the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in boys

There are several character-memes in the BSC fandom, and one of them is “Stacey is a ho.” I.e., you will find Stacey underneath the bleachers sucking off the basketball team LOL. I have always found these meme to be unfair and distasteful. Yes, as we saw in Stacey and the Boyfriend Trap, Stacey sure has had a lot of boyfriends for an eighth grader. But to be fair, Stace was in eighth grade for a very long time. (Oooh, another fandom meme!) Really, is it so hard to believe that someone who is smart, attractive, and pretty damn nice would be attractive to the opposite sex? And wouldn’t have a hard time finding a boyfriend (or seven)?

SOmeone on the BSC boards, however, pointed out that they didn’t really like the message that it sent that Stacey moved right on from one serious relationship (Robert Brewster) to another (Ethan Carroll). This criticism kind of threw me for a loop, because I’ve done the same thing. I am what a women’s magazine would call a serial monogamist. I don’t have one night stands. I date people for about two years, and enter into a relationship state known as being Brooklyn-married. The longest time since I’ve been seriously dating that I’ve gone without some sort of romantic attachment: two weeks. Shortest: twelve hours. So as you can see, for me Stacey’s serial monogamy that occurs later in the series doesn’t strike me as odd at all, and I never even thought to fret about the messages that Stacey’s boy-attachment sends to young, impressionable readers.

Then, like in Beavis and Butt-head when their very small and ineffectual brains begin working, a dim, small lightbulb appeared above my head. Out of all the BSC members, Stacey is the one whose family situation most resembles my own. My dad has always worked a lot, my parents got divorced, and he found his own Samantha Young while my mother is still single. I can say, easily, that things that are easy for my friends with parents in loving stable relationships (getting over things, breaking up with someone), are very difficult or near impossible for me. I then began to think about some of the other members of the BSC, and their attitudes toward men and relationship.

Mary Anne, Jessi, and Claudia are probably the healthiest. Jessi’s parents seem to have a really great relationship, and Squirt is still a toddler so you know their marriage is still Hot. Jessi is usually pretty level-headed, and she tells Quint where to go when he wants to take their relationship further and more serious than she is comfortable with at age eleven.

As far as Mary Anne goes, well, my hatred for Logan is still strong. Despite her meekness, Mary Anne is able to stand up for herself and dump the dead weight and bossiness to rival Kristy Thomas that is Logan Bruno. Yeah, she takes him back a few books later, after he promises to smother her less, but she finally realizes that Logan is not the guy for her in Mary Anne’s Big Breakup. She knows that she needs to be her own person, and having Logan Bruno around will hinder that. It is easy to criticize Richard Spier for being nerdy and over-protective, but I think that Richard, especially later Richard, is one of the BSC parents who is actually the most tuned-in and active in their kid’s life. It was Richard’s help, after all, that Mary Anne recognized that she needed to dump Logan–for good this time. Even her friends in the BSC blew her off, but Richard recognized that the relationship wasn’t really working for Mary Anne anymore.

Claudia is someone who should be on the same boy-attractiveness plain as Stacey, but she doesn’t even have a boyfriend who’s not a Vacation Boyfriend until Mark Jaffe. Janine dumps her Hottie Boyfriend Jerry and have her pine after her for the rest of the series. Go Janine! The Kishis, like the Ramseys, have a really strong marriage.

On the divorce side, we also have Kristy and Dawn. While many pin Kristy as a lesbian, I don’t think that not caring about clothes and a love for sports automatically defines someone as a lesbian. Kristy manages to keep Bart as her sort-of boyfriend until Kristy + Bart = ?. Bart gets fresh (Peter Lerangis’s memorable makeout scene!), Kristy freaks out. Kristy realizes that she is not ready for that kind of action yet. Some people read this as Kristy will NEVER be ready for this kind of action if a penis is attached, but I think that might not be necessarily true. I think it has far more to do with the fact that her father abandoned her. Kristy: probably should go to therapy now that she has a millionaire stepdad who can afford it.

