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    Thursday, January 05, 2006

    Female Character of the Day: Kim Kelly

    I love Femme Feral (despite the kind of scary resonance of her blog nom de plume) for writing this ode to Kim Kelly of Freaks and Geeks, one of the many television shows that earned my fevered allegiance. Here's an excerpt from the piece on my favorite-blog-of-the-day, Fluffy Dollars:

    KIM KELLY is a character we all know, but rarely see depicted in TV shows these days. There are male bullies and "mean girls," but Kim Kelly is neither. She's a bad-ass girl with attitude from a lumpen class back-ground. She smokes pot and has sex, and she's quick to threaten those who annoy her with physical violence (i.e,"Are you calling me irrational? Because I'll tear your head off, Daniel. I'll tear it off and I'll throw it over that fence.") The thing is, Kim Kelly is also totally lovable.

    Her TV precedents are gals like Rizzo and Leather Tuscadero (played by Suzi Quatro, aka suzie q. Also, there is a good teen beat band from the 90's called Tuscadero. They sing about Nancy Drew...but I digress). And though Rayanne Graff from My So-Called Life has a few things in common with Kim, it's tough (no pun intended) to find anyone else like her these days. Though tough girls still seem to be rockin' pretty hard (Sleater Kinney, The Donnas) and hip hopping (Eve, esp. in her early days), there are not many of them on TV.

    I'm not sure why this is so. Unlike the "mean girl," the "tough girl" isn't necessarily dripping with femininity (though there is "bad gal" make-up). And though Buffy is TOTALLY "tough," Kim Kelly's toughness is of a different sort. And though Paris Gellar's tongue is just a sharp, she's way more square. It seems as though the tough girls without a calling or a type-a personality have gone underground.

    Reading this post made me want to start a new series on My Amusement Park spotlighting some of my favorite female characters film, television, and literature (but as sparingly as I can get away with). Women are so often portrayed as one of three or four things, especially young women; let's give a little applause to those who broke out.

    Kim Kelly is among the finest jewels of Freaks and Geeks because, like Feral Femme says, the girl is someone we all know but that is rarely a part of the media landscape surrounding us, particularly in television and film (literature and music offer a bit more variety). (It is also interesting to know that actor Busy Philipps, who played Kim, doesn't even have her face in the rockin' Joan Jett credits sequence, but becomes so important that she's a major character, often upstaging Lindsay Weir, the show's semi-protagonist.)

    One of the most interesting things about Kim is her strange, fraught relationship to gender. In many ways, she is constricted by middle-classed ideals of femininity (one episode deals with her discomfort around Lindsay's parents who are concerned that Kim is sexually active). She threatens the boys (and girls) who get in her way and yells and comes down the hall with an androgynous stalk. She hates Lindsay on sight, but not because she's a girl, because she's a "poser," a point on which Kim is fundamentally right. Lindsay is the honor student trying on the Freak identity; Kim can't help but be a Freak.

    On the other hand, Kim is the first one to push her boyfriend and his male friends forward to perform illegal or dangerous activities on her behalf, saying, "You're the boys." She's also brutally, devastatingly heterosexual; Kim is never tougher than when a woman scorned by her man. But her relationship with Daniel is one of TV teens most fascinating; an off-and-on, push-and-pull with very little wit or self-awareness, but lots of honest love. Unlike Rayanne Graff, Kim Kelly doesn't have much glamour (aside, perhaps, from her dating Daniel Desario, the school's most beautiful bad boy). And, as Feral Femme points out, she's far from Type-A, tooling around in her Gremlin and watching the boys' terrible band play. She was not brought up to be ambitious, like Lindsay Weir, and the show allows her to think about her goals and talents, without coming to a conclusion that she's alright after all. This is a working-class, gender-subverting-without-overthrowing 17-year-old with a complex inner life and lovable posturing.

    I also love her complicated relationship to her own sexuality. She has a sexual appetite, but also has a sense that she's wrong for it. She alternates between pride over her sexual maturity and shame over it. She's not afraid to show her intense physical attraction to Daniel, even in front of the uptight Weir parents, she's also ready to cry or punch someone when they call her a slut. I think that Kim is a lot more like most girls who grew up since the 1980s; owning her sexuality but with a hint of distrust of herself for it.

    And yes, I actually got that result- I didn't rig it.


    Blogger Dianna said...

    Hmmmmmmmm......Interesting take on "Mrs. TuffMan", Kim Kelly. I think you're right and I think I'll retract my previous opinion about her. I couldn't stand her when I first saw her! I understand her a bit better now after seeing all the F&G episodes & reading your take on her. Thanx!

    - Dianna

    If you wanna come visit my blog of admiration for Mr.James Franco, please go to
    heyfranco.blogspot.com and leave a comment or 2!

    6:44 PM  

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