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« Thom Mayne/Quinlan Terry | Main | Elsewhere »

March 23, 2005

Goodbye, Kim Possible

Friedrich von Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards:

Escapist entertainment plays a not inconsiderable role in my mental equilibrium. I’m a depressive who owns his own business, a calling with more or less constant emotional ups and downs. I use fairly regular injections of escapist entertainment to keep me on an even keel. I like high culture as well as if not better than most people, but at 2:00 a.m. when I’m lying in bed awake worrying about some problem in my business, Shakespeare or Sophocles isn’t going to calm me down and put me back to sleep. Escapist entertainment will do exactly that.

On several occasions when I’m found myself awake in the middle of the night reading some light fiction, it has occurred to me that the people I’ve known who either despised or affected to despise escapist entertainment—I’m thinking of several of my more high-minded teachers here—may not have taken nearly enough risks in their careers.

Of course, business is hardly the scariest part of life. Since I’ve hit fifty I’ve found that what keeps me awake at night is a different issue. Apparently some part of my brain is obsessed with trying to figure out exactly what I should be doing with the years remaining to me. (Obviously, they will add up to a shorter interval than the one I’ve already rather heedlessly burned through, and thus constitute a painfully finite quantity of time.)

What this review of my prospects has turned up is fairly simple. I frankly don’t so much mind dying per se, but I do mind not having about 200 years or so of parenthood to look forward to. If there’s a better life than coming home to a houseful of kids and a reasonably happy marriage—I can’t say as I’ve either found it or even heard rumors about it.

Nonetheless, my preferences are unlikely to be determinative here. My eldest daughter just took her SATs and is deep into planning her college career. The first cracks in the edifice of my happy home life have already appeared.

This no doubt explains my taste in escapist entertainment. To wit, I’m quite fond of works that mimic the dynamics of a family. For example, I remain a devoted middle-of-the-night reader of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books. In a series of 79 novels and short stories that began in the depths of the Depression, Stout—who was, astonishingly, nearly fifty when the first Wolfe novel was published—managed to keep a small cast of characters, many of whom lived in a single New York brownstone, intact and arguing with each other for four decades.

Here the ‘nuclear family’ was centered around Nero Wolfe, the orchid-fancying great (as well as greatly overweight) detective himself, who hardly ever left his house despite a constant need to earn large sums of money. Other ‘family members’ included Wolfe’s bodyguard and chief investigator Archie Goodwin who narrated the stories with a rather snappy hard-boiled wit, and Wolfe’s full-time chef, Fritz, whose culinary gifts were greatly appreciated by all and sundry, including the reader. These family members were supplemented by a number of ‘first cousins’—the eternally harassed Inspector Cramer of NYPD Homicide, several free-lance operatives including the omni-competent Saul Panzer, and Lily Rowan, Archie’s rich, beautiful and improbably devoted girlfriend. The only changing components in these stories were the villains, their victims, Archie’s passing sexual fancies and the rather disposable plots—all of which remain window dressing. The real action—and the core of Stout’s considerable accomplishment as a crafter of light entertainment—is in the constantly renewed battle of wills and wits between the eternally lazy, autocratic and patriarchal Wolfe (who, when sufficiently goaded, can solve any crime and resolve any financial crisis) and his eternally impudent “son” Archie.

But even a canon of 79 works can grow all too familiar, and around a year ago, you would have found me reduced to reading my younger daughter’s Archie comic collections in the deep watches of the night. I don’t apologize —desperate circumstances call for desperate measures. (I would mention, in passing, my conclusion that the products of Archie Comics, taken together over the past 60+ years, must constitute the most extended ‘artwork’ in the history of the world. In comparison Balzac’s La Comédie humaine appears to be a mere fragment.)

