesn’t claim a desire to Smash the Patriarchy! or Stop Jabiluka Mine! via a screen-printed t-shirt. I don’t hold this same standard to pop culture. I like shows and songs and books about strong women, but I won’t blink twice at the fact that most storylines revolve around getting, keeping, or losing male attention. I will laugh at the jokes, but it is not how my friends and I joke. I don’t really expect to see myself in pop culture. Until Buffy.
I was obsessed with Buffy. I bought the scripts and DVD sets. I lurked on the forums. I read the fan fiction. I wrote the fan fiction. Because here, at last, was a show that melded my love of pop culture—playful, romantic, emotional fare—with my feminism. The jokes were for me. The show was for me. The helpless blonde, known to every horror fan, was inverted and given a stake. She ran towards trouble. She was trouble. Buffy dealt explicitly with female power: how to have it, share it, expand it. It was also the first network show to air a lesbian sex scene (Willow and Kennedy—hubba hubba).
Pop culture is not a benign experience. It’s where we look to see ourselves, and you can’t be what you can’t see.
I met my girlfriend after she crushed on Piper and Alex in Orange is The New Black and realized that it was possible, that it was allowed. Pop culture is where we make sense of power structures and social hierarchies. It’s where we can see exactly who its creators want in on the joke. And until recently, it rarely felt like it was women. And if women were in on the joke, they were probably white, skinny, straight, big-boobed, and traditionally pretty.
Everyone deserves to be in on the joke. Everyone deserves to see their community making things just for them. Just as we agitate for political, legal, and social change, we must support women who are making feminist pop culture. Strong women, diverse sexuality, or racial differences (etc) won’t be normalized unless we create great characters who love, lust, and laugh across the full spectrum of human experience. Pop culture establishes legitimacy and helps prevents the erosion of our rights.
The explosive impact of Lena Dunham’s game-changing HBO series Girls didn’t occur because she took her top off. It was because we weren’t used to seeing ourselves in something as legitimate as premiere cable. I remember watching the first few episodes and feeling oddly exposed. Lena knew me. She knew my friends. There I was, living in Greenpoint, trying to make ends meet, watching a show about characters… living in Greenpoint, trying to ends meet. I think the shock of identification is one reason why Lena experienced so much controversy and pushback. As one of few female creators who aimed to get it right, our standards were high for her because it mattered to us. No male show runner had ever been under the kind of pressure Lena was, because they weren’t trying like she was. Because unlike those show runners, Lena made herself available. She listened and she responded, because she’s a great feminist and artist.
Girls, Parks and Recreation, Broad City, 30 Rock, and New Girl are just some of the new shows that feel like they’re made for me. They’re not perfect shows. Like, Buffy, they are still overwhelmingly white. But they don’t take cheap swipes at women, feminists, or lesbians to get a laugh. They’re funny without being mean. We need more of that. If you’re a feminist who wants to write stories, then know this: You are the Chosen One. You are the Slayer. Your mission is to create art and pop culture where women are in on the joke.
What shows do you relate with? What characters seem to understand you? Share these with a friend today, and spread some positive pop culture.
Georgia Clark is an author, screenwriter, and performer living in New York City, and the author of the YA novels She’s With The Band and Parched, as well as the hot new novel: The Regulars. Georgia is widely published in women’s and lifestyle magazines and has written for TV. A native Australian, she lives in Brooklyn with her girlfriend and a fridge full of cheese. Find out more at georgiaclark.com