thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Posts Tagged ‘sookie’

The Many Roles of the Divine Melissa McCarthy

In gender on October 5, 2011 at 8:42 am

Sarah Todd

There are three things I have to say about Melissa McCarthy right off the bat. First, she is hilarious. Second, she is beautiful. Third, I am very glad that she is riding a huge wave of success, from critical raves for her Bridesmaids turn to an Emmy award for Mike and Molly (which by general consensus was really for her work in Bridesmaids, but fine, since it’s unlikely the stuffy old Oscars will toss a nod in Bridesmaids’ direction) to her recent gig as the host of Saturday Night Live. The more often McCarthy shows up on screens large and small, the more the world gets to bask in her charismatic, goofy presence—and that’s an excellent thing.

However, I also think it is important to take a close look at the types of roles that have thus far been available to McCarthy as a plus-size female comedian. Some people, with good reason, have raised concerns that these roles—in particular, her part in Bridesmaids as a tough, sexually aggressive, not-very-ladylike member of the wedding party—rely on fat jokes and stereotypes about overweight women. (On a sidenote, I use the word “fat” in this article either in the reclaimed sense or in order to convey cultural tropes and prejudices regarding overweight people; by no means is it meant as an insult.)

In order to take a close look at these concerns, let’s check out McCarthy in three screen appearances: as Sookie in Gilmore Girls, Megan in Bridesmaids, and in multiple sketches on last week’s SNL. (I haven’t seen Mike and Molly and I have a (perhaps unjust) bias against laugh-track sitcoms, but I’d love to hear from readers about how her role on that show fits into this analysis).

In retrospect, I wonder if Melissa McCarthy was a little bored in her seven seasons as Sookie on Gilmore Girls. As Sookie, she got to be cute and high-energy and quirky and neurotic. But the part didn’t really call for much of a wild side or for physical humor, and it’s now clear that these are two of McCarthy’s strengths. However, one great thing about the way the show depicted Sookie was that her weight was never an issue. I can’t recall a single episode that mentions anything about her body type, or that plays on any stereotypes related to overweight people. Sookie was supposed to be funny and pretty, a great chef, a loyal friend, and a devoted wife and mother, and she was indeed all of those things. Her weight never entered into the discussion of her abilities or happiness. Nor did the show suggest that her weight was a problem to be overcome or a personal failing. Read the rest of this entry »

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Whose Sookie: Love and Possession in True Blood

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Sarah Todd

“You have been a very, very foolish boy, wasting your time dreaming of impossible things when you speak of Mr. Pontellier setting me free! I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, ‘Here, Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours,’ I should laugh at you both.

His face grew a little white, “What do you mean?” he asked.

– Kate Chopin, The Awakening

Love and sex are a dangerous game on True Blood. Relationships on the show tend to end in blood of either the sticky red or metaphorical variety–sometimes both. This is largely due to the fact that people on the show have mad issues. If you’re a vampire who’s been around long enough, you’re always working an angle. If you’re a new vampire, you’re tortured by desire; all you see is throbbing jugulars everywhere you look. If you’re a shapeshifter, you can’t trust anybody, so you’ll always be hiding what you really are. If you’re a werewolf, you are superhot but you probably have some issues with self-control. If you’re human, you are screwed and I’m sorry.  If you’re witches (warlocks?) like Lafayette and Jesus, I am rooting for you two but with this show’s track record I’m not holding my breath. If you’re a faerie, like Sookie Stackhouse, the whole world wants you/wants to kill you, and the two motives are often hard to distinguish.

On True Blood, to love is to bury. When you love someone, the threat of loss hangs over you. True Blood makes this fear concrete by having its characters lose the people they love all the time, to serial killers with fake accents and pagan sacrifices and revenge plots and even regular heartbreak. To love is to bury: loving someone won’t stave off your demons, or theirs (Tara and Eggs). To love is to bury: you harm the person you say you love when you force them to take on roles you should never expect anyone to fill (Mrs. Fortenberry, Franklin). You can try to bury parts of yourself and your past in the name of love, but when those parts come to light the lies will hurt more than the truth ever would have (Bill, a million times over).

Possessive love is a form of burial; it attempts to suppress the independence of others, the right people have to make their own choices and chart their own paths. When Bill and Eric say Sookie is mine, they reveal just how fundamentally they misunderstand the way life actually works. As Edna Pontellier knew, you can give of yourself, but nobody gets to lay claim to you. The vampires on the show are roughly a hundred years behind the times, feminism-wise,which makes sense because they are totally old. They probably don’t understand smart phones, either.

For a while, Sookie was Bill’s, though she never consented to the title. This meant that other vampires kept their distance and he came running whenever she was in danger. Sookie seemed marginally safer than she would have otherwise been at the time, but as it turned out Bill was also using her for her magic sunshine-blood and keeping information about her own past from her and getting other people to beat her to a pulp so that she would fall in love with him. Bill may have believed he loved Sookie; certainly he regarded her with affection. But because he saw her as his, he believed he had the right to control her life–which wasn’t love at all.

This season, Eric is operating under the same patriarchal-vampiric ideology as Bill, more or less. Naturally he believes that buying Sookie’s house means that he owns her too. His understanding of property rights is somewhat shaky, as Sookie promptly informs him.

Pam, ever the voice of deadpan practicality, tells Sookie that she has to be someone’s if she wants to stay alive, given the hail of bullets she’s constantly dodging. But this is one case where Pam isn’t speaking on the show’s behalf. The past few seasons, Sookie’s been discovering her powers. It’s happening slowly, which isn’t surprising given that until now the entire timespan of the show has taken place within just a few weeks. When she shot light at Marianne in Season Two, no one was more surprised than Sookie herself. She still doesn’t know quite what she’s capable of. I think (hope) that this is the summer we’re going to find out. She’s shaking off the people who thought they owned her; Eric doesn’t even remember who he is anymore, let alone the claims on her he hoped to make.

In the last episode of True Blood, Eric said that there were two Sookies: a human Sookie and a faerie one. In fact, there are even more than that. There’s Sookie the telepath, who was an outcast because she knew what everyone was thinking. There’s Sookie the spunky waitress, Sookie the good granddaughter, Sookie the trusted yet flaky friend. To Bill, she was both a human drug and a damsel permanently in distress. There’s the Sookie some viewers rightly see as “a consummate Mary Sue,” as Molly Lambert explains. There’s the Sookie I keep hoping will emerge, who’s stronger and more powerful than any version we’ve seen just yet.

Pam’s right that Sookie probably does need protection: Bon Temps is one scary place. But what if Sookie turns out to be her own best protector, the most valiant, the most trusted? Given that trouble has a way of finding Sookie, it seems likely that the only lasting peace she’ll ever get is the kind she makes for herself.