February 22, 2012

I Signify*

Pardon me while I rehash some ongoing thoughts about Blossom and Urkel.
Both were quirky teenagers featured on 80s TV shows.  Mayim Bialik is now a PhD, mother (just wrote a book on parenting), actor (Big Bang theory), and appears to be a Modern Orthodox Jew (problematically sidestepped on What Not To Wear**, I think).

Jaleel White continues to act, write, and produce.  He won a bunch of NAACP Image Awards, although there was some recent controversy regarding partner violence.

Would it be fair to say that these kids played squeaky-clean dorks who made their road by walking?  Sure.  Might there have been overlap with their real life selves?  Not sure that's relevant.

My poorly-articulated issue here is actually my increasing identification with Urkel.  While we are both Chicagoans and have very snappy fashion sense (meeting around the giant glasses, highwaters, and suspenders, which all RULE), I am not totally sure what is going on here.  You don't have to psychoanalyze me (although you are welcome to do so in comments), but it's troubling that I seem to be unable to think about Blossom, Mayim, Urkel, or Jaleel separately.  Why do I place them in a (false) binary?

In one corner, we have a pre-Riot Grrl quirky dork girl with bananas musical talent and integrity (fact and fiction).  I am not surprised that a lot of my pals (especially but not exclusively white female-assigned people in their 30s and 40s) identify really strongly with ol' B.

In the other corner, we have a black nerd, a phrase now gaining media traction in, you know, indie rock, TV, and comedy.

Herein the problem begins to show.

 Intersectional identities matter here.  The question remains whether we are documenting, reproducing, transforming, or doing something else with stereotypes and social expectations.

Do I have to unpack that thought?  Maybe I'll come back later.

A big plus, for me, in my recent learning about Urkel is that he had a catchphrase about cheese:


I think about that a lot.

Because I want cheese, like, all the time.

Which is also problematic.  Ask our mother, the cow.

What do you think?  Lay it out in comments, please.

*Yep, a reference to a killer God Is My Co-Pilot song.  Sure, it doesn't necessarily fit with the 80s sit-com teen dork theme, but arguments can be made for intertextual relevance and stuff.
 **Mayim was on a recent-ish "What Not To Wear," the TV show that is kind of inspirational and appealing (I WANT A THOUSAND BUCKS TO GO BUY NEW CLOTHES!) but also shaming and promotes the cult of monoculture (EVERYONE IN BOOT CUT JEANS, YALL).


  1. Actually, the GIMCP song is deeply relevant to what I'm trying to say. Guess I was being, you know, arch?

  2. Catchphrases about cheese are always relevant. Fact.

    1. this is true.

      do we want to think about the 80s/90s and the blossoming (HEY-O!) of the "IDENITY CATEGORY-NERD" hyphen? "girl nerd" blossom. "black nerd" urkel. are they really "nerds" if they are hyphenated, or something else showing the racialized and gendered limits of the original (derogatory) category?

    2. oh, and "this is true" is about CHEEEEEEEEEEEEEESE. which i want. immediately. this is also problematic and of deep philosophical import.

  3. I was really into Mayim as a kid, I think because she played the young Bette Midler in Beaches. I was obsessed with Blossom. I taped the pilot episode on my VCR (the one where Blossom gets her period) and watched it over and over, longing for the day when I, too, would menstruate.

    Do you know if Blossom was meant to be, or commonly thought to be, a dork? Because my kid self (who was a couple of years younger than she was) thought she was SO SO SO cool. I definitely read Urkel as a dork, however, but I think they were much more explicit about him being a dork on the show.

    1. I'd say that "Blossom" has become a punchline to a certain kind of joke, like in the Simpsons episode where Lisa reinvents herself by "losing" her luggage on vacation so she can buy all new stuff (Milhouse: It's Lisa! And she looks like Blossom! Meaning, you know, the dork thinks she's a goddess...).

      I'd say Mayim and Blossom are both cool women, but on the show? She was quirky, did her own thing, resisted the typical tween/teen girl thing. So she wasn't a NERD like Urkel, but I would guess she'd be seen as weird or a little dorky by her mainstream TV peers.

      NERD vs DORK is a whole nother thing, right? But remember, this is all fictionalized life pre Riot Grrl, pre Internet, and I don't think we can discount the impact both have had on youth culture, "nerds" and "dorks," and GIRLS AND WOMEN.

      Can you make a post about Blossom and THE PERIOD? I want details. And analysis. AND LUNA.