27 June 2009
This weekend I sat down to watch the (awesome) movie Star Trek for the third time (yes, yes, I’m a dork. Let’s move on). And, not for the first time, I marveled at the epic awesomeness that is JJ Abrams blockbuster success. A large portion of that success has to do with its two leads (Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine) and the awesome charisma and chemistry they bring to the screen. And it got me thinking about how badly I want to be Kirk and Spock. They’re an epic duo, best friends through thick and thin, a friendship so important that future-Spock was willing to risk the success of the Earth saving mission just to maintain it. Kirk and Spock belong together throughout time and space, and their friendship brings each to new heights.
Which got me thinking of other best buddy pairs throughout time. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Jason Segel and Paul Rudd. Turk and JD. Ted and Marshall (or, alternately, Ted and Barney or Barney and Marshall). Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Gus and Sean. Lennon and McCartney. Pretty much every buddy cop movie of all time. Michael Cera and Jonah Hill. Buzz and Woody.Hiro and Ando. Hell, I just finished the series of Rome, and Vorenus and Pullo were the ultimate, toga-clad bromance. These are friendships so deep that one would die for the other, kill for the other, and give up for the other (in Rome, they do all three!). They are world rocking friendships that go deeper than mere romantic love. They propel their personal stories, provide motivation for the men involved, and help the stories themselves to reach appropriately elevated levels of gravitas.
They’re also, you may well notice, all guys. Truly epic friendship on the level of Kirk and Spock is almost exclusively the purview of guys. Once I started thinking about this, I realized that, forget about the epic part, examples of true female friendship were actually harder than you would expect to come up. I can’t think of a single television show of note that doesn’t feature at least one strong male friendship. Not so for female characters. More often than not, female characters within television and movies are defined almost entirely by their relationship to the male characters in their lives. Sometimes this means epic friendships involving girls are with a male compatriot (see: Wallace and Veronica, Willow and Xander, Zoe and Mal), but more often than not it means that the single important relationship in a female character’s life is a romantic one. Notice I didn’t even say “single most important relationship;” far too often, there simply doesn’t exist any relationship between female characters.
Where there are epic, life changing, boundary crossing, no-limits inter-female relationships, they’re almost exclusively limited to between family members. I can think of very few relationships in this world to threaten the supremacy of Lorelai and Rory, but that’s mother/daughter and the cultural zeitgeist certainly has no problems imagining women as mother. Similarly, the all chick extravaganza of Charmed was formed entirely around the relationships between the three main women, but this was all sisters. On Heroes, Angela Petrelli and Claire Bennet probably have the closest to a good relationship, but that’s all about the grandmotherly concern.
I don’t mean to whine, although I do think it’s ridiculous that female friendships are so often pushed to the side in writing (and more often than not it’s just plain lazy. Where there are female friendships, one tends to be an annoying sidekick character and conversations are almost exclusively an excuse for one girl to spell out her feelings about a guy). What I’d rather do is celebrate those strong female friendships that do exist and can rival that of Kirk and Spock, and ask all of you guys to do the same. In compiling my list, I couldn’t come up with a single friendship that I was able to list without a caveat, but maybe you’ll be more successful. After the list, I provided my judging criteria, so before you add your own thoughts in the comment section, check there to see if I disqualified it for one reason or another.
1. Thelma and Louise- This movie is held up as the ultimate example of feminist movie making in a lot of circles and it’s the closest thing toa female Butch and Sundance. Their friendship is the one positive in a life filled with negatives for both women, and they both draw strength and bad assitude from it. Watching the two women go all rogue together, and find enough self-actualization to be outlaws, is about as empowering and cool as it gets. They’ve even got the epic/tragic thing down.
2. Xena and Gabrielle- These two would be number one if it weren’t for one little caveat, which, for the record, was actually a large portion of my motivation in writing this post. But I’ll save that for last. Xena and Gabrielle were epic by any measurement. They fought the dark forces of the world together, weathered loves lost, evil enchantings, child bearing, and all manner of mischief thanks to Joxer the Mighty together. Either would have happily died for the other, bled for the other, killed for the other, and they were often given the opportunity to do so. On top of that, they had a sort of oddball chemistry that brought out the best in both of them. So why weren’t they number one? Because of one little thing: the series ultimately turned theirs into a romantic love. Don’t get me wrong, it made sense (I recently rewatched early Xena episodes and was hit over the head with the none-so-subtle lesbian subtext), but it made it so that I can’t count Xena and Gabrielle as the most convincingly awesome epic duo. In the end of the story, we don’t need to be told that Barney and Ted actually covet one another’s body in order to believe their epic friendship; we’re able to just accept that these two guys believe that “without you I’m just the dynamic uno.” Still, for many, many years, the adventures of Gabrielle and Xena were every bit as epic, cool, and legend (wait for it) dary as one needs.
