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Posts Tagged ‘spencer hastings’

Being Brunette: PLL and the Dangers of Policing Identity

In ABC Soaps, feminism, Pretty Little Liars on September 4, 2014 at 7:52 am

 

TROIAN BELLISARIO

Melissa Sexton

Pretty Little Liars’s Spencer Hastings and Hanna Marin occupy opposite poles within their fantastic friend foursome, as Sarah Todd wrote about earlier this week. These girls also occupy opposing sides of a binary that defines women in terms of either their looks or their minds. Hanna Marin is supposed to be the “dumb blonde” and Spencer Hastings is supposed to be the “smart brunette.” The two aren’t just different; their differences define each other. But lately, Sarah argues, PLL is breaking down the characters’ strictly defined identities. With Hanna acing the SATs and taking a leading role in the group’s ongoing investigation of Ali, A, and all related mysteries, the show pushes against the reductive way these stereotypes and Hanna’s own friends try to define and limit her.

But if the strict division between smarts and looks is breaking down in Hanna’s favor, what does that mean for Spencer? While Hanna has rocked her “dumb blonde” title unphased and full of confidence, Spencer has been constantly anxious of losing her “smart” designation. She’s over-caffeinated and overcommitted, trying to hold down spots on the lacrosse team and the Quiz Bowl, to secure herself early admission to U Penn–the university all the other Hastings attended–and to pad her résumé with awards and laurels.

This competitive drive, as Sarah points out, can make Spencer particularly invested in putting Hanna’s intelligence down. But to simply label Spencer as the mean one of the group seems, to me, to simplify the complicated story of friendship and mutual self-definition that PLL explores.  Sarah brilliantly points out the show’s deconstruction of “patriarchal archetypes,” and my hope in writing this is simply to build on her analysis by telling the flipside of Hanna’s story.

Spencer’s meanness is as much a product of reductive definitions as Hanna’s dumbness. It is the result of women being told that they have to choose one aspect of their identity and protect it at any cost, blurring their true complexity in favor of fitting in safely.

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Beyond Dumb Blondes and Smart Brunettes

In Uncategorized on September 2, 2014 at 7:55 am

all hail hannaSarah Todd

Hanna Marin is supposed to be the dumb blonde. As one of four friends featured on ABC Family’s teen mystery series Pretty Little Liars, she’s prone to malapropisms and gaps in logic. (“Jenna can’t hear us, she’s blind,” she tells her friends in one scene. In another: “Nothing works underwater. It’s a scientific fact.”) She’s more likely to be found flipping through fashion magazines, shoplifting sunglasses or rocking out to Savoir Adore in the kitchen than studying for a test, and her preferred method for taking care of problems is to throw some physical manifestation of them in a lake or a blender—whatever’s handy at the time.

But Pretty Little Liars is mostly interested in patriarchal archetypes insofar as they can be subverted. Hanna was always allowed to be brave, loyal and funny in addition to being a space cadet, and the past couple seasons have gone even farther in complicating her character. She started developing theories and hatching plans in an effort to save herself and her friends from their mystery-tormentor, A. Last year, she developed a reading habit; this year, she was the first of the foursome to see through the manipulations of their former leader, Ali. And last week’s season finale drove home the fact that there’s more to Hanna than meets the expertly-lined eye. Much to her own surprise, she nailed the SATs.

The bubbly girl who realizes her scholarly potential with the help of a standardized test is a familiar television trope. Buffy Summers—witty but academically average—receives unexpectedly high scores and decides to apply to Northwestern. On The O.C., Summer Roberts worries that her cute-nerd boyfriend Seth will ditch her for being intellectually subpar—until her stellar SAT scores inspire her to hit the books and win admission to Brown. Zach Morris, Saved By the Bell’s masculine take on the popular but low-achieving blond, lands a 1502 and winds up slated for Yale. (The questionable utility of standardized tests and the glorification of name-brand schools are topics for another day.)

Like Hanna, these characters don’t spend hours before the tests mastering tricky math word problems and memorizing the definition of “querulous.” They go into the SATs without a lot of confidence in their intelligence, having been frequently informed that their value lies more in their shiny hair and social prowess. Their results inspire them to aim higher and have more faith in their beautiful minds. Read the rest of this entry »