This may say more about my social life than I’d wish, but I have to confess that watching Veronica Mars on DVD has been the highlight of my autumn. The show focuses on a high school girl who is a P.I., with lots of sidekicks and boyfriend drama. If this sounds a bit familiar to you, it did to me too–I missed the show when it was on in part because it seemed to be something of a Buffy rip-off, and I’m loyal to the original. However, once I started watching it, I found out it was smart and funny and often had pretty good politics. Perhaps equally importantly, the show’s creators and writers made clear their respect and appreciation for their august predecessor, paying homage to Joss Wheedon’s Buffy-verse through the casting of Buffy actresses Alison Hannigan (Willow) and Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia) and a cameo from the great Joss himself. The writing was snappy, the girl power palpable, and I didn’t manage to solve the mystery that spanned the whole of the first season before Veronica did–not bad for a plot stretched across 22 episodes. As we moved into Season 2, we started calling the show The Crack because we could not seem to stop watching it.
Then we hit Season 3, in which Veronica has left high school for the elite Hurst College–and you may want to skip this paragraph if you’re not there yet, because there will indeed be *spoilers ahead*. I should begin by saying that I’m only seven episodes in, so maybe the dire situation that caused me to feel the need to blog this morning will be rectified by the end of the season. I’d heard Season 3 wasn’t as good, but what I hadn’t heard was that it was a parade of feminist-bashing stereotypes of the worst possible sort. Veronica gets embroiled in trying to solve some rapes on campus but lo and behold, she is constantly foiled by the Evil Feminists–played most prominently by actresses who are thus far the only women of color in the season–who Don’t Care About the Truth but just Hate Men (especially fraternity brothers). When their demands that frats be shut down aren’t met, they actually fake a rape to get their way. Yes, ladies, it’s not just trashy gold digging sluts who fake rape charges against fraternity brothers, those Evil Feminists are doing it too! Even if in the rest of the season some of this presentation is corrected, I don’t see how the show could undo its insistence that feminism is a criminally misguided, ideologically rabid and morally bankrupt enterprise.
I also don’t think it’s any accident that this is the season when Veronica leaves high school for college. From one perspective, I can see the writers thinking, ‘What’s a campus issue?’ and ‘What sort of people are associated with college life?’ and coming up with ‘rape’ and ‘activists’ as fairly reasonable answers. They probably wanted something that felt topical and stretched the show away from high school approaches to ongoing concerns. (Rape has been a longstanding issue for the series.) But from another perspective, it seems quite telling to me that, when Veronica leaves high school for the larger world, the show suddenly felt a need to demonstrate that, even if she is a kick-ass young woman with a will of iron and a mind like a steel trap, Veronica should not be associated with that frightening, ridiculous and unsexy creature, the feminist.
In some ways, what’s happened to the show is the best argument against the ‘girl power’ ideal that I can think of. It’s fine for Veronica to have MacGyver-like, polymath talents so long as she’s cordoned off into the toy-town world of high school (and her petite stature is consistently underscored in the early seasons). But once she gets to college and starts using those skills to get things that really matter–like A’s in difficult classes, internship offers, the attention of important professors–then things begin to look a bit more dangerous. The Buffy show dealt with this tension by making Buffy an actual superhero, so that her skills were necessarily cordoned off from the whole of the female population (though things become a bit more complicated over time, as those who’ve watched the whole series know). Because she’s just a really fucking smart and strong young woman, it’s quite a bit more dangerous to let Veronica loose from the cutesy spectacle of a Wee Little Girl taking on Big Big Problems that was presented in the first two seasons. The Evil Feminists plot arc reassures us that, even if Veronica’s girl power is inevitably turning in to woman power as she ages, she won’t be using that power for anything political–anything that might actually challenge the status quo or makes men look bad as a group rather than just pointing out the individual dumb-asses.
I’m sure I’ll watch to the end of the season, as I’m holding on to a sliver of hope that somehow this might be turned around. Though I can’t see how it might be, the show has certainly surprised me before. And I still recommend the first two seasons, despite their girl-power limitations. But that Veronica Mars took it upon itself to perpetrate the most hateful sort of caricatures of feminism really gives new meaning to the word ‘spoiler.’