So it was with great relief that about that same time I stumbled across a guilty-pleasure Disney animated cartoon series, “Kim Possible.” Actually, ‘stumbled across’ was a misnomer. For several months, I resisted my pop-culture-loving younger daughter’s entreaties that I check it out. I took my risibly high-minded stand on the (accurate) grounds that the concept of a kung-fu fighting girl who attended high school while simultaneously saving the world from science-fiction bad guys was transparently ripped-off from another Disney product of which I was dimly aware, the Jennifer Garner vehicle “Alias.” And “Alias”, of course, in turn, had ripped off “Buffy,” and so forth and so on back into the dark ages of the medium. (As if there was any point to high-mindedness when dealing with TV!)


Butt-Kicking Sexy Girls: The Cartoon Version and the Live Action Model

It was only when my younger daughter literally forced me to watch it one day that I realized that no matter how derivative its premise, the show was (1) a genuinely funny parody of high school life and (2) revolved around a ‘family’ premise that had some legs. The family in question isn’t Kim’s natural family, which is a highly functional unit parented by her rocket-scientist father (voiced by Gary Cole of “Office Space” immortality) and her brain-surgeon mother (the sadly underutilized Jean Smart, who contributes two or three astonishingly sly line readings to each episode). Rather, the show’s serious family action is in the assembled ‘family’ of friends Kim has drawn into her crime fighting activities. It consists of Kim herself (Christy Carlson-Romano of “Even Stevens”); her goofy crime-fighting sidekick and best friend from pre-K days, Ron (Will Friedle of “Boy Meets World”); his naked mole-rat pet, Rufus (don’t ask) and the 10-year-old university graduate Wade (Tahj Mowry of “The Smart Guy”) who plays tech-geek Charlie to Kim’s Angel from his wired bedroom. (As is obvious, this show references a huge number of pop-culture clichés. On top of that, it is extraordinarily self-referential, becoming thereby that paradigm of contemporary pop-culture: the fun house hall of mirrors.)

The main emotional driver of the show, needless to say, derives from the Kim-Ron relationship. Kim is a loving parody of the modern-day alpha-female—smart, supremely athletically talented, tough-minded in a crisis, wildly overscheduled and quite sexy to boot. (One of the show’s tag-lines claims that Kim “can do anything” but it might be more accurate to note that she ends up doing everything.) In fact, so obviously is alpha girl Kim equipped with what it takes to play in the big leagues of teen society—including serving as head cheerleader of Middleton High School— that when you see her spending most of her spare time with her socially less impressive sidekick Ron, it comes across as puzzling. Is this relationship with Ron just a relic of childhood? Is Ron gay? What is going on here?


What is going on here?

However, once you notice how hard the show works to establish that social-outcast Ron is a (heterosexual) individual of considerable substance—despite being small, not-athletic and given to wild self-dramatization, he is actually a clutch player—the riddle becomes clearer. Kim (although apparently unaware of her own behavior) has been patiently waiting for Ron to overcome his ambivalence towards assuming a traditional masculine role and to ‘make his move.’ Looking out from my middle-aged watchtower over the landscape of today’s post-feminist culture, I would wonder if Kim’s dilemma isn’t a rather common one, particularly for modern-day alpha women.

As I watched the three-year backlog of episodes over the past year, it became clear that as the show had progressed, there had been a deliberate uptick in Kim and Ron's sexual rheostat (all suitably disguised or denatured, of course—this is Disney.) However, I was shocked the other day to learn that the show’s writers were building up to the series’ final episode which will air in April, in which all these issues will end up being resolved in a final clinch. Apparently Disney has a firm corporate policy of producing no more than 65 episodes of their original series (or at least those intended primarily at the Disney Channel) and our girl Kim has bumped up against this all-too-solid glass ceiling.

This Disney policy has had the effect of making the show track the characters’ progress through high school from sophomore to senior year in real time (no Archie Comics’ eternal high-school time warp thing for our girl Kim.) The unexpected realism of this aspect of the show was borne in on me by a strange coincidence: the same day I learned of the 65-episode barrier I also attended my daughter’s high-school open house. As I walked the halls of her school, it occurred to me that Kim is only a single year ahead of my own alpha female daughter, who too has navigated her own first romances while maintaining a straight-A average and an extraordinarily busy schedule.

