[23 October 2006]
I can’t begin to enumerate the many ways that I find Battlestar Galactica to be televised genius. In it’s third season, the Battlestar crew have landed on New Caprica, an icy rock in space. It’s the place where the human survivors of the Cylon attack have chosen to host their resettlement. They’ve even named it for their now destroyed home. Just when they thought everything was safe, their God-fearing robot oppressors found the colony and began an occupation awkwardly reminiscent of America’s current involvement in Iraq. The only way the humans have to fight back is through terrorism, including suicide bombings.
Among the many brilliant contributions of Battlestar Galactica, (perhaps the most vital protestor of the current war on television) is something that many would consider small. But to me, it means the world. Captain Kara Thrace, a.k.a. Starbuck, is many things: brave, intelligent, lushy, brazen, obstinate, and aggressive. She also happens to be blonde, but her hair color is not a character trait. She’s not exaggeratedly powerful despite her towhead, nor is she a ditz or a slut. She’s just blonde.
Buffy, of vampire slaying fame, was not just blonde. Her staking finesse was phrased as contradictory to her flaxen mop flitting about as she saved the world. Veronica Mars’ genius lies is making a mark think she’s merely a dumb blonde while slipping a bug in his briefcase. Niki and Claire, two of the titular Heroes in NBC’s new drama are not just blondes, either. While only two of the seven superpowered principles revealed so far are female, against all odds, both are blonde. This is crucial when you consider that only about five percent of all adult Americans are natural blondes.
On the series, Claire is a high school cheerleader who wants nothing more than a quarterback to cuddle. Her invincibility, most vividly manifested by sticking her hand into a garbage disposal only to have her fingers grow back in a matter of minutes, is a burden, and her power is something to hide, lest she discourage suitors. Niki, on the other hand, is a single mother and an Internet peep show model with an obliquely defined ability to split her personality, or possibly even her physical body, in order to achieve violent acts of revenge for her sexual subjugation. Both heroines are presented as blonde stock characters whose hair color is intended to foil their impressive superpowers.
Thanks in part to starlets’ affinity for bleach, blonde women are vastly over-represented on television, while blonde men are relatively rare. Flaxen fellows get typecast as surfers, Nazis, or wusses, while the ladies get the comparative wide breath of playing characters that are stupid, ironically powerful, or loose. Perhaps I’m especially testy because I’m a natural blonde and while it’s fun to surprise people by not being a stupid whore, I’m tired of my personality being perceived as contradictory to my coiffure.
“Did you here the one about the blonde…” asks a jackass, expecting me to find jokes about fellow towheads hilarious. I interrupt, “Are you wearing a cup? No? Then shut up while you still have balls.” Most people these days wouldn’t tell a Polish joke or a black joke, so why are blonde jokes okay? And why are so many actresses more than pleased to oblige? I’m looking at you Goldie Hawn, and you Suzanne Somers, and especially you, Pamela fucking Anderson.
The dumb blonde stereotype existed before World War II, possibly because the bleach used was so toxic that it really did render the newly platinum woman stupid, but it didn’t take off, however, until Marilyn Monroe dug for gold in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I suspect that the rise of blonde as a derogatory state arose, not from jealousy because of the alleged increase in “fun”, but as a manifestation of collective guilt and horror after Hitler dubbed blonde the hair color of choice. I didn’t mean to be born a poster girl for the Aryan Nation, but I also don’t feel obliged to counteract the obviously retarded supposition of white supremacy by acting like a ditz.
Only a fool would rank the damage done by blonde jokes in the same ballpark as racial profiling or hate crimes, but it’s odd that so many feel comfortable making assumptions on the basis of hair color. Lots of women have chosen blondeness, but I didn’t and I am far too lazy to dye my hair a smart chestnut or henna hue. There’s no genetic linkage between natural hair color and personality traits, and a willingness to associate hair with inherent inferiority is only a few steps removed from linking it with supremacy.
Perhaps more insidious than the dumb stereotype is the way that blonde is often used as shorthand for writers to convey “character has issues with sex”. After only three episodes of Heroes both female characters have endured rape attempts. Niki, much to the credit of her alter-ego / superpower, chopped her attackers into kibbles and bits. When Claire finally got to neck with the hunky quarterback, he tried to rape her and she was impaled through the neck with a branch and died, albeit temporarily.
On Grey’s Anatomy’s two female blondes, the good doctors McSlutty and McPorny don’t fare much better. Meredith can’t seem to help herself when a dick is in the room and Izzie is penalized for being a hot blonde that’s done some soft-core modeling with rounds of ridicule from her peers. Shannon on Lost got killed right after she boned Barbara Hershey’s boyfriend and poor Claire’s premarital sex resulted in a possibly demonic baby and an abduction by the others.
Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica escapes the stereotyping because she’s an extraordinarily well-written character on the best-written show on television. I don’t expect for blonde characters to always be noble and complicated, but I do expect characters to be characters, not functions of their hair color. While I’m making wishes for better television, can TV get over this whole fetish for killing women who have sex, both blonde and otherwise? Just as blonde does not equal slutty, female desire does not equal death. TV viewers can handle complicated, morally ambiguous television without color-coding the hos, dumbasses, and victims.