Finally, we have Dawn. Dawn is one of the more contradictory characters in the BSC, and perhaps in children’s literature as a whole. We are told over and over that Dawn is such an individual, but yet she often changes her California Casual self to satisfy what she perceives as what other people would like. The two most glaring examples of this involve boys: Travis and Lewis. Dawn did everything Travis told her, because she thought that Travis liked her and if she cut her hair and pierced her ears again that he would like her even more. And then she made that kind of psychotic-sounding phone call–”I was already a beauty!” And for Lewis, Dawn did that weird makeover/personality transplant, and then immediately went back to Old Dawn when he revealed that he liked Old Dawn more. Insecurity stemming from the fact that her parents, who for most of her life seemed to be happy and loving, very suddenly got divorced and her family was ripped in half? It’s the only explanation I can come up with that makes sense.

I am sure that there are people with divorced parents who are OK with relationships, and people with happily-married parents who are messed up about them, for various life factors. But it sure does seem to be an explanation for a lot of what goes in BSC lovelife land.

Until I was about sixteen, I lived in my own head a lot, daydreaming about what I wanted to happen in my life. The BSC don’t seem to do that much, except in Chapter 2s where one of girls is riding their bicycle on the way to a meeting and thinking really, really hard about their friends and almost crashes into a telephone pole.

I suppose my tendency to drift into a fantasy world, especially when I was thirteen, was because I had no friends. Perhaps my tendency to fantasize had more to do with that than age. Perhaps the lack of daydreaming in the BSC (except for thinking about their awesome friends) has to do with their active social lives organizing carnivals for children and having sort-of boyfriends.

But then when I really think about it, it’s Claudia and Stacey, the coolest (arguably) members of the BSC, who daydream the most. My favorite fantasy sequence in BSC, the one that inspired this whole post, is the one in Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls where Claudia imagines a situation where she and Trevor are on a field trip to a place with a garden maze, and they find a secret door in the garden and it turns into a winter wonderland and it is very romantic. It is exactly the kind of stupid thing I would have imagined at that age. I also like it because it seems like it would lead into a very strange magical pornographic film.

Stacey usually dreams about future careers and money, so hers aren’t as funny. Stacey in a red convertible! Stacey the famous movie director!

Do I just have a selective memory? Did the other girls daydream more frequently than I remember? Was I just a loser nerd with no friends? (Yes.)

I think that my hatred of Logan is one of my strongest and most steadfast BSC opinions. Thus, I can’t help but look at this book through special Logan-hating goggles.

One of the biggest illusions that the BSC gives its young readers is that the mousy, shy girl who can barely speak to the opposite sex will end up with the cute Big Man On Campus, despite the fact that if Mary Anne were a Monopoly property, she’d be WaterWorks. But I think that all of middle school losers should be thankful the boys made fun of us instead of making out with us, because we could have ended up with boyfriends like Logan.

In this book, however, Logan seems pretty sweet, being very understanding when MA doesn’t want to dance after clocking Mr. Kingbridge in the head with her shoe, or when MA runs away from her own birthday party. He doesn’t really show signs of the Draculogan he will become in the future, the one who gives iron chain bracelets as presents after being dumped.

One of the essential questions that this book will ultimately raise in a reader is, “Why Mary Anne?” After all, sophisticated Stacey seemed interested. I have two answers for this. One comes from what we know about Ann. Mary Anne is an exaggerated version of Ann, and she wanted to give her doppelganger the chance of a dreamy junior high school romance that she never had. The other answer I have, from a very biased perspective that affects my analysis of Logan’s character, is that Logan wanted a girlfriend he can control. Looking at the character of Lyman Bruno, it’s not hard to see where that stems from.

Sorry for the long time between updates, but in the last couple of weeks I didn’t have time to sleep, let alone write a thoughtful and coherent blog post. Next on the agenda: my review of Best Friends and a look at Stacey and the Bad Girls.

I am posting this from my blackberry while I am vacationing (?) in Russia, so forgive any errors in typing.

Something that I’ve always found confusing is the character of Ben Hobart. When he and his family move in, he and Mallory begin dating and it is so cute! He has red hair and glasses too! Plus an accent, which is always hot, even when it is rendered annoyingly on the page and the speech includes words people only use in the copy for menus for Outback Steakhouse. Mallory and Ben do four basic things together: library, movies, school dances, eating Ben’s mom homemade cake (jealous!). He doesn’t seem to be a Chin-Tipper like Quint, which is a good thing. Sure, he does seem to show his Logan-y dark side occasionally–witness the fights over caroling and the proper way to use the library card catalog–but he is only eleven, after all. Ben and Mal’s relationship chugs along in its innocent sixth grade way for quite some time.

