I came of age in the Eighties and I watched a small group of male classmates launch into full-on wrestling personas and thunderous moves every chance they got. I poo-pooed wrestling and sought refuge in the calm, cool neutrality of my preppy uniform. (Details here.) Little did I know that thirty some years later, I would be so enamored of wrestling that I pounce into my sleeping daughter’s room every morning with a new character and a loud growl.
My characters have included Rat Mama, with two of my dog’s raggedy Zhu Zhu pets on my shoulders, and Tooth Bleepin’ Fairy, where I throw toothbrushes in the air and yell that “Ignore your teeth, they’ll go away arghhh.” Why all of this wrestle mania? Why has my demure heart been opened to the power of hitting the floor with a loud thump and an exaggerated roar?
As the image above suggests – the reason is GLOW, Netflix’s fictionalized serial of the 1980’s phenomenon, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.
Sure, this is a story filled with and about stereotypes, but on the flip side, it’s a story about working hard, pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, resolving conflicts and female self-actualization and empowerment. From the wardrobe, to the soundtrack, to the earnest and accomplished performances from every actor in the ensemble, the words spoken in the 1980s GLOW, resonate with me in ways I find apropos as I sit firmly here in 2017. Read on for some particularly notable quotes and tune in the the series if you’re so inclined. The 2012 documentary about the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling is a must-see too! —Caitlin
Character: Ruth Wider, a over-zealous, down and out actor looking for work and redemption after sleeping with her friend’s husband. Ruth is played by the fantastic Alison Brie.
Context: Ruth shows up to a random audition and is presenting her head shot and verbal credentials to a crusty male director.
(Commentary after the quote.)
Comment: Amen, Ruth. Me too. Sadly, I’ve worn masks throughout my career. Some of us were taught that masks are essential for everyday interaction. Smile at your boss, your dentist, your angry mechanic – even if you’re screaming inside. My “clowning workshops” have been about making “funny” in really bad situations where I’ve felt sad, dismissed or even harassed. I’m done with all that. What you see is what you get now.
Character: Debbie Eagan, a new mom and former soap opera player, has recently learned about her husband and friend’s tryst. She reluctantly agrees to consider a starring role in the GLOW ensemble. Debbie is played by Betty Gilpin, whose facial expressions are a goldmine of unspoken strength and emotion.
Context: When the male GLOW director shows up at Debbie’s home as she’s nursing her son, a conversation designed to entice her to join the GLOW ensemble leads to Debbie to self-articulate a hard truth – she’s perceived as just another pretty face.
Comment: Right? Entering the professional world in the late eighties, I was literally told by my boss to attend meetings on his behalf, but to not talk. I was also told (by a different higher-up) during a salary renegotiation, that if I had bigger boobs, I’d make more money and that if I wanted to take the higher paying job down the street, “go ahead.” Say what? OMG. Debbie’s words, sadly, still ring true today.
Character: Cherry Bang, an actor who worked regularly in the seventies, presumably in “blaxploitation” films where she used her physicality in a powerful way. She’s a tough woman with a heart. Cherry is played by Sydelle Noel, who brings a guarded, no-nonsense sensibility to the character.
Context: Cherry and the GLOW director, Sam, have worked together in the past on his B movies. Neither have had much work since the eighties rolled around. The director is chiding her about the lack of roles she’s been offered since the worked together years ago. This is her reply.
Comment: Yep. I’m looking at you Tom Cruise and John Hughes. Not entirely your fault, but just sayin’. The eighties ushered in an era of little diversity, built upon the premise that dreams and faith always leads to personal triumph. The kicking-ass films of the seventies, while controversial, were filled with black performers and made, at first, for primarily black, urban audiences. Sadly, the genre never grew out of its exploitative roots and into more opportunities for black performers. Substantive roles for black performers were, and are for the most part, few and far between.
Character: Sam Sylvia, director of the soon-to-debut GLOW tv show, is a jaded filmmaker, well know for his B Movies who have a small cult following. Sam is portrayed by Marc Maron who simply nails it and also looks a lot like my Dad.
Context: Ruth Wilder gets on his nerves. Her self-righteousness and persistence are at odds with his lackadaisical approach to the GLOW production. In this scene, he offers this piece of advice (hopefully) in an effort to help her temper her emotions so she can reach a goal.
Comment: So true, Sam, so true. As a woman, I’ve always mistakenly presumed that everyone works as hard as I do and then when I discover they have a life and actually enjoy it because they do x, y and z, resentment and judgement set in. I firmly believe that women can take Sam’s advice and still out-perform their peers, solely based on my opinion that we tend to give (more of) a damn. Letting go of some of the “But I’m the only one saving the world” thinking has given me a level of freedom and serenity I wish I had discovered much earlier in life.
Character: Melanie Rosen, aka Melrose, is an in-your-face, trend rider, who has formed her identity around the signs of the times – Madonna, music videos and Van Halen. Her external depth ends in the shallow end of the pool. As Sam duly notes, she has a “please objectify me vibe.”
Context: Just as Ruth Wilder did in the first quote scenario, Melrose introduces herself to the director and explains what her special skill is.
Comment: In the context of GLOW, Melrose is actually admitting that she is, indeed, boring – with nothing inside except the need to imitate the top five pop cultural trends. In the context of modern times and the endless scrolls on our bright and shiny devices that call our names, this is my battle cry. I proclaim that I’m not #*@! boring.
I’ve gone on a major information diet, primarily digital information, and I feel good. That doesn’t make me not boring, but it strips the distractions away so I can 1) define what “boring” means to me and 2) not be it. I’ve learned repetition is boring to me and my digital habits were exactly that.
Meet Sheila*. She’s a wolf. This is not her wrestling persona. In her words to Ruth (her teammate/roommate) in Episode 4,“You just called me a #@*! wolf. (longish pause) Most people just call me a freak, so thank you.”
After another longish, quasi-teary pause, a very emotional Sheila continues “I’ve worn this, or some version of this, every day for the past five years. It’s not a costume. It’s me. And what I do in the morning, what I put on, what I wear, it’s not for you. It’s for me.”
I don’t really have the words to express my feelings for Sheila or her eloquent words. In the 1980s landscape of overblown artifice, neon and public sanctioned excess, the most self-actualized character is seen by the world as a freak. What does that tell you?
It tells me to let my freak flag fly. Now where’s my leotard & cape?
*Sheila is played by Juilliard-trained, Scottish actress, Gayle Rankin, whose lip quivers inspire me to speak up no matter how vulnerable I may feel.