“I want to remember everything. And I want to know everything…Golly says if I want to be a writer someday, I better start now. And that is why I am a spy.”
Adapted from Louise Fitzhugh’s 1964 novel of the same name, Harriet the Spy was a warmhearted tale about a childhood outsider and her indelible curiosity to understand the world around her. Why was this film memorable? Beyond it’s tackling of tough issues like awkward therapy sessions or interpersonal relationships, it was also Nickelodeon’s first original feature. Before the network-turned-studio churned out classics like Good Burger and Jimmy Neutron, Harriet the Spy was their inaugural entry into cinema, aiming to show audiences how characters could shine through colorful, relatable stories. Through her binocular eyes, Harriet M. Welsch was a true voyeur, peering into other people’s lives to find the wonderful oddities worth writing about. Why did she like to spy? Not just because it was dangerously fun, or because she loved indulging her witty prose; more so because she needed to escape from her anxieties. Now I know what you’re thinking — what’s so wrong living in a fancy Uptown home, being raised by Rosie O’Donnell in her prime? Well, to my disappointment, a lot. Despite having a godmother who was full of life, let’s not forget that Harriet’s parents were seldom around. Sure, they were around and ate dinner together…but did they ever give her the personal affection that Golly gave her?
As a kid watching Harriet, acted by the excellent brunette beauty Michelle Tratchenberg, I fell in love with her accessible charm and sneaky, precocious spirit. She was my dream girl, much like Alex Mack was to many Nicktoon fans. But Harriet was different. She had the brains, and she wasn’t just a looker; she did the looking. And beyond her wit, Harriet was fearless, spying from precarious vantage points like glass rooftops, mini-elevator shafts, and alley dumpsters…to name a few. But she wasn’t just spying on privileged people like her parents; she was spying on the middle class milieu. People like Sport, her best friend and comrade in arms. Seeing how he and his father struggled to make ends meet was heart wrenching, and an empathetic window into director Bronwen Hughes’s narrative voice. Thinking back to the film, and the impression it left on me, my mind goes straight to the confession scene when the class reads her diary and reveals her inner most secrets. That moment was humiliating, and taught me a great deal. It showed me the value of privacy and made me question my own safety of my journal at home. What would happen if my friends read my journal? Would they get upset? Would they be flattered? This lesson supplemented the famous cliché that words are truly the strongest form of hurt. And watching that scene as a kid, I was torn…how could my New-York-crush-spy-girl-aficionado offend all her classmates and best friends? Well, like us, she was imperfect. While she was busy making judgment calls on every one around her, she lost sight of her own character, and forgot to observe herself — a powerful statement on adolescence and how youngers struggle to understand their identity.
If Harriet the Spy taught us anything, it’s that having a voice is more important than not having one. Like Golly said, “You’re an individual, and that makes people nervous Harriet. And it’s gonna keep making people nervous for the rest of your life.” And I think Golly is right. You have to have an opinion in order to find purpose. And if you can find your purpose when you’re young, even better. So millienials…find your voice. Figure out the things that matter, and the people who matter even more. And write about it…talk about it. Wear your feelings on your sleeve instead of tucking them inside. Because if you don’t…you’re just as vulnerable as a missing journal in a playground.