Ladies and gentlemen,
Welcome to the first round of voting for the Oregon Ballet Theatre “Tragic Heroine Throwdown!” I’m your host, Claire Willett, OBT Grants Manager and Social Media Nerd, and I am so delighted that you’re playing along so I know that this isn’t only funny to me. If you’re playing to win tickets, and you sent in your ballot already, I expect you to utilize your powers of persuasion in the blog and Facebook comments to woo undecided voters to side with you. If you’re playing along at home for fun, I encourage you to rope your friends in and bet a round of drinks or something, just to keep it interesting. Here’s the link to the bracket and rules if you need to download it.
Here’s how we roll. During Round 1, you’ll get a chance to vote on four matches a day, one from each quarter of the bracket. (P.S. let’s just get this out in the open right now: I have absolutely no idea how real NCAA March Madness brackets work. So if I get something hilariously wrong, please just laugh at me silently from the privacy of your own home or office.) All these matches will be a member of Team Giselle vs. a member of Team Carmen. After Round 1, obviously, it’s just a matter of who stays in, so we could end up with a Carmen vs. Carmen/Giselle vs. Giselle scenario in the finals. Although, when I did mine, just to test it and make sure it was as awesome as I hoped, I ended up with a Carmen vs. a Giselle at the end. (No, I won’t tell you who. In this game, I’m just the referee.)
Questions? Comments? Did I leave out your all-time favorite heroine and you want to launch a write-in campaign? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, while as always we ask everyone to keep their comments clean and respectful, we heartily encourage vigorous debate.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN!
The Bond Girls
TEAM GISELLE: Moneypenny
TEAM CARMEN: Pussy Galore
Poor Moneypenny . . . her love for James Bond is true and pure, but it never gets past the daydream stage. Her devotion to Britain’s ultimate smooth-talking bad boy is unswerving throughout all the Bond films and novels, no matter how many glamorous villainesses he seduces. The sharp-witted, level-headed private secretary to big boss M is a high-ranking administrative official in His Majesty’s Secret Service who keeps the trains running on time and bails 007 out of his constant scrapes. Sure, next to Ursula Andress or Halle Berry, she’s kind of a plain Jane; on the other hand, she’s the only Bond Girl with an actual job, and she never gets killed. Who’s laughing now, Vesper Lynde?
Ian Fleming’s Pussy Galore is one tough kitten. In the novel Goldfinger, she’s America’s only woman mob boss, running a ruthless all-female organized crime syndicate composed of (no joke) former trapeze artists-turned-cat-burglars. Goldfinger hires her and her Amazon warrior brigade to help him rob Fort Knox, but their plans are foiled by James Bond. Concerned about running afoul of the censors, the producers of the 1964 movie softened some of Galore’s hard edges (though they were eventually persuaded not to change her name), making her an aviator who runs a girl-army of top-notch pilots, and dropping sleeping gas on the population of Fort Knox instead of poisoning the entire water supply. And instead of remaining a bad girl to the end, the film rewrote her character so she has a change of heart and joins the good guys after being seduced by Sean Connery’s 007, like so many of the sisterhood before her (and really, who can hold it against them?).
The Classical Queens
TEAM GISELLE: Dido from The Aeneid
TEAM CARMEN: Clytemnestra from The Oresteia
Dido is perhaps classical literature’s foremost example of the lesson our mothers always taught us: “Never trust a smooth talker.” This widowed Phoenician princess flees town after her brother kills her husband, and founds the North African city of Carthage, which became a major center of commerce and trade in the Mediterranean. After the end of the Trojan War, as the Greek soldiers are sailing back home from their ten-year siege, warrior Aeneas washes up on Dido’s shores, and wins her over with his (I’m sure not at all exaggerated) accounts of his valor and heroism. Dido gets all swoony, and Aeneas, because every storyteller craves a good audience, falls in love with her too. It probably doesn’t hurt that she’s rich, gorgeous, brilliant, and excellent at urban planning. Cut to several years later, when Aeneas has been ordained by the gods to found a new city (he says), so with little more than a cavalier, “It’s been swell, dollface, but the road’s calling me” (loose translation of the original Greek), he packs up his ships and leaves to go found Rome. Upon hearing of his departure, Dido goes through all the Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression), with one minor change; instead of ending with “Acceptance”, she opts for “Throw Self on Blazing Funeral Pyre.” But she gets her revenge in Hades; when he runs into her in the afterlife, Aeneas tries to apologize, and she totally snubs him, choosing to stick with her first husband instead. Oh snap!
