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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Little Women syndrome

Of course there's a Sex and the City promotional campaign by a vodka company that features designer mixed drinks themed to each character, so if you're a Charlotte you can have this obnoxiously sweet mixed drink, and if you're a Carrie you can have that obnoxiously sweet mixed drink. If you're a Miranda you can have this slightly less sweet mixed drink. I knew plenty of people in college who identified with one of the four characters on the show; I once insisted to one my students who asked that everyone at Barnard identified most with Miranda, even though both of us knew that was a lie. I didn't watch the show until after college and find it irredeemably sad unless I'm watching it with other people... other Mirandas, I guess. She's the only one I find sympathetic. And actually I enjoy the show sometimes.

I had my own 19th-century version of the which-character-are-you game: Little Women Syndrome, in which every time I'm in a group of four women, I cast us into the roles of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The affliction struck me when I was fourteen and saw the amazing Gillian Armstrong film with my three cousins, and the four of us fit pretty well into the four characters. I'm always Jo. There can be more than one of each character present.

My college roommate, who remains one of my closest friends, was a Beth. In a good way. She got really mad when she found out--or as mad as a Beth can get--and retaliated by coming up with The Robber Bride game, in which she cast us into the roles of the wronged women of Margaret Atwood's novel. She got to be the shy, brilliant war historian Tony and made me Roz, the blowzy businesswoman. We knew a Zenia and a Charis, too. I was kind of bitter about it until I realized that Roz and I had more in common than I thought. There's a funny scene in the novel where Roz hears Tony use the phrase "crossing the Rubicon" and imagines a lipstick line based on names for rivers:
Then it comes to Roz in a flash of light--what a great lipstick name! A great series of names, names of rivers that have been crossed, crossed fatefully; a mix of the forbidden, and of courage, of daring, a dash of karma. Rubicon, a bright holly-berry. Jordan, a rich grape-tinged red. Delaware, a cerise with a hint of blue--though perhaps the word itself is too prissy. Saint Lawrence--a fire-and-ice hot pink--no, no, out of the question, saints won't do. Ganges, a blazing orange. Zambezi, a succulent maroon. Volga, that eerie purple that was the only shade of lipstick those poor deprived Russian women could lay their hands on for decades,--but Roz can see a future for it now, it will become avant-retro, a collector's item, like the statues of Stalin.

Roz carries on with the conversation, but in her head she's furiously planning. She can see the shots of the models, how she wants them to be seductive, naturally, but challenging too, a sort of meet-your-destiny stare. What was it Napoleon crossed? Only the Alps, no memorable rivers, worse luck. Maybe a few snippets from historical paintings in the background, someone waving a gusty, shredded flag, on a hill--it's always a hill, never for instance a swamp--with smoke and flames boiling around. Yes! It's right! This will go like hotcakes! And there's one final shade needed, to complete the palette: a sultry, brown, with a smouldering, roiling undernote. What's the right river for that?

Styx. It couldn't be anything else.

I have two eyeliners, black and brown, and am tearfully inept when it comes to any other makeup--which ruins the eyeliner--but I do love to look at the names of the lipsticks at Duane Reade. I found a whole lip gloss line based around islands (Bali, Curacao, Madeira) one day, and dances (cha cha, foxtrot, salsa) another time. Then I found out something even more important: lip gloss is vile.

I love how Atwood kicks up the 1980s feminist critique of the L'Oreal intersection of consumerism and imperialism to the satire of imagining a campaign based on full-fledged military battles: We are trafficking in exoticism; the colonial past is the present in the names of all the reds such as Indochine Red and Caribbean Pink. What's the relationship between quashing Third World revolutions and the militaristic language of skincare "regimes" and eliminating "free radicals"? OMG this stuff is amazing and I used believe all of it. If you gave Tyra Banks The Robber Bride, she'd do Rubicon-Delaware-Styx as an ANTM photo shoot in a second.

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Blogger Ben on Mon Jun 02, 04:58:00 PM:
Styx, or Lethe, as the damn Friday Times puzzle pointed out.
Blogger Alice on Mon Jun 02, 05:19:00 PM:
I've seen a Thames nail polish in metallic green, and they've hit on a Rule Britannia marketing campaign for it.
Blogger Sophia on Tue Jun 03, 02:43:00 PM:
*goes to buy The Robber Bride*

*fondly looks back on 10 years of AMTM*

*gives Alice a hug*

*has no idea what Sex in the City/Little Women character she most resembles*
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