But then. Something totally weird happens. Ben stops being mentioned in chapter two as Mal’s boyfriend. He starts being mentioned not as an equal and paramour to a BSC member, but begins to be treated as a charge. Witness the bathing cap contest at the country club, which Ben enters and Mal judges. There is no mention of their history at all. You’d think someone would cry foul–totally a conflict of interest. Worse still is that he is just lumped in with the clients, like he hasn’t turned the magical age of eleven. Did Ben perhaps sustain a head injury which reversed the effects of the Age of Maturity?

When Mal has her “spaz girl” issues, it’s mentioned that Ben tried to reach out to her and she pushed him away. Yet Ben had been relegated to attending BSC events as a charge before that ever happened. The answer to the question, “What happened to Ben Hobart?” will never be truly answered.

I have a file on my computer where I paste funny quotes from the books. Here’s one from Mary Anne and Too Many Boys:

We all walked down to the water’s edge, and I noticed that Stacey and Toby never took their eyes off each other. Stacey seemed thrilled to see Toby again, but I reminded myself that she had acted exactly the same way around Pierre, a boy we met at a ski lodge. And there’d been Scott, the Sea City lifeguard, too. Toby was at the top of the list for the moment, but who knew if it would last?

Yes, MA basically calls Stacey a slut here, despite the fact that MA herself forgot she was going out with Logan when she saw Alex! Why are you so judgmental, Spier? Stacey’s a free agent and can ogle as many boys as she wants!

The Baby-sitters Club’s readership is generally thought of as a girls’ club. Whenever a man shows up on BSC message boards or livejournals, it’s something unusual. Posters are generally assumed to be female until proven otherwise.

Now, if some of us girls feel strange reading the BSC once we’re actually older than our childhood idols, well, I can only imagine what happens when sex/gender plays into it. If I feel weird reading the BSC being a relatively normal 21-year-old female college student who enjoys dancing to electroclash and shopping for clothes that only a Stacey would wear, I can only imagine how a 21-year-old male college student feels.

I know that my brother would occasionally read them in the bathroom, and that The BSC Companion is run by a man, and we occasionally get men on the livejournal. There are people who make their SOs read the books. I’m really curious about the experiences of a male who reads the BSC, and what reactions they get from people.

There is also the fact that these books are without a doubt written with a female audience in mind. Yes, there is a token male sitter, but, like Lyman Bruno, we pretty much all accept the fact if it weren’t for his relationship with Mary Anne, Logan probably wouldn’t be in the Club. The boys I know who baby-sit do just as well as the girls, but it is still kind of stigmatized, even nearly twenty years after Logan accepted Kristy’s offer to be a Associate Member.

I don’t really know where I’m going with all this, and in fact I don’t know if I have any male readers. But I am interested in their perspective on what they like about the BSC, and whatever problems they’ve had with their families, etc. because of their love for it.

Karen’s Brothers is a really weird book. After making my post yesterday, I was inspired to dig into the box of LS books I won in an ebay auction and chose this one to read. Basically, Karen gets jealous that her pretend husband, Ricky Torres, was hanging out with Bobby Gianelli instead of her and wouldn’t allow her to play football with him and the guys. For this book, Karen is really good at football. Then, while at the big house, Sam and Charlie are going to go to the movies with their friends and they don’t let Karen come along. The fact that David Michael is also not invited to go the movies does not faze Karen and she starts a new project: The We Hate Boys Club. Karen refuses to speak to any boys, even boy animals, and she gets Hannie and Nancy to do the same. Pamela Harding, sensing the opportunity to steal Ricky, decides to start the We <3 Boys Club. Their activities include baking stuff for the boys and telling the boys they're great all the time.

Karen does not understand why Ricky starts acting nicer toward Pamela than her. Which is stupid because Karen, if you’re not talking to your pretend husband anymore, how can you expect him to want to spend time with you, or not spend time with another girl while you’re treating him like crap? You are, after all, telling him you hate him. Stacey’s reverse psychology does not apply here. Stacey knew it well too–look at her success with men.

So after basically just ignoring every boy, and being upset that Pamela is moving in on her man, Karen is invited to play football with her brothers and has a great time and forgives all boys and blah blah and throws a “brother” party and all is good. Karen is forgived for being annoying and all is well.

