Courtesy of Universal Pictures

April 16, 2020

SIMS | Frivolous Femininity — And it’s Okay

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For years, I rejected it. Scornfully, dismissively, pompously, I refused to watch it. I thought less of the people who enjoyed it, while my superior sense of artistry led me to aesthetic pursuits like watching Star Wars with my dad and watching four Sharknado movies in one sitting.

For weeks, my cool, new coagulation of friends and coworkers at summer camp said that we’d watch it, and I brushed them off and laughed. I said, “Okay, yeah,” meaning nothing by it and expecting we’d never get around to it, like all the sunrise hikes or campfire cooking we said we’d do on our breaks.

After multiple complaints, suggestions we play a board game instead, stalling on a telephone call while I assured them that they could just start without me, I ended up back on the couch as they pulled up Netflix. I could no longer stall, I had to think of a new strategy. Luckily, the yawns were already coming.

I didn’t understand why we had to watch Mamma Mia!. It was such a silly movie; surely nothing worthwhile could come from watching a bunch of carefree women dancing on a beach. I mean, come on, it’s a jukebox musical.

We started watching, and I stewed in my own petulance as I was introduced to the sunny island in Greece, flowing linen and bad but cheerful singing. A gaggle of girls talked about romance and read diaries about … their mothers’ sex lives (ok, that was a little unexpected and weird).

Eventually, my grudge faded a little bit as I warmed up to my friends’ earnestness and fun-loving dispositions, and then I found myself, surprisingly, asleep on the couch.

The movie was paused. I was awoken. The movie continued. That happened a few times, and then they let me go to bed. A few days later, I found myself once again on a couch, surrounded by my three friends, with Mamma Mia! once again rolling in front of me.

I was still unsure what the hype was all about, why these three were so intent on me watching a movie that is so universally considered mediocre. I asked the three of them what they liked so much about it, and one of them said: “How light it is.” It’s like a holiday on Greek Island, she went on, discussing how the colors and the energy were all just delightful.

With some of the cynicism melted away, and feeling a little bit of guilt for taking the interests of my friends so lightly, I played along. I listened; I waggled my shoulders to the music, I even hummed along to the songs I knew. I, somehow, shockingly, was having fun.

This is, of course, the goal of the movie. It’s supposed to be joyful, insubstantial and unapologetically girly. Its goodness comes from the feathery lightness of its spirit and its legitimation of triviality. And that’s not something to balk at.

The history of art overlaps considerably with the history of men taking things really seriously. In the canons of visual, film, literary and musical works, the ones which stick out as the greatest are about brooding emotional struggles, maneuvering our place in the world as humans, how power is used and taken and the stakes that are always miles high.

Then, moving into the ‘pop culture that’s not art’ realm, you’ve got the superhero movies and comedies, many of which purvey their action and humor at the expense of women’s bodies or feelings. Instead, Mamma Mia! embraces women, pulling out all of the stops to celebrate the things that make femininity seem superficial.

It’s one big festival of frivolity, gaudy and giddy in a mostly — though not wholly — innocent way. It asserts that the fun of femininity is found in this atmosphere of joy.

And it’s wonderful. The joy of experiencing Mamma Mia! is all-encompassing and visceral and uncomplicated in such a pleasant way. It resists the seriousness and responsibility that women are expected to have in their caregiving and emotional roles.

It’s a myopic vision of femininity to think that it’s just frolicking on the beach, but it’s also redeeming for some of the elements of femininity that are consistently derided.

 

Katie Sims is a senior in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. She can be reached at ksims@cornellsun.com. Resident Bad Media Critic runs alternate Thursdays this semester.