When Comedy Central saw fit to cancel the TV series Strangers With Candy, creative free expression in these United States suffered yet another partial-birth abortion. (The only other induced miscarriage of laffs and body-fluid-soaked television that comes close occurred when Fox D&Xed Chris Elliot's magisterial Get a Life! in 1992 and replaced it with Woops!, a post-apocalyptic version of Gilligan's Island that made On the Beach seem positively Hoolarious.)
For those who never watched "the after-hours afterschool special," Strangers with Candy chronicled the misadventures of a 47-year-old female ex-con named Jerri Blank as she resumed her long-delayed high school education. Nixed in its third season, the show featured plots and gags unimaginable on the small screen only a few years ago: former prostitute and sexual omnivore Jerri dating and almost copulating with her own son, whom she had given up for adoption years back as a teen; school administrators telling Jerri that if she wants to attend a trip to "Pleasure Island" theme park, she must inform on a classmate suspected of "being a retard"; Jerri using steroids to supercharge the girls track team into bearded shemale champions; Jerri triumphing over a case of syphillis and getting elected queen of the big school dance as her date descends into syphillitic dementia.
As depressing as it is to contemplate the inevitable rerun of Saturday Night Live that will doubtless replace the show, its cancellation is hardly surprising. During an election year in which the Republican Party is the softy on issues of violent and sexual entertainment, it was a foregone conclusion. Strangers with Candy threatened the very core of Western civilization — the notion that TV shows, especially those related to teenagers and high school, must be morally responsible.
But the shabby treatment of Strangers with Candy sheds a light on another issue, a problem that ranges far beyond a self-deluding Amerika's collective unwillingness to peer into the heart of high-school darkness on a weekly, laugh-tracked basis: Our collective quickness — even after decades of burnt bras, Ms. magazine, and family sitcoms in which the girls routinely outperform the boys in academics, athletics, and everything else — to underappreciate the female half of power couples, real and imagined.
Indeed, try this quick thought experiment: Who is Kristen Kinkel and what are her accomplishments? (Answers at bottom of page). Despite the ability of women such as Winona LaDuke and Ezola Foster to run for the second-highest office in the land and seem every bit as insane and laughable as their male running mates, three recent cases highlight this ongoing gender problem.
Consider first Amy Sedaris, the star and co-creator of Strangers with Candy. Sedaris is the relatively unknown sister of David Sedaris, the bestselling author, NPR commentator, and fixture in what was once called the literary establishment. His latest collection of autobiographical pieces, Me Talk Pretty One Day, is currently Number 18 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list and has been described by Amazon.com's reviewer as "the most distinctly skewed autobiography since Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia" (That last description has doubtless scared away millions of readers, but Sedaris can be comforted with that fact that his tome is 109 in the online bookseller's rankings). As little sister's Comedy Central show — barely one step up from cable access, as that channel's own employees routinely acknowledge on air — gets rudely shitcanned, David Sedaris is splitting cover time with Ashley Judd on the Women We Love issue of Esquire (he also occupies the equivalent of a 10-room mansion on that same mag's Web site.
Consider second Yoko Ono, who only recently was allowed to claim full credit for one of the seminal achievements in pop music: breaking up the Beatles. As the new book The Beatles Anthology makes clear, contrary to the popular wisdom that Sir Paul, the original dead Beatle, was the first to cash out, it was John Lennon who ended the group, because he wanted to record with Yoko. To the extent Lennon was motivated to do anything that might be confused with art or good music (and ending a band that was turning out tunes like "Octopus' Garden" and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" certainly qualifies), it was because of Yoko Ono — the same Yoko who was memorably described by Albert Goldman in the no-Yoko classic The Lives of John Lennon as a "simian" and by a pre-David Sedaris Esquire as "John Rennon's Excrusive Gloupie." Lennon and Ono first crossed paths in 1966, and the difference between John sans and avec Yoko is the difference between "Love Me Do" and "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" and the difference between his sophomoric In His Own Write and his fully adult "Lost Weekend" period. (During an early '70s estrangement from Yoko, Lennon was driven to drink and drugs and bad behavior, most memorably strapping a sanitary napkin on his head during the Smothers Brothers 1974 comeback show at L.A.'s Troubadour and telling the Brothers to go fuck a cow.) At the same time, Ono's individual artistry has been overshadowed by her association with Lennon — not her influential "instruction paintings," role in the Fluxus movement, or several albums of what can charitably be described as outtakes, but her ability to make money. As Ono told The New York Times Magazine recently, "My worth is close to Paul McCartney's." That's no small feat for any single mom.
And then there's Nancy Reagan, often simply castigated as a bitch, a shrew, and a loon who believed not only in astrology and the viability of late capitalism but also in Just Saying No to Drugs and Just Saying Yes to Sitting in Mr. T's Lap. There's a lot that can be said about I Love You, Ronnie: The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan — and at the top of the list is, "Excuse me, I'm going to vomit." But the collection, which Nancy recently edited and published to massive sales, offers clues about where the Reagan White House's real intellectual center lay. Whatever else we may learn from the series of pre-Alzheimer's letters in which the former president who contemplated a limited nuclear war in Europe addresses his wife as "Mommie Poo Pants" and "Nancy Poo Pants," these letters clearly indicate that the President owed not just a large part of his professional success but a large part of whatever small semblance of sanity he conveyed to his tireless First Lady.
That this article needs to be written — much less read — is of course proof enough that even in a world liberated enough to stack but one girl against two guys (and, in the original version, a pizza place) in a sitcom, women's contributions are still underappreciated as a matter of course.
There are signs, however mixed, that true gender liberation may be at hand. A widely circulated email rumor holds that the George W. Bush campaign is going to either kill arteriosclerotic running mate Dick Cheney and make it look like a heart attack, force him to resign over phony "health concerns," or (the method that apparently polled highest) kill him in full public view with no further comment or explanation. In several mutant versions of the email rumor, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities Lynne Cheney not only will deliver the blows that actually disable her husband but will also replace him on the Republican ticket.
Such sweet hopes, no matter how small, must make do in a world bereft of Strangers with Candy.
[Answer to "Who is Kristin Kinkel and what are her accomplishments?": She is the older sister of well-known Oregon school shooter and parricide Kipland "Kip" Kinkel. She was valedictorian of her class and a successful cheerleader.]
Nick Gillespie is editor-in-chief of reason. This story originally appeared in Suck, and can be viewed in that format here.