I don’t know about you, but my memories of my own high school years are stamped with feelings of impatience. I found a good deal of high school to be unbelievably boring, bureaucratic and pedestrian, and I couldn’t wait to get out of there and find a much better, more exciting spot where I would be fully appreciated as the remarkable individual I was. I’m sure that many, many high school students—perhaps all of them—have these same feelings as they walk the halls of my daughter’s school.

And yet the night of the open house, as I saw high school students wandering around the grounds with their parents, I found myself looking at things with an altogether different eye. The mental, physical and sexual flowering of young men and women during their high school years is truly a remarkable, if also a remarkably fleeting, phenomenon. When a couple of young women asked me to buy a treat to support the school’s cheerleaders, I felt as if I was looking at two fresh-cut blooming roses—so beautiful and yet, at least viewed in terms of their high school identities, so obviously transitory that my appreciation of them was laced with an ache of mortality.

Obviously, these young women—like my daughter—have many, many exciting and important adventures ahead of them. It’s even likely that those adventures that will be far more meaningful than anything that happened to them in high school. Still, addressing their high school avatars, I would say the same thing to them as I would to their fictional representative, Kim Possible: “You know, I’m really going to miss you when you’re gone.”

Now what am I going to do in the middle of the night?

Cheers,

Friedrich

posted by Friedrich at March 23, 2005




Comments

Escapist entertainment Utterly. Rocks. In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, once accused of being an Escapisist, said something about escape being the natural impulse of a man in prison. I don't have the exact quote, because my books with the exact quote are in a box. But I assure you it's true. He should know.

Posted by: Andrea Harris on March 23, 2005 07:56 PM



Christ Almighty, Friedrich, I didn't know that you had this sentimental streak! You and Robert Herrick, who wrote the most famous carpe diem poem of all time:

TO THE VIRGINS, TO MAKE MUCH OF TIME.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying :
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer ;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may go marry :
For having lost but once your prime
You may for ever tarry.

Cf. also the painting by Waterhouse:
http://www.jwwaterhouse.com/view.cfm?recordid=95

And Humbert, too, wrote: "I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever, but knew also that she would not be forever Lolita."

But it's not THAT fleeting! Judging from my 25th college reunion, those young lovelies will still look pretty damn good a quarter-century from now.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on March 23, 2005 08:00 PM



Nice essay, Friederich.

I used to have a one-man data and consulting business that was rocky most of the time. Somehow I was able to sleep most nights, but maybe that was due to spending long days writing computer systems.

Funny thing about aging is that the older I get, the less I think about where I am on the lifespan yardstick. Unlike that Catch-22 character who tried to get as bored as possible so as prolong the sense of time passing, most of us 60+ types simply try to make each day count; is there a better alternative?

Yeah, I too like Nero Wolfe, but haven't read one of the books in close to 40 years. I'm not a big mystery/detective novel fan (actually, not much of a fiction fan period nowadays), but Wolfe was different. And I think you nailed it with the thought that it was the characterization that really counted -- that's probably why I liked Wolfe but never cottoned to Perry Mason or Charlie Chan. Oh, and wasn't there a guy with a Czech name? Vukcic, with those inverted-carets over the c's that spell the "sh" sound in Czech? I forget what his role was.

And dittos regarding escapism. The only movies I'm willing to shell out for are escapist.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on March 23, 2005 09:48 PM



Well, now that you've confessed to read Archie(tm) comics, you'll have no choice but to answer the inevitable question...

Veronica or Betty?

or Midge?

Posted by: onetwothree on March 24, 2005 12:35 AM



Or Midge?

Posted by: onetwothree on March 24, 2005 12:38 AM



Great post, FvB. It was touching.

I'm also a big Rex Stout fan and have hooked my wife on them. A remarkable man and a very fun writer.

