I can’t say that the cute-as-a-button charms of young Sally Field managed to hook me for more than this single introductory episode of Gidget (which is still more than the charms of old Sally Field have managed to do), so I’m not about to fight that theme song guy for the right to make Gidget my valentine just yet (note: ‘that theme song guy’ turns out to be veteran performer Johnny Tillotson). Presumably initial audiences felt the same way, with the show only lasting for a single season, which is a little surprising given how frequent a cultural reference young Gidge continues to be.
Nevertheless, series opener ‘Dear Diary—et al.’ managed to serve up a surprising combination of dreamy boys, Daddy-targeted tantrums, secret diary readings, and dramatic complements to Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. Well, OK, it was only the Lacanian psychoanalytic theory bit that was surprising.
Gidget: The Complete Series
(US DVD: 21 Mar 2006)
Young Gidget, developing a crush on a boy who can surely only be described as totally dreamy, starts to write about him in her diary, elaborating somewhat until their casual pubescent meeting starts to get a little, uh, steamy. Well, sort of.
Gidget’s penning the usual dopey teenage romance, which gets a little more serious, until ... well, she hits a point where she knows something is supposed to happen, clearly something pretty gosh-dern important, but she isn’t quite sure exactly what that’s supposed to be. ‘Goose-pimples all over’? No. ‘Fainted dead away’? Nah. But suddenly inspiration strikes, and the imagined encounter reaches its climax as Gidge and her surfer lad ... ‘sink into nothingness’.
Well, I never! A completely unethical diary reading by Gidget’s sister later, and the family’s in a bit of turmoil about Gidget having, y’know, done it.
All this melodrama about ‘sinking into nothingness’, including what seems to be some authentically portrayed and not entirely unreasonable concern from Daddy Gidget (Professor Russ Lawrence, played by Don Porter), might seem to be at first glance just another of those euphemism-based recurring jokes, where characters keep referring to some ridiculous term to avoid mentioning some supposedly edgy topic. That Everybody Loves Raymond episode (‘Good Girls’, 9 March 1998) comes to mind, where ‘being a good girl’ was used to discuss whether or not women had pre-marital sex (something that really gives the episode a creepy puritanical undertone, being simultaneously evasive and obsessive about its sexual topic, not to mention about 40 years out of date).
What makes ‘Dear Diary—et al.’ a little more interesting is the simple but worthwhile insight that Gidget’s use of ‘sinking into nothingness’ isn’t really a euphemism at all. Rather than standing in for some specific sexual element, it doesn’t really mean anything. Gidget certainly doesn’t know what it’s supposed to mean—she simply reached a point in the narrative where something was supposed to happen.
A superficial reading might suggest that this simply reveals Gidget’s underlying innocence, which is true enough. But, taking this idea a little further, it complements nicely the Lacanian idea that the human psyche revolves around the pursuit of climactic moments that, when reached, have no actual value in themselves: they only exist as moments of anticipation, not obtainable or specific content.
In other words, it’s more about the ‘spot’ in the story—that point Gidget reaches where something’s supposed to happen—than what actually goes into it. We construct narrative trajectories for ourselves, but their motivating goals and climaxes are fundamentally arbitrary, intangible and evasive. In actuality, we pursue the meaningless phrase which promises some kind of climactic completeness (i.e., ‘sank into nothingness’) and are only fooling ourselves when we try to assign some specific value to it (in this instance, sex).
We ‘fill in’ a pre-existing climactic gap, rather than actually discovering that climax in any actual event or act. (This, Slavoj Zizek suggests, is why watching porn can be so depressing: the usual cultural ‘gap’ of sexual depiction, around which so many of our cultural narratives revolve, is completely filled-in and, laid bare before us, is immediately robbed of its allure.)
That completely unethical diary reading by Gidget’s sister ...
As a result, Gidget is actually more correct than her father (who specifically sees ‘sex’ in the empty phrase) by recognizing that the climactic moment of her narrative doesn’t mean anything specific at all—it just fills in an unavoidable gap. Phew. To borrow a phrase from Zizek, who knew that Gidget had read Lacan?
On a more grounded level, film buffs might recall the scene in Casablanca where Humphrey Bogart (Rick) and Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa) totally-maybe-possibly do it, daddy-o; first year film students will probably have run into Richard Maltby’s description of it in Hollywood Cinema:
As they kiss, the image dissolves to a shot of the airport tower, and then back to the apartment, with Rick standing looking out the window ... The audience must guess the length of the ellipsis, and what, if anything, happened in it ... Is the tower a phallic symbol, is that a post-coital cigarette Bogart is smoking? Or has Rick’s decision ... established his commitment to marital fidelity? The movie provides equally persuasive evidence for either interpretation… (Richard Maltby, Hollywood Cinema Wiley-Blackwell, 2003, 2nd edition, pp. 479-480)
Maltby’s reading suggests a careful structural evasiveness on Hollywood’s part, allowing audiences to project a variety of contradictory readings on the scene (just as Gidget and her family do with her meaningless phrase). Zizek’s reading of the same scene, however, suggests a fundamental need for that ‘blank spot’ in the human psyche: a spot that exists to be filled in with desires and anticipated climaxes (sex, or whatever) that will never, in fact, meet the ultimate implied promise.
Both, of course, share the same property—they revolve around the same ‘empty’ core. The airport tower is just a picture of an airport tower, the phrase ‘sank into nothingness’ is just a silly piece of teenage purple prose. It’s the ‘empty’ core that paradoxically provokes the most ‘meaning’.
(Actually, ‘sank into nothingness’ seems to channel the real trajectory of the Freudian Death Drive quite nicely: not physical death, but the absolute reduction of the human will and consciousness to ‘nothingness’. But let’s not try to make Gidget an icon in the canon of philosophical personal dissolution—not right now, anyway.)
Of course, for those who fear overanalysis and sneaky academic revisionism, I should point out that it’s somewhat less than likely that Gidget was intended to promote discussion of abstract theoretical concepts. But, if nothing else, this first episode is a handy complement to discussing the Lacanian idea of an evasive void central to the psyche, or the audience projection inherent in that scene from Casablanca.
And since insight comes primarily from taking your topic seriously, no matter how small it might seem, and ‘Dear Diary—at al.’ seems to have done just that, I suppose I should at least give another episode of Gidget a go.
Of course, if it doesn’t open up discussion of Heidegger’s Being and Time
or completely redefine Kant’s Categorical Imperative, I’m calling it quits.