September 22, 2006

Ode to Marissa Cooper

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I don’t consider myself a bad person. I don’t kick puppies, steal candy from babies, pants old men in Depends, or rip pages out of textbooks (though I’ve heard that’s quite common here). I would never normally gain any joy from another person’s death. That said, I have a confession to make: The O.C.’s Marissa Cooper’s dead, and I can’t help but be relieved.

I know it’s bad to speak ill of the dead, but it’s not really Marissa I’m criticizing; it’s the type of girl she symbolizes. Marissa is this sub-generation’s perfect girl: beautiful, tragic, stupid and self destructive, and yet she still gets the guy. In fact, there may be a positive correlation between the number of stupid things she’s done and how much more Ryan falls in love with her.

I’d like to claim that I never “got” girls like Marissa because of the positive female influence in my home, but that would be a lie. In actuality, my role models weren’t my Mom and my sisters, but instead Buffy, Felicity, Joey Potter and the Lorelais Gilmore. Though I hate to admit it, they helped shape me in everything from my fashion choices to my actions. What did they have in common, other than being on the now defunct WB? If you ask the males in my life, they all talked too much, but I want to take it a step further; they were kind of dorks. To put it more nicely, they were smart, each in her own way: Buffy was quick, Felicity was introspective, Joey was over-analytical, Rory was a bookworm and Lorelai was (and is) witty. Moreso than that, they were mostly independent and had goals in life that didn’t involve guys and popularity. True, they made a lot of stupid choices, but they portrayed something bigger to me: they had substance.

This message has changed in the past few years. Felicity and Joey have been replaced by The O.C.’s Marissa and Summer, and One Tree Hill’s Brooke, Peyton and Hailey. Suddenly, my role models were replaced by girls who, though much better dressed, only seemed to care about sex, drugs and partying. I turned on my TV, and instead of seeing an admittedly annoying conversation between Joey and Pacey about the effects of their relationship on Dawson, I saw Marissa almost OD in Tijuana, Peyton snorting coke out of loneliness, and Hailey ditching her priorities to become a cheerleader. It all just makes me forever thankful that I wasn’t born three years later.

Consider it: Felicity, Joey and Rory all went to good colleges, and while Buffy didn’t make it through school, she saved the world and kicked ass, even in cute skirts. The guys in their lives loved them, not because of how beautiful they were, but because they were smart, caring and had goals. Compare that to today’s teen female heroines, and you can’t help but come up short. What are our little sisters and younger cousins going to learn to value: booze, boys and hating their parents?

To be fair, there were plenty of “bad role models” in the late nineties – Calista Flockhart’s anorexia comes to mind. And there are still a few positive ones: Gilmore Girls is still on, and though Rory herself has fallen a bit into the damsel-in-distress trap, she’s still ten times stronger than the others.

Brooke and Summer, though set up as the shallow sidekicks, ironically have more depth than their counterparts. Then there’s Buffy’s replacement Veronica Mars who embodies everything I miss about the late nineties TV shows: wit, spunk, smarts and independence. The problem is that though these shows exist, most adolescent girls would rather watch a character on The O.C. almost drunkenly drown than watch Veronica stand up to her best friend’s killer or hear the Gilmores mock today’s culture.

So may Marissa Cooper rest in peace. But may the death of Marissa mean the end of the “Beauty Queen at Only 18” era, and the opening of more doors for stronger female role models like Veronica. Until then, my TV will be tuned to the new CW on Tuesday nights, watching the Gilmores and Veronica do their thing. You’re welcome to join me if you ever get sick of Marissa’s little sister’s binge drinking.