90210 on 9/02/10

When I think about growing up in the 90s, I always return to one particular place: Beverly Hills, California. I never actually stepped foot in the zip code (until recently, when I came to work as an intern for Ms.), but I watched Beverly Hills 90210 every Wednesday night at 8 p.m. I followed the high school trials and tribulations of Brenda and Brandon Walsh as they navigated the dicey social scene of Beverly Hills, fresh from a move from Minnesota. I remember being really invested in Brenda and Dylan’s romance, annoyed by Brandon’s self righteous behavior and jealous of Kelly Taylor’s wardrobe.

Growing up as a feminist has its pitfalls, and pop culture is certainly one of them, but I believe 90210 served both as a catalyst for my pop-culture addiction and helped shape my feminism.

Andi Zeisler’s terrific book Feminism and Pop Culture talks about why pop culture is important because it has created a collective consciousness:

We’re also talking about the way we understand both the time and place in which we live and the way we define ourselves as individuals. When we look at our lives–both personally and collectively–we view them largely through the lens of popular culture, using songs, slogans, ad jingles and television shows as shorthand for what happened at the time and how we experienced it.

Watching 90210 is what I associate with growing up. I watched it with my family (yes, it was awkward at times) and learned some new facts of life. I remember, for example, when Brenda had sex with Dylan for the first time; I loved the fact she wholeheartedly wanted to have sex with him, and that the show didn’t shy away from her sexuality.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuyeAHvmPV4&feature=related

However, I also had problems with the show from a feminist perspective. The women on the show adhered to exhausting beauty standards: They were all thin, white, perfectly groomed and well dressed (for the 90s). And although the show touched on important issues like rape, domestic violence, AIDS and abortion, they didn’t always execute the story in a satisfying way (at least to this young feminist).

For instance, when the characters move on to college at California University, Andrea Zuckerman gets pregnant. Her boyfriend, Jesse, wants her to have the child, but she wants an abortion. However, she decides to not go through with it and has the baby. Yet another on-screen consideration where the procedure never happens.

Also, did I mention the huge problem with Ray Pruit (sometimes abuser and always bad musician)?!

Today, when I watch the new 90210 (yes, it is worth checking out) and laugh over absurd story lines or feel confident I could never wear a strapless bandage dress, I think of what Susan Jeanne Douglas wrote in Where the Girls Are: Growing up Female with the Mass Media:

… We must reject the notion that popular culture for girls and women didn’t matter, or that it consisted only of retrograde images. American women today are a bundle of contradictions because much of the media imagery we grew up with was itself filled with mixed messages about what women should and should not do, what women could and could not be.

Growing up with pop culture is its own battlefield. I simultaneously loved and hated Beverly Hills 90210, which allowed me to both enjoy pop culture but be critical of it at the same time. My feminism may be a bundle of contradictions, but I know I’m not the only one who loved/hated that TV show–like Marisa Meltzer, author of Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music, who regularly blogs about 90210 and is collaborating on a new zine with Elizabeth Spiridakis in honor of yesterday’s date. Yes: 9/02/10.

What are your memories of watching 90210? Feminist? Sexist? Good? Bad? If not 90210, what pop-culture phenomenon shaped your growing-up experiences? How so?

Photo from Flickr user rick under Creative Commons 2.0

Comments

  1. I was too young for 90210, and my mom wouldn't let me watch Blossom, but I remember feeling totally inspired by Dot from Animaniacs. She was cool and funny and she always hung around with the boys, even though I think they were her brothers… Looking back, this says a lot about what kind of feminist I've become.

    Great post!

  2. I was another fan of Beverly Hills 90210 who LOVED seeing Brenda and Dylan together. My childhood bedroom was plastered with posters of Luke Perry. I wanted them to be the ones who had gotten married for the show's ending. It would have sent series ratings easily through the roof.

    And it would have made a really great launch for a spin off. The two of them (at least on screen) had so much chemistry together. I loved seeing them as a couple. It was so convincing.

    I thought this was (honestly) going to happen when a new 90210 was being announced. My wishes had beein fufilled. I tuned into the pilot. Okay, there is Shannen. But no Luke–and there are some other people. I'm not hooked and I AM disappointed.

    • I remember Beverly Hills 90210 did tackle domestic violence as a storyline. Later in Tori Spelling's memoir, she says it was apparently influenced by real-life problems then having.

      Luke Perry helped her realize that she needed to leave the bad boyfriend. What a great co-worker:). I am glad he was my pre-teen crush.

      Darren Starr himself spoofed the series itself in 'Grosse Pointe', a very short-lived tv series which ran on the then-WB. It is a cross between 'Beverly Hills 90210' and 'Primary Colors'. It's out on DVD, so anybody looking for an affectionate but well-done series critique needs to get it.

  3. It's great that you mentioned Susan Douglas, because she even discusses 90210 specifically in her latest book, "Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Myth That Feminism's Work Is Done." It's a great book, and looks into a lot of pop culture through a feminist lens. Check it out!

    • This title wasn't enlghtened. Douglas did not understand the gen-x women's culture which she was attempting to write about in an apparent 'sequel' to "Where the girls are'.

      Therefore she failed to see the positive role models and items which do exist for my generation–and younger. So it then lacked the sophisticated multi-layered approach to media image analysis which she herself had proved oreviously capable of intellectually delivering to audiences.

      It instead degenerated into 'because things appear different from my generation, feminism is naturally being opposed'.

      And this lack of maturity from the same professor is a big let down. It feels like two different people wrote the books.

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