My So-Called Life


Last night I had the good fortune to run across an episode of My So-Called Life It was on Noggin, I think? Apparently they play it every Friday night. Anyway, I was thrilled to dig into the couch and reconnect with Angela and Rayanne and Rickie and (of course) Jordan Catalano.

As I was watching the espisode, though, something seemed strange and out of place to me. Almost...dated. At first I thought it was just that I am now a lot older than those characters were supposed to be (Claire Danes, who played Angela on the show, is the same age as I am in real life, so when I was 14 watching the show, she was 14 making it). Then I thought it must just be the age of the show--after all, it is ten years old.

The plot lines of high school dramas don't change all that much, though. Sure, MSCL was made before everyone had IM, so there is a fair amount of talking on the phone, but other than that the drama is pretty much the standard fare--sex, friendships, family, the future. So why did the characters on MSCL seem so archaic?

Then I figured it out. It was because they were covered up.

No, not their emotions. Those were pretty wide open. Their bodies. The difference was their clothes. Angela Chase almost never wore less than three layers, one of them generally being overalls and another nearly always made of flannel. And it wasn't just sexless Angela--the non-virginal characters weren't flaunting their stuff either. Rayanne, the supposed wild one, dressed in tights, boots, a big coat...even Sharon, the one who was actually supposed to be HAVING sex on the show, who had breasts, which much was made of in the first few epsiodes (if I remember correctly), never showed much skin. In fact, she sort of dressed like a kindergarden teacher.

If you compare this to current teen dramas--not just the shitty ones, but even endearing and offbeat ones like Joan of Arcadia, you will get an assault of midriffs, ass cracks, high heels and cleavage. Not to be a huge prude, but Angela looked a whole hell of a lot more comfortable in her overalls than Joan does in her lowriders.

It make me sad to think that there was a time only ten years ago where teenage girls on television weren't expected to be sexpots. Sure, part of it was the impervious nature of grunge culture at that time (thank you, thank you, THANK YOU Kurt Cobain), but I don't think that tells the whole story. After all, baggy "grungy" clothes stayed "in style" and available a lot longer for teenage guys than they did for girls. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, guys are still encouraged to wear baggy jeans and button-downs, even if they are supposed to be a little bit cleaner than Jordan Catalano's ever were. A teenage girl dressed like Angela Chase, though? There would be two names for her--dyke or bag lady.

For the first time, I realize that there was some luck in when I came of age. Sure, I'm part of the first generation who started having sex knowing about AIDS; sure, I graduated from high school into a dismal economy and graduated from college into a much worse one; I'll even admit that Converse All-Stars are not any more attractive than they were the first time around. But at least I had until my 20s before I had to start worrying about low-rise thongs and push-up bras. And at least, for that one sweet year, before Claire Daines got all sexxxeee and started dating Billy Crudup, I had Angela.

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April 2012

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