Clytemnestra, wife of Greek king Agamemnon, has the distinction of being arguably history’s earliest femme fatale. A half-goddess, she was the daughter of Zeus and a mortal woman (but really, in those days, who wasn’t?). She was also the sister of Helen “The Face that Launched a Thousand Ships” of Troy (talk about sibling rivalry), which means when they were kids Clytemnestra’s aunts probably told her she was “the smart one.” Helen married Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus, and either eloped with or was kidnapped by Paris, a prince of Troy who just couldn’t resist her pretty face, husband or no husband. After Menelaus discovered his wife was missing, he called his brother to the rescue, and Agamemnon rallied the troops: “Greek Army UNITE! Meet us at the seaport of Aulis at 0800 hours! Bring ships!” But the wind wasn’t blowing so they couldn’t sail for Troy. Various seers and prophets did whatever mystic things seers and prophets do, until finally one of them told Agamemnon that the gods would grant them favorable winds if he would sacrifice his daughter Iphegenia. He didn’t tell his wife, presumably knowing she would shove him into the ocean first, and by the time she found out it was too late – her daughter was dead and her husband was aboard ship, headed for Troy with his army, where they would fight for so long that you have to imagine they constantly asked themselves, “Wait, why are we doing this again?” Ten years later, Agamemnon returned home, probably thinking that a decade was long enough for his wife to have cooled off. She welcomed him with kisses, smiles, and all manner of wifely devotion, before stabbing him to death in his bath on his very first night home. I like to imagine her spending the ten years of his absence crafting blueprints of increasingly elaborate death-traps involving anvils and bowling balls, a la Wile E. Coyote, but you have to admit that the old stab-him-in-the-bath is neat and effective. Crime scene cleanup is built right in!
POP CULTURE BRACKET
The TV Heroines
TEAM GISELLE: Mary Tyler Moore from The Mary Tyler Moore Show
TEAM CARMEN: Sydney Bristow from Alias
MARY TYLER MOORE
Who can turn the world on with her smile? Obviously, spunky Mary Richards, the archetypal Single Girl In the City portrayed so famously by Mary Tyler Moore in the show that bore her name. Moore had already won the hearts of TV audiences for her role as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, where she portrayed the levelheaded foil to Van Dyke as her lovable buffoon husband. So when she was given her own sitcom a few years later, America was ready to be delighted once more. And delighted we were. From the iconic hat-tossing shot in the opening credits, to the final episode which continues to influence TV writers forty years later, the show has been rightly hailed as one of America’s defining sitcoms, inspiring successors from Murphy Brown to 30 Rock. Good writing and great casting helped, but the magic of the show came straight from Moore. As Mary Richards, the brainy TV producer who moves to the city after a broken-off engagement, she became a kind of poster girl for self-reinvention, ditching her small-town roots for a world of fast-paced careers and kooky upstairs roommates. And while the goofball sparkle that made her such a delightful match for Dick Van Dyke never left her, in this new role she was undeniably a real grownup; said TIME Magazine, “Moore made Mary into a fully realized person, iconic but fallible, competent but flappable . . . Mary was human and strong enough to be laughed with and laughed at.” And that’s why we love her.
