Tuesday, January 03, 2006

KIM KELLY IS MY FRIEND or WHERE HAVE ALL THE TOUGH GIRLS GONE?

She's my favorite tough girl. Mercurial, volatile, brassy, and funny as hell. She bulldozes through the halls of McKinley High, spitting nails and scowling. She is my current make-up inspiration. Pale lips and smudged-cover-girl eyes. And I totally want her blue jacket.

For those of you not familiar with Kim Kelly, she's one of the "freaks" from the short-lived but totally brilliant FREAKS AND GEEKS . Thanks to MZN and E, we now own the series on DVD, and well, we've been watching it like crazy.

KIM KELLY is a character we all know, but rarely see depicted in TV shows these days. There are male bullies and "mean girls," but Kim Kelly is neither. She's a bad-ass girl with attitude from a lumpen class back-ground. She smokes pot and has sex, and she's quick to threaten those who annoy her with physical violence (i.e,"Are you calling me irrational? Because I'll tear your head off, Daniel. I'll tear it off and I'll throw it over that fence.") The thing is, Kim Kelly is also totally lovable.

Her TV precedents are gals like Rizzo and Leather Tuscadero (played by Suzi Quatro, aka suzie q. Also, there is a good teen beat band from the 90's called Tuscadero. They sing about Nancy Drew...but I digress). And though Rayanne Graff from My So-Called Life has a few things in common with Kim, it's tough (no pun intended) to find anyone else like her these days. Though tough girls still seem to be rockin' pretty hard (Sleater Kinney, The Donnas) and hip hopping (Eve, esp. in her early days), there are not many of them on TV.

I'm not sure why this is so. Unlike the "mean girl," the "tough girl" isn't necessarily dripping with femininity (though there is "bad gal" make-up). And though Buffy is TOTALLY "tough," Kim Kelly's toughness is of a different sort. And though Paris Gellar's tongue is just a sharp, she's way more square. It seems as though the tough girls without a calling or a type-a personality have gone underground.

So this is one of my current projects. I'm looking for tough girls on TV. I think I might start by checking out this new ROLLERGIRLS show from A&E. And I'd like to take a look at this book and this book.

And speaking of books, I'd like to end this post with a bit from one of Kim Kelly's book reviews. This is from her review of Deenie by Judy Blume.

Girls get tested for scoliosis all the time in gym class and it sucks. How'd you like to take your top off, stand around in your bra, and bend over in front of a doctor? So don't complain about that "turn your head and cough" crap. Anyway, Deenie has to wear a scoliosis brace. That's got to be pretty rough. But she's so conceited you want to slap her. It's like, "Boo hoo, now I can't wear my cute new school outfits!" And her mom's a real piece of work. All she cares about is forcing Deenie to be a model, so she can mooch off her daughter's paychecks. If I were Deenie, I'd make her mom wear the brace for a day or two. Then maybe she'd leave her alone. The one cool thing about Deenie is that she tells people the truth about her brace, instead of making up some lie. Eventually, everyone gets used to the idea. And this cute guy still wants to make out with her.

Read more about Kim Kelly and her book reviews here. And give me a shout if you know any tough girls.

10 comments:

mairead said...

jesus p. christ: god bless you. were i my younger self, this post would have saved mine life.

ehl said...

The "Kim Kelly is My Friend" episode was one that NBC chose not to air in Freaks & Geeks' original run. There was much speculation about whether this was censorship, since the network did air future eps while skipping this one. ((It did air eventually, in a one night run of the 3 previously unaired shows.) Just goes to show how unusual and disturbing, for some, Kim's story was. I love Kim, too. She's one of the many treasures of F&G. I'm not so fond of the "tough girl" books you mention. I don't think there's much great scholarship on this phenomenon and discussions of feminity and toughness in media tend to revolve around the more obvious choices -- Xena, Buffy, etc. Maybe this is because a character like Kim is so unusual. She appears so infrequently that it hasn't seemed a prominent enough trend to study. But definitely check out Rollergirls. Interesting stuff (and quite different, I think, from an infamous, short-lived '70s series by the same name --one of many Charlie's Angels imitators of the day). Great post, FF. And glad to know you're enjoying the DVDs.

zp said...

Lots of thoughts on this one.

(a) I think Kim Kelly is My Friend may be my favorite F&G episode. I like the way the series sort of reprimands Lindsay for having been so judgemental about Kim (and for being very unsisterly when she makes that comment to Daniel about how it would be such hell to date Kim). You just don't know what another person lives with, so shut the fuck up prissy, judgemental, self-righteous little Lindsay.

(b) I know Lindsay is cooler than this, but the root of her character is, well, very good girl. Which is why, in the end, I compare her to Joey Potter on Dawson's. Dawson's is melodrama, and F&G is, I think, a kind of TV realism, but no matter the genre, there is something similar about the characters of Joey and Lindsay . . . and it's something lame. Busy Phillips on Dawson's is cool too, but not as cool. And "The Smokers," which is one of the minor works of Busy Phillips.

(c) On the other hand, I found Kim Kelly is My Friend to be a little offensive. While it is great to see, a girl from "a lumpen class back-ground" I disliked the easy equation of: poor parenting = poverty = bad kid. On this one, Dawson's is a little better - unhappy kids come from all kinds of families . . . I even think That 70s Show is a little better, too; the reiteration of this equation over and over in Hyde becomes an ironic critique of how easy it is for some people to make these assumptions.

