Lately, to avoid thinking too hard about certain things in my life that are not going as planned, I have been watching a lot of movies. I am a veteran movie-watcher of obssessive proportions; back in the video-store heyday I used to be a hated friend, because I’d already seen anything. And I’ll watch anything. I’ve seen Crossroads, dude. I’ve seen every horror movie ever, it often feels like, and I can quote you weird facts and figures. I’m fond of telling a story about how I once was very, umm, happy with some friends in undergrad, and at three in the morning found myself in someone’s livingroom watching The Quick and the Dead with twenty of the awesomest people I’d ever met, or so I thought at the time. Someone idly wondered, a propos of nothing, “Hey, what was the name of that kid in Jerry Maguire?” Murmured I, as though saying the sacred names of Gods, “Jonathan Lipnicki.” And damned if I wasn’t right.
Ahem. Not the story I meant to tell. Anyway, last night I was watching Moonstruck, which I’ve seen a hundred times and which I think I would really kind of hate on principle because of its weird gender attitudes if it weren’t for it starring one of my all-time favourite performers: Cher.
Oh, I know. I know. The plastic surgery! Bob Mackie! That horrifying Bono person! Bad house music! (You don’t Believe In Love!) Why why why?
I’ll tell you why. A lot of it has to do with PhDork telling you not to be sorry. When I was thirteen and the kind of child who spent Friday nights alone indoors because it was easier than going out to play and being teased about my pant size and my general aura of “not getting it,” I was so very sorry about all of it. I was so sorry I don’t even know that I thought of myself as a self, per se, but more as a bundle of disparate faults over which I had so very little control and which were only loosely tethered to each other by all my various apologies.
And then I rented Mermaids, and years before I met any of the Harpies or picked up a MacKinnon article or even knew what a feminist was, I knew Cher was not sorry. She was not normal, she was not what people expected, and she did not seem to care. Oh, I knew to distinguish her from the characters she played but like all the greats she could not deny the essential her-ness of her. And there is something refreshing about that. I grew to love women who have grown tired of making apologies for themselves. And my self-respect was not restored overnight – indeed, it’s still a work-in-progress – but I started looking, which is the thing that really counts. And that was because of the Cher-ness of Cher, and for that I am grateful.
Old and grumpy and more self-aware as a I am now, I am more suspicious of empowerfulment and the like creeping into the mouths of celebrities who could be termed “unapologetic.” But there’s a part of me that respects empowerfulness as a gateway drug. I was not a child of riot grrl culture – I always was so afraid of breaking rules for reasons of my own I’ll tell you some other time – and you know. So I still love all the Hollywood grand dames that came, gravelly and deep-voiced and altogether unafraid, to break up the monotony of what people think you ought to be with their invitations to decide for yourself, just once, oh just once. And I can love Cher even if she’s hopelessly commercial and even if I don’t even know if she adheres to a creed that isn’t herself. Because sometimes, we all need to do that. Feminists or not.