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Jessica Massa

Jessica Massa

Posted: September 25, 2010 01:34 PM

What an eventful 24 hours! At least for me.

Last night, I attended the 25th Anniversary screening of the iconic 80's film Desperately Seeking Susan (you know, "the Madonna movie"). That was followed by a late morning trip to the theatre to see Easy A, the new teen-centered Emma Stone comedy that came in second to The Town at last weekend's box office. And by the time I arrived home, the internet was exploding with news that Lindsay Lohan had pretty shockingly been sent back to jail for failing a drug test (and by the time of writing this had, much less shockingly, been granted bail).

As I sat back and let these stories and images percolate in my brain, I felt some far-away sense of commonality emerge. But what could these women - traversing fiction and real life, spanning 25 years of mass entertainment, dealing with issues from mistaken identity to teenage sexuality to drug addiction - possibly have in common with each other?

And furthermore, what did they have to do with little ol' me? The 27-year-old 'me' who was just sitting there, trying to figure out what I wanted to eat for lunch? (and what I wanted to wear tonight...and what I wanted to write about this weekend...and what I wanted to do with my life...?)

The common thread that struck me right then and there was that these women were searching for control over their lives. For control amidst the antagonistic forces that, maybe to lesser extents, often seem to be pushing us modern women into becoming weak caricatures of ourselves. The housewife, the slut, the out-of-control child star. No longer forced to choose between wife, nurse or teacher - or even between red dress or blue dress or green dress - we have been living in an era of endless options for some time now. And as a result, we are constantly faced with decisions that seem to have a huge impact on who and what we will become.

Are some decisions better than others? Do we fail to conquer the forces working against us sometimes? Definitely. (Oh, Lindsay...) But it's a great mark of modern womanhood that we're so reluctant to sit back and let life just happen to us. When life gives us lemons, we study agricultural dynamics and try to alter their DNA so that we can end up with juicy plums instead.

I'm not saying that this tendency for women to seek control and empowerment happened overnight. Desperately Seeking Susan came out in 1985, and the film - on-screen and off - leant an unmistakable air of feminine strength and agency to the film industry of the time. Written, directed and produced by a team of women, the movie revolves around two female characters. One (Rosanna Arquette's Roberta) is attempting to figure out who she is and, ultimately, how she can escape her boring life as a suburban housewife. The other (Madonna's Susan) remains the picture-perfect image of cool self-control, even as her identity is stolen and she is pursued by thugs. There are men in the movie, of course, but they are only involved in as much as they relate to the two women at the center. I can't help but wonder if this movie would even succeed in getting made today (we'll leave that question to another blog post).

Regardless, here is a fun and fabulous depiction of two very different women taking control over their lives and refusing to fall prey to the societal expectations and jewelry thieves that are chasing them. The empowering message comes across loud and clear - I even met a woman at the screening who told me that, back in 1985, she saw the movie and subsequently felt inspired to quit law school and become a club kid in New York's downtown scene. While I won't argue if that was the right choice for her, it must've been a damn gutsy move. Way to write your own story.

Fast forward to today, and how can you not love Emma Stone's Olive in Easy A? She's the perfect 2010 protagonist: smart, witty, down-to-earth, self-deprecating and beautiful without resembling, in any way, the Heidi Montags who stare out at us from the tabloids every day. So people (wrongfully) think she's a slut. Her reaction? To take ownership over her newfound reputation and beat her close-minded classmates at their own game. It's Lady Gaga-style performance art at its finest!

Wearing a scandalous red "A" on her suddenly exposed chest ala Hawthorne, Olive becomes the best (fake) whore these kids have ever seen. She takes control over the unshakable rumor mill, and consequently her life, by manipulating everyone's expectations and committing herself to getting the last laugh. In true teen comedy fashion, the high jinks get a little out of hand and revisions need to be made to her plan. But she is no one's victim, and viewers inevitably leave the film wishing they had been half as strong and determined in their youths.

Which, finally, brings us to Lindsay and her semi-incarceration. In contrast to the fictional heroes above, she is clearly struggling to take control of her life back from her addictions (and also back from the paparazzi, and the enablers that undoubtedly surround her, and the probable delusions of grandeur that have infiltrated her coddled psyche). Once upon a time, she was faced with endless options and she chose poorly. She was given the world after her star turn in Mean Girls - the obvious precursor to Easy A, and an instant classic - and she threw her newfound power and popularity away. She has become a public symbol of what women like myself fear most - the odds that we will make the wrong decisions and, because we do have so much control over our lives, have no one to blame but ourselves when we realize that we messed up.

Is Lindsay truly attempting to take control and change her life for the better, as her friends suggest? I certainly don't know. But if she - and we - can learn anything from the film heroines that we so love, it should be that we never lose the opportunity to regain control over our lives, our actions, and what people think of us.

You're not happy with your life? Change it. You don't like how people treat and talk about you? Show them that there are other ways to perceive you (no, tweeting doesn't count). Feel like the world is knocking you down? Turn the tables and fight back.

Having the option to steer your life in innumerable directions can be a curse or a blessing. But which one it will be...that's your call.

 
 
 

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