What do ass-kicking CIA operative Sydney Bristow and 70’s TV producer Mary Richards have in common? For my money, it’s charisma. TV shows designed to orbit around one central character sink or swim based on that actor’s talent, so the easy way out is to surround the title character with a circus of supporting actors who often steal the show (Frasier is a good example; find me one person who thought the most entertaining character on that show was Frasier. Seriously. The dog was funnier.) It also seems like producers are often skeptical about taking that chance on a female lead. Both Alias, J.J. Abram’s rollercoaster ride action series, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show are chock-full of memorable supporting characters with great lines, fully-developed personalities, and engaging plot arcs; yet the show’s central woman holds it all together effortlessly. Sydney Bristow was recruited out of college to join SD-6, which she thought was a special secret branch of the CIA, but which turned out to be an offshoot of an international organized-crime syndicate; when she reported them to the real CIA, they made her a double agent, traveling the world on missions for SD-6 which she would secretly attempt to thwart for the CIA, without the knowledge of her colleagues and partner. Bristow’s martial arts skills, knack for disguises, and resourcefulness kept her alive through more attempted assassinations than Castro, but it was her lovable human side (the estranged father, the on/off romance with her hot CIA handler Vaughan, her loyalty to her SD-6 colleagues who had no idea they weren’t the good guys) that made her more than just a run-of-the-mill badass action heroine.
The Comic Book Vixens
TEAM GISELLE: Lois Lane
TEAM CARMEN: Catwoman
It’s hard not to root for Lois Lane. The Daily Planet’s ace reporter has far more pluck than your average damsel-in-distress, chasing down often-dangerous news stories all over Metropolis. She was actually modeled on renowned investigative journalist Nellie Bly, who had herself committed to an asylum in 1887 to report on its terrible conditions. Lois is equally feisty and determined, investigating everything from government corruption to organized crime (and always eager to beat rival reporter Clark Kent to the scoop). But when she inevitably ends up in over her head, Superman never fails to show up and swoop her up in his arms to fly her back home. For a superhero girlfriend, she gets the best of both worlds – sassy banter with her bespectacled coworker Clark, and swoony romance with his alter ego. Our one quibble? Her total inability, over decades of radio plays, comics, movies, and TV shows, to tell that they’re both the same person. GIRL. He’s wearing glasses, not a clown mask. He has exactly the same face. Of course, this way it’s kind of like having two guys constantly in love with her, so maybe she’s craftier than we all give her credit for. We’ll reserve judgment until we see Amy Adams in the upcoming remake, opposite The Tudors’ dreamy Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel.
Ah, Catwoman. This slinky villainess rules Gotham City by night, causing all kinds of criminal mischief to plague Batman; the Penguin antagonizes him, the Joker provokes him, but Catwoman gets under his skin. Since the character was created in 1940 as the Bat’s on/off love interest and occasional adversary, she’s been through a number of reinventions through comics, TV and film (Halle Berry, I will never forgive you). Her creators never intended her to be evil; while Gotham’s other villains gleefully attacked civilians, Catwoman stuck to what she knew best: cat burglary. (Obviously.) Which makes sense to us – smoldering superhero Batman needs a girl with a little edge to her, and a glamorous jewel thief fits the bill. In the early Batman comics and the 1960’s TV show, Catwoman’s dialogue is so full of terrible puns that she was hard to take seriously. (Seriously, how did Eartha Kitt say “purr-fect” with a straight face that many times? What were they paying her?) But the same can’t be said for Michelle Pfeiffer’s game-changing performance in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman Returns, where we watched Catwoman’s evolution from shy secretary-slash-cat-lady Selina Kyle to a genuinely menacing, sexy, terrifying villain. The husky voice, the patent leather, the whip . . . meow. I’m willing to be open-minded about Anne Hathaway’s performance in the new Christopher Nolan Batman film (although after Heath Ledger’s breathtaking turn as the Joker, she’s got awfully big shoes to fill), but until then, Michelle Pfeiffer is the only Catwoman for me.
Voting is open in the comments! GO!