Posted by: JT on March 24, 2005 09:48 AM



Escapism? I must quote Michael Chabon on comic books:

"It was the expression of yearning that a few magic words and an artful hand might produce something -- one poor, dumb, powerful thing -- exempt from the crushing strictures, from the ills, cruelties, and inevitable failures of the greater Creation ... The newspaper articles that Joe had read about the upcoming Senate investigations into comic books had always cited "escapism" among the litany of injurious consequences of their reading, and dwelled on the pernicious effect, on young minds, of satisfying the desire to escape. As if there could be any more noble or necessary service in life."

As for Kim Possible, I've never seen it but my four-year-old niece completely adores the show -- I may have to watch it with her now!

Posted by: Scott D on March 24, 2005 10:04 AM



Get the Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot and read them. Read from a pushing 50's/parental perspecitve, they are hilarious.

Posted by: Deb on March 24, 2005 10:28 AM



Lovely meditation, and full of good points. I see that Michael Chabon made the main one I've always been eager to make. Y'know the way deep/serious/straightfaced art is supposed to be, well, deeper than all other art? I've always wondered why so many people should think this. Not that the "St Matthew Passion" isn't great, of course. But, OK, here's an example. Let's say life is a turbulent vale of tears. It isn't, at least not entirely, but let's say that it is. It seems to me that an artist can respond to this in a variety of ways. On one extreme: doing his/her best to encompass is all, and then deliver (I was going to type "inflict") the whole mass to the viewer/listener/reader. This can be a great, magnificent thing, assuming you're in the mood for it. It can also be the least-welcome thing imaginable. At the other extreme, an artist can think, Jeez, the last thing I want to do in the midst of all the anguish/sorrow/etc is shovel ever more of it on. What I choose to do is provide some relief -- some sex, some distraction, some jokes. My point: why isn't this considered by more people to be a really lovely choice? As well as -- in many cases -- a much more welcome (and humanly "deep") one? As far as I'm concerned, the providing-relief choice can even represent more "depth" on a human level than the regurgitating-it-all choice can. It can be a nicer, more generous, more considerate thing to do -- it's a service, not a crusade, etc.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 24, 2005 01:26 PM



Righto, Michael, PG Wodehouse is a good e.g.of what you're talking about. Or even Sherlock Holmes, because although you're dealing with serious matters--namely, crimes--what keeps you going is the intellectual game of it, and the interchange between Holmes and Watson.
Those two bits of literary output are surely up there upon the artistic totem pole.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on March 24, 2005 02:01 PM



Fred, here you wax lyrical about Kim Possible but you miss one of the biggest things about Ron. He's Jewish.

Proudly Jewish. It informs him and his life, it shapes his personality. It provides the foundation that gives him the tools he needs to deal with the situation he finds himself in.

In short, in a world where anti-semitism is on the rise, Ron provides a positive role-model who's influence cannot be ignored.

Yes, he can be something of a shlub, but he's a shlub who strives to excell, and in the striving shows us an example we all could follow.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on March 24, 2005 08:47 PM



"It informs him and his life, it shapes his personality. It provides the foundation that gives him the tools he needs to deal with the situation he finds himself in."

But so does the moral system of any religion. And to have to make an issue of his Jewishness is to reinforce the very prejudice we strive to overturn.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on March 24, 2005 10:20 PM



Far fewer people would be characterized a Christian than the total number of Christians. The same can be said of all religions, but in Ron's case, his religion is important. Making him Jewish only serves to accentuate the point that his religion is a defining characteristic.

Posted by: Effeminem on March 24, 2005 11:54 PM



OK--I just think that "positive role-model" is like saying someone is "a credit to his race."
After all, it's a tautology--there are no negative role models, or they're not role models.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on March 25, 2005 04:32 PM



Wonderful essay. Thank you.

By the way, I think the Tolkien quotation that someone mentioned above is, "What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and most hostile to, the idea of escape? Jailers."

Posted by: Kate Marie on March 26, 2005 02:44 PM



I stumbled across your essay here, and I just wanted to say that I loved it. I especially love what you said about the show Kim Possible.

