Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On being Yoko Ono/Rose Friedman

Pnin and I were discussing last night why it is that so few of the intellectual female characters prominent in pop culture wind up with equally intellectual guys. We started off talking about Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series. Most of the other examples that came readily to mind -- Willow Rosenberg from the Buffy series, or Rory from Gilmore Girls -- didn't pair up with especially more intellectual boyfriends. It's all the odder because the "only when like marries like can there be any happiness" appears to explain many more pairings in our lives. Survey data also indicate that, inasmuch as educational attainment and intellectual orientation are related, our friends' experiences here are typical.

I suggested the need to develop characters and generate drama. The Willow plus Oz relationship helps the writer show her breaking out of her nerd girl shell to date a cool band guy. Ditto for Hermione and her dashing Qudditch player Herr Krum. But, Pnin suggested, why not then a guy who was intellectual *and* socially skilled or athletic? Most of us had an acquaintance like that in high school, right, so it can't be all that impossible? I scratched my head and couldn't come up with a good such relationship drawn from pop culture. It's true also that stable relationships make for uninteresting television or plot interest in a series of novels. But I can't think of many more examples in which intellectual heroines *end up* with intellectual guys either.

I'm not sure literary fiction is much better in this regard. George Eliot understood how to write intellectual female characters, perhaps better than any other female novelist ever has. Yet she has Maggie Tulliver die ignominously in a flood, and Dorothea Brooke's first marriage to the intellectual Casaubon floundered disastrously. She finds some happiness eventually with his much younger nephew Ladislaw, who has some intellectual inclinations, but that part of his personality isn't emphasized. On the other hand, I suppose Jane Eyre and Rochester count as a marriage of co-intellectuals of sorts?

Semi-relatedly, Milton and Rose Friedman's joint memoir is adorable.


  1. I like this post, but you need to re-watch your Buffy. Oz has comparable nerd cred to Willow -- recall the episode from before they were dating when the financial guys or CIA guys or whoever they were came to high school to recruit them for their mad haxxor skillz?

    Admittedly, the writers stopped playing up this nuance of Oz's personality after a few episodes, so maybe your point stands. But it's worth noting that, at the beginning at least, they were crafting a "like marries like" kind of thing; or rather, they were aiming for a sort of nerd-skewed Renaissance man.

  2. Dawson's Creek would be one exception. Joey Potter definitely had her share of intellectual guys in her life. Of course, sometimes it was a diamond-in-the-rough sort like the bartender who audits classes at Worthington even though he doesn't go there, but there was also the Harvard freshman she met when she spent the weekend there. He had a nice little arc as her boyfriend the season she got together with Pacey. And then there was Dawson himself, although I'm not sure he REALLY fufills the intellectual requirement, except perhaps in relation to the rest of Capeside High's male population.