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In Praise of Slacker Chicks on Screen

In a week when the brilliant ‘How To Be A Lady’ video, narrated by former Sex and the City actress and New York mayoral candidate, Cynthia Nixon, went viral, this post is celebrating slacker chicks on screen. Why? Because they give the middle finger to plenty of the ‘rules’ about how to be a lady — and that can only be a good thing.

If you haven’t seen the powerful video calling out the ‘double-bind’ of femininity, please leave this post right now and go and watch it. The link is HERE. This video just felt so true to the Broad it hurt. Watching this, I remember the cover lines of so many women’s magazines, recall things men have said to my friends and me in nightclubs, statements I’ve read from judges presiding over rape trials and on and on. The narration is from a blog post written by Camille Rainville about “the dichotomies of womanhood” and the text can be found on her blog.

Once you’ve watched it, for the tenth time, give a fist pump towards finding ways to dislodge the restrictive ‘damned if you do’ and ‘damned if you don’t’ bind that acts to police women’s bodies, makes them always at fault and ensures there’s always a rule, and then another contradictory rule, prescribing how they should behave.

Cynthia Nixon, Be A Lady They Said

So to the TV and movies, and a list of some shows with chicks attempting to define themselves and have their stories, in their own unique, slacker way.

Broad City started as a YouTube series in 2014 before migrating to the TV screen and features Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as two underemployed, semi-broke friends navigating life in New York city. It’s funny and things always feel like they’re on the brink of falling apart as one bad decision leads to another. Also also getting a mention is Portlandia, the sketch comedy series featuring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, which sends up life in the city of Portland and has the odd slacker character.

30 Rock with the wonderful Tina Fey playing Liz Lemon, head writer for a sketch comedy show, makes the list for being a little pathetic, which is almost as good as slacker. The show had a long run from 2006 to 2013 and had some brilliant cameos from a host of funny women including Susan Sarandon and Carrie Fisher. This article from The New Yorker magazine defends Liz Lemon from the charge the character became pathetic and a bit neurotic by arguing she was always pathetic. As it says, the series let her be the George Costanza of the show, unusual to see female characters not being burdened by being the moral compass for the men.

“That was what was enthralling, and even revolutionary, about the character. Unlike some other adorkable or slutty-fabulous characters I could name, Liz only superficially resembled the protagonist of a romantic comedy, ready to remove her glasses and be loved. Beneath that, she was something way more interesting: a strange, specific, workaholic, NPR-worshipping, white-guilt-infected, sardonic, curmudgeonly, hyper-nerdy New Yorker.”

The Irish series Women On The Verge is probably more fractured woman, than slacker woman, but it gets a mention for the funny storylines and wonderful female characters. And the Broad could not put this post together without including Bridget Jones who’s a little slack and a little cracked and spends far too much time and energy worrying about men, even if they are Hugh Grant and Colin Firth.

Girls was always a favourite with the Broad, even when it fell out of favour with the critics for being too white, too self-indulgent and made by a young woman who didn’t apologise for having a voice and a point of view. In the show, the young women attempt to make their way through their 20s and it captured something real about those immediate post-university years when dreams start to become reality and life starts to take shape in ways that are surprising, sometimes painful and other times joyful. The show said something which hadn’t been depicted on screen like that before. It didn’t have the neat, shiny, packaged version of New York 20-somethings like Friends, and was far darker but more real, to the Broad. If you enjoyed Girls, then try and watch Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham’s film which predated Girls and has very similar themes and storylines.

Here’s a Guardian article from 2012 on the return of the slacker character type, who’s now a woman rather than a man. It takes a look at Lena’ Dunham’s hit series Girls along with several books and comedians like Nat Luurtsema all making mileage from a version of the slacker woman.

One of the original and best slackers were the Absolutely Fabulous pair, Eddy Monsoon and Patsy Stone, played by Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley. They managed to do very little work while consuming large quantities of champagne, almost no food in the case of Patsy, wearing designer clobber and throwing around a lot of names, and air kisses. The series gave magazines a bad name for their vacuous, superficial PR-driven approach to publishing. Or maybe that was just me after spending years working in mag-land.

Perhaps the closest we get in Australia to a slacker chick is Kim from the brilliant series with Gina Riley and Jane Turner, Kath and Kim. Kim spent most of her time eating dippity bics, obsessing about her slacker husband, insulting her netball-mad friend, Sharon, and just generally being kind of slack about things.

Finally, foul-mouthed isn’t the same as slacker, but this article from The New York Times has a helpful catalogue of potty mouth female characters and their brilliant TV series. There’s Veep’s Selina Meyer  – definitely not a slacker – who issues some of the best swearing in the business. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, who’s more self-centred than slacker, and her earlier series, Crashing, which has her in the lead role as a somewhat-slacker house mate. It also adds to the list Sex and the City, which has plenty of language and the Broad would argue Carrier Bradshaw is slacker-lite with her one column per week, no savings, drinking and smoking approach to life. The other three, certainly not slackers. Read the list and see if you agree.

And this article from iD magazine takes a look at the changing way female slackers have been portrayed on TV from Girls onwards.

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Rosalyn Page
Journalist, blogger and writer covering arts, culture, travel and digital lifestyle at www.rosalynpage.com and www.somenotesfromabroad.com.

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