Posted by: Gordon on March 27, 2005 04:39 AM



As a devout-- And I do mean, Devout, Kim Possible fan, I thought this was a beautiful essay. I am getting ready to see the final movie myself, I'm getting some tissue boxes as well, considering that I have already had several bouts of tears concerning the fact that Disney is ending this great show.

Posted by: Ashley on March 27, 2005 04:39 PM



Friedrich,

I'm glad to know that I am not facing this same situation alone. I commend your touch on this subject (which is one of my favorite shows), and thank you for the words of closure that you brought. I'm only 22, but I am referred to as being old by my very alpha-female sister who thinks of me as some sort of social outcast. It is a comfort to know that I am not the only one my age who enjoyed this show, and that someone else will genuinely miss it as well. Again, Thank You!

Posted by: Joseph on March 28, 2005 02:47 PM



Thanks to everyone for your comments.

A few points before I reply in detail: it turns out that Kim Possible has her own Wikipedia entry, which you can read at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Possible. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it's an excellent introduction. Also, it has come to my attention that there is a Kim Possible fan initiative underway that hopes to reverse Disney's decision to stop production of the show. You can read about the campaign at http://www.mickeynews.com/Columns/DisplayColumn.asp_Q_id_E_464. Finally, I discovered that the show was nominated for an Emmy (I don't think it won, but as Susan Lucci can testify, awards are often handed out or withheld for odd reasons.)

Ms: Harris--I seem to remember that Tolkien quote, but I appreciate being reminded of it.

Ms. Skattebol--"Sentimental" is my middle name. Be forwarned: it seems to be getting worse as I get older.

Mr. Pittenger: It's nice to know the burden of mortality grows lighter with age. I hope I have the same experience.

Mr./Ms. onetwothree: I always voted for Betty, myself, but Archie seems to have other ideas. I also remember a T.V. movie made about Archie a number of years ago that featured an actress playing Betty who was of astonishing pulchritude, which might have permanently warped my judgment.

JT: Rex Stout was quite a character, indeed. Did you know he was quite a success as a financier and had retired to write art novels until the Depression and remarriage persuaded him to focus his talents on genre fiction? Thank the Lord for financial constraints, at least sometimes.

Scott D: Thanks for the Chabon quote. I suspect you might indeed find the show worth watching.

Deb: Glad to hear from you again. I'll check out "The Princess Diaries" which I think my younger daughter has lying about somewhere.

MB: I agree, creating good light entertainment is a definite public service. I believe that Preston Sturges made a similar point in "Sullivan's Travels."

Ms. Skattebol: You might be interested to read the introduction to a new edition of Sherlock Holmes written by John Le Carre. He points out that the Holmes novels have been repeatedly condemned by highbrow critics over the century since they were written, and yet have sold and sold and sold. He attributes their success to Conan Doyle's decision to have Dr. Watson speak to, not write at, the reader, in a tone of perfect Edwardian good manners. And P.G. Wodehouse is, of course, at least a demi-god.

Mr. Kellog: I agree that Ron's exuberant Jewish identity adds an interesting dimension to the series. Ron certainly provides Will Friedle with an opportunity for some of the most over-the-top line readings in Hollywood today (a point Mr. Friedle has publicly admitted makes Ron the favorite role of his career.) In fact, Ron would come perilously close to stealing the series if Kim wasn't such a sweetheart--let's hear it for Christy Carlson Romano's own excellent, if far more calm line readings.

Mr. or Ms. Effeminem: I agree.

Ms. Kate Marie: Thanks for amplifying the Tolkien quote, which gets better and better. BTW, as Tolkien fans no doubt are aware, J.R.R. fought as an infantryman in on the Western Front in WWI, and lost every single one of his close friends to the war, a circumstance which clearly informs elements of his 'escapist' entertainment.