But the book is really, really, really weird. First there is the emphasis on second grade marriage. Karen’s feelings for Ricky, and Ricky’s feelings for Karen, and Pamela’s plotting seem really advanced for seven year olds. Also at the end Karen watches happily as Nancy and Bobby Gianelli appear to be getting closer. Perhaps most disturbingly is the part where Ricky and Bobby play something called “Lip Tag.” Perhaps Karen’s jealousy of Bobby was not being melodramatic.

Is this book essential? No, but it is certainly bizarre.

Another belief I inherited from BSC books was that as soon as one crosses the threshold of middle school, one is instantly blessed with mini-adulthood (the mental age and behavior gap between the triplets and Mal was as wide as the one between Mal and Claire), and in addition, no matter how interested in boys a girl may be, and no matter how awkward and sturdy she is, she will be plagued with men fawning over her.

While not sturdy, I certainly was awkward and probably no boy even said something nice to me in middle school, let alone tipped my chin. I doubt that I am alone in this–I can remember only a handful of girls in my middle school who got genuine male attention before high school. Bearing this in mind, let’s review the BSC members.

  • Kristy Thomas. The consummate athlete and long suspected to be a lesbian in many fandom circles, Madame President fell hard for Bart Taylor in Secret Admirer, where his love letters were more creepy than Cokie’s psycho-stalker letters. Which is worse at thirteen–”I love you, I love you, I love you” or fingernail clippings? Despite these early declarations, Bart was only ever Kristy’s sort-of boyfriend until he got fresh. When the BSC went to Europe, however, Kristy met the man who is a fan favorite despite the fact that this is his only appearance in the series: Michel.
  • Claudia Kishi. One of the most vivid images in the series is Claudia sitting on the edge of her bed hugging herself in Claudia and the Perfect Boy, because it is weird. Really weird. Also weird is Claudia’s stalker in the first Super Special. After that, poor Claud had no other real romantic interest until she went back to seventh grade. I’m not sure why. There she had Mark Jaffe, who was a jerk, and Josh, who was a chipmunk. Poor Claud. In FF, she and Stace broke up over a boy, but Claud then found her true love who likes anime… ALAN GRAY.
  • Mary Anne Spier. I. Hate. Logan.
  • Stacey McGill. The woman needs no introduction. Stacey’s romantic history would take as long to write as War and Peace.
  • Dawn Schafer. Despite being upgraded from “interesting-looking” to “a real knockout,” Dawn is perhaps the most unloved of the girls. Sure, she and Lewis keep up a sizzling correspondence, but who wants to date a relative of Logan’s?
  • Abby Stevenson. Ross was in love with Abby but he meant to be in love with Anna. Abby didn’t care though. And I don’t really believe her when she says that she “had a lot of boyfriends in Long Island.”
  • Mallory Pike. Feeling sturdy and awkward and redheaded and glasses’d, Mal met Ben, who was also redheaded and glasses’d. Aww. It was not all romance and roses, however, as Ben and Mal fought over caroling and the proper usage of the card catalog. Ben was mysteriously absent during the Spaz Girl ordeal, although it seemed to me that Mal’s already miniscule self-esteem that dropped to the point where she did not feel worthy of his sexy Australian accent.
  • Jessi Ramsey. Quint is kind of gross. He tipped her chin and assumed that just because Jessi was in New York he could make out with her. Jessi also sometimes danced with Curtis Shaller, and learned an important lesson in Shadow Lake when she realized that just because Daniel was also black did not mean that they would make a good couple.

    Here was my romantic history in eighth grade: … Nothing. Yet the BSCers romantic lives–especially Stacey’s!–read like Sex and the City without the sex and the city but with the relationship obsession and the frequency of new boyfriends. Why was Ann so eager to present a world where middle schoolers have so many boyfriends when we are all aware that this is very, very far from her own reality? Yes, characters like Abby who are not obsessed with boys are refreshing, but I feel like Abby represents the majority, or perhaps if we took Abby’s boyfriendlessness and added hopeless unrequited crushes it would represent the norm for thirteen year old girls. So why did Claudia feel so pathetic when she didn’t have a boyfriend? Because Mary Anne was already basically in a terrible marriage? I know fans of the BSC who like to pretend that the girls are a couple of years older than written so that things make more sense. I think that this is another instance where that is a helpful tactic to keep oneself from grabbing Ann and asking her what is up with her worship of premature relationships.

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