The year 2016 has been hard on Pop Culture.
This is the year we lost Prince and Bowie. We lost Garry Shandling and Gene Wilder. We lost Alan Rickman and Patty Duke. We lost Leonard Cohen and George Michael.
I was reading something yesterday that talked about how the “Baby Boom” is turning into the “Baby Bust.” After 70 years, the Baby Boomers are starting to move into the realm of average American life-expectancy and, as hard as 2016 has been, we should probably expect some more hard years going forward as the largest generation in American history begins to shuffle off this mortal coil.
We lost some great artists this year. We lost sports heroes. We lost legends of the recording industry and legends of the news field. When Florence Henderson passed on, a lot of us lost our “virtual mom.”
The death of Carrie Fisher on December 27th was a similar punch in the gut for folks of my generation. This one hit me harder than any of the other 2016 passings. Looking at Twitter and Facebook over the last day, I’m not the first person to note Carrie Fisher as my “first crush.” I certainly won’t be the last.
She wasn’t just a crush though, and others have pointed this out much better than I. I would be lying to say that 10 year-old Dave wasn’t intrigued by the metal bikini but, then and now, it wasn’t solely the sexuality of Princess Leia and Carrie Fisher that drew me in. It was the strength that shined through from both the character and the actor.
I was born in 1973, which makes me a child of both the 1970s and the 1980s and grounds me quite securely as a member of “Generation X.” Prior to the coming of “Star Wars,” an influential event in one way or another to every boy and girl of my generation, my media consumption consisted of fairy tales, sitcoms and dramas on 3 major networks, reruns of old movies on the few UHF stations we could pick up, Saturday morning cartoons, and Disney movies.
As this was the end of the third quarter/beginning of the fourth quarter of the 20th Century, we didn’t get the modern Disney Princesses like Merida, Tianna, and Mulan. We got Snow White, Cinderella, Robin Hood’s Maid Marion (the Fox version), and Peter Pan’s Wendy. Our Disney Princesses got captured, swooning and wishing for their princes to come, instead of hitting the bad guy over the head with a frying pan.
Then, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, we were introduced to another captured princess. This was not a damsel in distress who needed to be “rescued.” Before she was imprisoned in a tower so huge that the hero, his wizard, and his scoundrel friend mistook it for a moon, she shot down two enemy soldiers and looked pure evil in the eye. After her capture, she held up to brutal amounts of torture and stood stoically by while her home world and everyone she loved was destroyed.
When the hero arrived, she took the lead, blaster in hand, and was instrumental in her own escape, never taking a back seat to those who came to her rescue (“Would someone get this walking carpet out of my way.”). Over the course of 3 movies, she would lead a galactic rebellion against a tyrannical despot, escape the clutches of evil multiple times, and even defeated her capture using the chains of her own enslavement (how’s that for a metaphor?).
She never needed to be rescued. She just needed the slightest opening so that she could rescue herself.
In other words, Princess Leia was a Bad Ass.
And this is just the fictional character that Carrie Fisher played. As the years went by, “Star Wars” continued to be a cultural phenomenon even as those actors closely associated with it moved on to other things. I would still encounter her occasionally on-screen. As a geek, I was required to read “Postcards From the Edge” when I became aware of its existence because “Hey, Princess Leia wrote this.”
My first reading of that book was the last time, I think I ever referred to Carrie Fisher as “Princess Leia” outside of those specific movies. On those pages, teenage Dave found it easier to separate the two in the words of a troubled, yet damned good, writer. I’ve continued to follow her career as I’ve grown up from the four year-old who first saw “Star Wars” at a Drive-In theater in Kingston, Massachusetts into the 43 year-old “grown up” who has read her books and seen her other movies.
With her portrayal of Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher made me aware that women weren’t just objects to be possessed and that they didn’t need to be saved. The Disney Princesses of my childhood were replaced by strong Warrior Princesses in my adolescence and well into my adult live. Beautiful woman can be strong. In her written words, I’ve learned that, just because you are strong, you can still be broken, but just because you are broken doesn’t mean you cannot still be strong.
Read that paragraph above again. If there is one thing I’d like my son and daughter to understand by the time they are adults and move on into their own lives, that is it. Who says you can’t learn true lessons from your pop culture icons?
I never met Carrie Fisher. I don’t travel in circles that put me in a position to meet “celebrities.” That doesn’t mean that there isn’t knowledge or experience we can glean from them or from the characters they portray. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t get a little sad and weepy yesterday for the death of a woman I have never met. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
There are a lot of posts and articles about Carrie Fisher out there today and more coming before the year ends. May will be written by those far more skilled in the craft of writing than I am. Many who knew her personally and not just as an image on a screen or words on a page will illustrate what she means to them.
Many will post pictures of a young Ms. Fisher, fresh to the screen. Some will post images of the metal bikini, I’m sure. It’s a strong part of her image. It’s not the image I’ll remember, though. I’m going with a shot from “The Force Awakens” because it resonates with me. No longer a child, having fought the battles behind her and wearing her well-earned scars, wrinkles, and grey hair, but still the bad-ass.