Gordon, Ashley and Joseph: I'm glad to be able to commiserate with my fellow fans. It's really a bummer that the show is getting cut off at this point, since it has clearly continued to get funnier, faster, and sexier as it has gone along. Sigh. The things Michael Eisner has to answer for.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 28, 2005 05:41 PM



Great post, Friedrich!

Also apposite for me, as I'm reading "The Intellectuals and the Masses," a study of intellectuals' attitudes towards the masses in late Victorian to pre-WWII England. The author, Carey, mentions the intellectual disparagment of Sherlock Holmes, among other entertainment for the masses.

The book is fascinating because the same arguements given then remain current: advertisements manipulate the dull masses into buying things they don't need; anything popular must be of little value; suburban sprawl is taking over the world; etc. I guess telling your readers that you and they are superior to the herds remains a winning formula.

Posted by: C.S. Froning on March 29, 2005 12:58 PM



How very sweet!

Posted by: annette on March 29, 2005 01:29 PM



I love KP!

Posted by: kim possible fan on April 2, 2005 06:33 PM



Excellent essay, but I would offer one clarification. Although "Alias" actually preceded Kim on the air, I read an interview with one of the producers where they said that because of the length of time in the animation process, Kim was actually in production for over a year before Alias began. They did cop to the Buffy influence though.

Posted by: Ron on April 3, 2005 05:31 PM



Excellent essay, but I would offer one clarification. Although "Alias" actually preceded Kim on the air, I read an interview with one of the producers where they said that because of the length of time in the animation process, Kim was actually in production for over a year before Alias began. They did cop to the Buffy influence though.

Posted by: Ron on April 3, 2005 05:31 PM



Thank you for your beautiful essay. I really loved your imagery of the teenage girls/roses. I am a "teenager" in her mid thirties (gasp!) who LOVES KP. I told my girls the show was written about me! haha! Keep up the beautiful thoughts and thank you for information about protesting to keep the show on the air!

Posted by: Kimmy on April 5, 2005 11:38 PM



ron is not gay!

Posted by: ll on April 6, 2005 08:35 PM



I'm gonna miss this show. My little sister loves KP. I think KP's "I can do anything" attitude is a great influence on her. She sometimes wanted me to watch it with her and I have to admit it was pretty funny, (Ron especially). Disney has a policy where only a certain number of episodes for a series is allowed to be made. That makes me so mad! My sister still doesn't know KP is about over. They actually did save one Disney show before (I think it was Boy Meets World or Even Stevens) Enough people protested the Disney's actions and they continued the series. Hopefuly, this might happen for KP. I'm in High School and I'm noticing KP's popularity growing. The show is at it's high point and theyre just dropping it. Oh well, Keep it up!

Posted by: Bijiford on April 9, 2005 12:07 PM



I love this essay!

I had no idea the show is coming to an end and I'm now crushed. This is a fabulous show and I will miss it greatly.

Posted by: isadora on April 10, 2005 09:40 PM



Being raised Jewish is a bad thing? A fellow can't take pride in it? You can't say of someone he's a good mensch because he was raised Jewish?

How you're raised impacts how you turn out. Ron was raised as a Jew. He holds the valures he does because he was raised a Jew.

Not only that, but as a Jew he serves as a good example for others, Jews and non-Jews alike. He represents the Jewish people, for better or for worse, and no amount of complaining about it is going to change a damn thing. That's the way the world works. Be nice if it didn't, but the world don't run the way you'd like.

So I applaud Ron's Jewish identity and hope we get to see more like him.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on April 10, 2005 10:02 PM



Three years ago the company I worked for fourteen years shut down. I was able to get into a retraining program for computers and graphic design. If you think it's easy catching up on thirty years of technology you try it ! While taking a break from studying for a JAVA test I ran across Kim Possible on the Disney Channel.It was, and still remains, a nice escape from reality. And a great way to charge the batteries after a day of frustrations and annoyances
My two favorite shows Enterprise and Kim Possible are leaving me, and my world will be a little sadder for it.
Thanks K.P and Ron you kept me going!!

Posted by: rob on April 15, 2005 03:23 PM






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