Betcha Didn’t Think of it THAT Way
Where in the world does that tagline come from? Well, I am glad you asked.
I am Jo L. Davis, a pop culture junkie with some academic training. My tv viewing as a kid started it all, I think.
At my Grandma JoAnn’s house, I was immersed in science fiction books and films. She, my aunts, and my dad took me to my first Star Wars movie — the 1985 re-release of Return of the Jedi. Actually, they took me to my first movies in a theater until I was taking myself as a teen.
I remember seeing Death Becomes Her at age 12 with my aunts. Goldie Hawn, Bruce Willis, and Meryl Streep star in this film about the most demented love triangle. They all struggled for one another’s attention in the pettiest of ways while playing with the darkest “Fountain of Youth” trope yet. There was a hint of vampirism and loads of zombification. The film entire had some of the best comedy you can get, and I understood this while too young to catch all the jokes!
Much later in my life, after earning a bachelor’s degree in English and a masters in Lit Criticism and Composition, I did rewatch that film. Aside from questioning the judgment of the adults who took a 12-year-old to this thing, I fell in love again. For an early 90s film, Death Becomes Her is chock full of feminist themes that took some bold swipes at the patriarchy. Hawn’s character Helen Sharp toiled her life away being the perfect little wife for her man Ernest (Willis). She basically put the man through college and worked while he became a famous doctor. Helen becomes worn out and tired from the grind, though. Naturally, it shows. Ernest does not like the “looks of her” anymore. He ditches Helen for a woman from his new famous, rich circle of influence— beautiful Madeline, played by Streep.
Helen is jilted and gets really messy with herself. Hawn had a knack for making me hate ice cream for much of my 12th year of life. But then, she meets a mysterious woman who hands her the key to youthfulness. This woman is a witch/vampire/keeper of a Fountain of Youth in hills of Hollywood. She is decked out like a “dame” from an Old Hollywood noir film. the special effects are goofy here, but the transformation speaks volumes. The serum improves the parts that the men love about a female body. But, Helen is not alone in taking the serum. She soon finds in the most hilariously twisted scenes that her nemesis Madeline took the serum too. The result is the kind of lifelong maintenance that no one anticipated. And who has to help, well, Ernest. It’s now his time to grind to keep both of his women alive!
The message that the struggle to appease the patriarchy comes with consequences that even the men must suffer was profound for me. The beauty that the women wanted, which clearly they got after letting the men drain them dry, comes from the oldest origins of our patriarchal society! It hints at the age-old system that informs and destroys the lives of so many women today. I felt that this funny film was powerful then, but it took some training in cultural criticism and critiquing strategies, as well as practice on literature before I could tease all of importance out.
That’s where my tagline “Betcha didn’t think of it THAT way!” comes from. I take a look at the films and tv shows popular today through a very critical lens. It’s a lens tempered with feminism, race and culture, a little film theory, and always overlaid with the knowledge of the fandoms. The result is commentary that gets you thinking about the media you consume, if not for any other reason than to engage you. I also share because I have a hell of a lot to say about film and tv (and comics, books, and games) that my family has tuned me out already.
Get ready to take a deep dive into the movies and shows you love with me here on the Bylines by Jo Entertainment Beat.