3. Serena and Blair- Hear me out. On the surface, Serena and Blair seem exactly like what I’m complaining about. They’re bitchy to each other, catty about each other, and far more often than I would like, ditching each other for male companionship. But they’re also, by far, the most important relationship on the show, and many of the storylines are built around the powerhouse awesomeness that is Selair (I tried to do the cutesy couple thing. It didn’t work). On top of that, and the real reason that Serena and Blair make the list, is that they have fun together. Remember when they randomly stole clothes from Blair’s mom during Season One and then just spent the day taking goofy pictures all over NYC? That was friendship, baby doll, true and simple, the type we rarely get to see girls having. It wasn’t dramatic or boy-oriented, it was fun and freeing and brought out the best in both up tight Blair and dramatic, care free Serena. And the rumblings felt through out the Gossip Girl universe whenever the two shall part is enough in and of itself to make me keep them on the epic list.
4. Buffy and Willow- I debated for a while putting this on, since technically there exists a group dynamic between Buffy, Willow and Xander that’s essential for both the show and for Buffy herself, but then I remembered one very important scene. There’s a moment in Season Three right after Buffy gets back from hiding out in LA where Willow is clearly mad at Buffy and not talking about. Buffy, being her usual self-centered self, tries to apologize for causing Willow worry by disappearing, when Willow breaks down and admits that she’s just as annoyed at Buffy for not being there for her. It’s not just about the worry about having the slayer for your best friend, it’s about the simple fact that her best friend wasn’t there to help her sort through her feelings about her blossoming magical talent, sex with Oz, and being a senior. It’s one of the truest moments I’ve ever seen on a show that was full of amazingly true moments, and it felt very much so like what friendship feels like. It’s not all clearly articulated positions and good guys and bad guys; sometimes it can be about insensitivity and emotions. This moment is echoed often throughout the series, such as Willow and Buffy rappelling down the wall in The Initiative and talking about the big changes Willow’s gone through in the season, and helps to reinforce just how important this relationship is to Buffy. Plus, if you’ve read the comics, you learn that the Willow/Buffy relationship is just as important, epic and dangerous as any of those boys up there.
5. Veronica and Lilly- Everything about Veronica was defined by her relationship with Lily and the way that Lilly helped her to overcome being shy and to be more comfortable with herself. On top of that, it was for love of Lilly that Veronica went from preppy over-achiever to bad ass PI. But of course, Lilly was dead, so much as I might want to celebrate the relationship, and I do think it’s all sort of epic awesomeness, at the end of the day we’ve still got a Veronica whose closest relationship is the (all types of awesome in his own way) Wallace Fennell.
For the record, I’ve got nothing against guy love. In fact, if anything, I like it a little too much. Give me a good story about two interesting dudes who like nothing more than each other’s company, and I’m a happy girl. I’m just saying it’d be cool if we could get equal girl love.
- Epic. Legendary. Adventure-having. (in other words, not just the person our female protagonist bitches to. For a true Epic Kirk/Spock level friendship, both girls have to be awesome/interesting in their own right and the plot of the show has to be at least partially motivated around their relationship, not just around their support of each other when other things fall apart). They have to be willing to move mountains, not to mention inconvenience themselves for each other, and ultimately, it has to feel like this platonic friendship is at least as important to each of them as is true love (I was going to say more important, but since I believe Marshal and Ted are totally epic, and Marshall definitely loves Lily as much as he loves Ted, it had to be amended).
- True friendship. This kind of goes along with epic, but the friendship has to be more than bitching about guys, or supporting each other about guys. It has to legitimately feel like these girls have interests in common and a friendship that has its own demands, needs, and, most of all, fun.
- Post-high school. This one was a little more dicey, but since I think children’s television is actually much better at having girl friends than adult television, but that said friendships don’t reach the emotional pathos of adult male friendships, the line between the two became too dicey.
- Not family members. It’s not revolutionary to show a woman’s ability to relate to her family members. In fact, in “the family” is a very comfortable place for society to put women. So, sorry Gilmore Girls, but I’ve got to take a pass.
- Not “groups.” Although still relatively rare, female groups of friends (gaggles, if you will) are occasionally presented on television, and are even occasionally very, very strong. But Kirk and Spock exist outside of the crew of the starship Enterprise, and Woody and Buzz have a friendship way stronger than those with the rest of the toys. The thing that is remarkable about these friendships isn’t just that they are so close; it’s the exclusivity of it. This means that although I actually think the very best thing about Sex and the City is the fact that these womens were friends through thick and thin (and that this is actually one of the better portrayals of female friendship in television and film history) and that their friendships were equally important to the plot of the show as was their relationships with guys, I couldn’t include Carrie and… anyone on the list.
- Modern. It’s not that I don’t think Lucy and Ethel were good friends, it’s just that I didn’t really feel qualified to talk about them. Plus, I was more interested in the state of current popular culture than earlier culture.