(d) And you know how That 70s Show diffuses a lot of it's tension with humor? I like that, but the forcing you to watch awful situations play out in F&G is different and one of the best things about the show and part of what give the show, for me, a realist aesthetic. Donna's mabye not a Tough Girl, but she does have a phyiscal presence similiar to Kim, tall with a lot of swagger.

(d) Back to F&G on class, one of my favorite moments is, late in the series, Daniel and his mom in the rain. This is better - the reason Daniel seems like such a fuck up by high school admin standards is because his life involves responsibilities and compromises that your standard high school admins haven't considered. This seems a more nuanced portrayal than the Kelly family. Maybe we are seeing the Kelly fam through Lindsay's eyes . . . so the representation is overblown and emotional, just because she's so shocked? OK, that's a bit much for TV . . .

(e) I'm a little curious about the qualifications for Tough Girl. Class, sex, drugs, wit and physical violence . . . ? Of these, my favorite is the physical violence/physical confrontation thing. In some ways, this is what draws the line, for me, between the Tough Girl and other feminine types - a vixen or whatever is manipulative, not directly confrontational.

(f) In the literary long history of directly confrontational young girls, you've got the women of Joyce Carol Oates Foxfire, whom I'm sure you know.

(g) But with them you've got great scenes from both Anne of Green Gables and Laura Ingalls Wilder, where each of them gets violent in the schoolroom. I'm interested in representations of "temper" . . .

(h) And then theres unsocialized children, which you know I'm into.

(i) And just recently I found a reference to Leslie Fielder's work (more literary) on "Good Good Girl" stories, 19th C stories for girls about girls who get sick (or are very poor) and as a result of their misfortunes, learn to be "good girls" - they are disruptive tomboys before, brave patient young ladies afterwards. My children's librarian friend, M. Librarian loaned me "What Katy Did" awhile ago; it's one of these. Now that I'm done with my chapter (!!!) I'll read it.

And that is why my head is spinning so fast and I had so much to say on this topic. Sorry about that.

Good luck with this one.

femme feral said...

I thought Faith on Buffy was a classist stereotype. In one of the commentaries Marti Noxon was all, "Faith is just white trash," and that really bugged me.

I love the parts of F&G where we see the other characters at home. I hear what you're saying about the depiction of KK's home life being offensive. I thought it was interesting how the Weir's took in Nick -- like they thought they could do a better job. Why didn't they feel that with Kim? Later, they call Kim Kelly's mother "a saint." The class tension sort of gets dissolved into a paretnt vs. teen tension, though it feels a little superficial. This sort of happens on My so called Life as well.

I agree that Lindsay can be sort of annoying. It bugs me that she's sooo smart that she doesn't even have to try. It reminds me a little of Rory from Gilmore Girls. And Joey. What is it that they have in common? I want them to be more rebellious. I always want that.

I'm still trying to figure out what makes a tough girl a tough girl. the ideas are sort of half-baked at this point. But I like thinking about what's going on when a girl says "I'm gonna kick your ass."

porkmuffin said...

Toughness has to do with attitude, and "front" methinks. "The Basketcase" from The Breakfast Club comes off as being tough at first, eventually falling in to the "weirdo" sub-classification. But she "fronts" an I-could-give-a-shit attitude, which adds to the allure of toughness.

I was a Tomboy, but never considered tough. I think i wasn't tough because I wasn't mean, but that doesn't mean that a Mean Girl is the same--as suggested above. I think the difference between a Mean Girl and a Tough Girl has to do with the girl in question's self image and the way they stake a claim on that image. Is she being mean/tough to climb a social ladder? Or is she being mean/tough to define herself and block off a barbed-wire territory of self actualization?

Emily said...

Holy cow, FF I can't believe you haven't yet seen Roller Girls, since I'm pretty sure it takes place in your neck of the woods!

I caught one episode and am totally smitten. The roller girls are this delicious combo of overt sexuality and violent rage..makes me want to put on some ripped up fishnets and kick someone's ass. Plus the whole roller derby enterprise down there in the lone-star state is skater owned and operated. How cool is that? In case you don't get to watch the show for a while yet, you can check out their website at www.txrd.com

IzzyMom said...

I love FNG and have it on DVD, too. Cancelling it was borderline criminal...

Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

So Lindsay can't voice a negative opinion on a girl who treats her like complete shit? The girl was SHITTING all over Lindsay and she DEFINITELY judged her. The show wasn't "reprimanding" Linsday. There's nothing to reprimand. As she learned more information, she modified her perspective on Kelly. If anything, what's in question throughout the show is despite their sympathetic qualities, to what extent Kelly should change her will to let the "freaks" invade her life and intrude in ways that a fully developed adult or someone not stuck in adolescent confusion may not tolerate.

Anonymous said...

So Lindsay can't voice a negative opinion on a girl who treats her like complete shit? The girl was SHITTING all over Lindsay and she DEFINITELY judged her. The show wasn't "reprimanding" Linsday. There's nothing to reprimand. As she learned more information, she modified her perspective on Kelly. If anything, what's in question throughout the show is despite their sympathetic qualities, to what extent Kelly should change her will to let her friends invade her life and intrude in ways that a fully developed adult or someone not stuck in adolescent confusion may not tolerate.

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