Last night, I read a news article in The New York Times about why so many “moderate” Republican women have abandoned conservatism for the Democratic Party. It seems that a lot of women who ordinarily identify as moderate or conservative are really upset about the erosion of women’s rights championed by the Republican Party, and they have vowed to stop voting for Republicans. Because I am an American woman who quit voting for Republicans, I decided to comment. To the Times’ question, “Will the abortion debate keep moderate women in the Democrats’ camp?”, I answered thusly:
That’s one major reason why I am done with Republicans. Trump is the biggest reason, though.
I noticed I got a “laughing” reaction. It was from child actress turned lawyer/author/conservative pundit, Susan Swift. I had seen Susan Swift leaving outrageous right wing Facebook comments on a lot of articles posted by The New York Times. I noticed she had a blue check mark, which makes her a “celebrity” or well known person. I figured she was some kind of female Rush Limbaugh acolyte, or something. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to her comments, because I found her rude and snarky, and because I don’t agree with her opinions. I didn’t actually realize Susan Swift was a child actress, though, until I finally looked her up to see why I should care about her opinions, and why she had that blue check mark next to her name.
I was pretty shocked to find out that Susan Swift was in a movie I well remember from my childhood.
I remember seeing that movie when I was a kid. I most recently watched it when Bill and I were first together, about twenty years ago. I remember getting it from Netflix on DVD and watching it, because I remember seeing it on TV and was kind of haunted by it. Susan Swift was good in Audrey Rose, which also boasted Marsha Mason and Anthony Hopkins in the cast. I mean, Mason and Hopkins are heavy hitting ARTISTS, and Audrey Rose was a pretty decent film. It wasn’t a shitty horror flick, or anything. She’s even been somewhat recently interviewed about her acting career and came across as basically okay there.
I was disappointed when I saw that this former child actress turned right wing political pundit was “laughing” at me for sharing my decidedly unfunny opinion on a random New York Times’ article. I don’t know a lot about Susan Swift, other than she went to law school, became a lawyer and author, and was afforded opportunities that a lot of women before her didn’t have. And apparently, she strongly aligns with a political movement that would like to strip women of their rights and autonomy, and thinks it’s cool that our former president throws tantrums, admires dictators, and brags about sexually harassing and molesting women. What a shitty person she must be. I mean, even if you disagree with someone’s politics, you don’t need to “laugh” at them when they obviously haven’t said anything funny. That’s just disrespectful and rude. Before I looked her up online, I decided to block her. And I posted this:
Blocked Susan Swift, because I have seen her making the rounds. She’s one of Trump’s bullies, who thinks she needs to laugh at people because they understandably don’t want to be led by a pussy grabber who admires dictators and throws tantrums when he loses elections.
Because I wondered why she had that blue check mark by her name, I investigated her acting career, which ended in 1995. She was in a fair amount of stuff back in the day. I did truly enjoy her in Audrey Rose… what a shame that she’s turned into such a creep. I mean, a person can be a conservative and not be a jerk, right? I have conservative friends with whom I don’t discuss politics. We have basic mutual respect. I don’t know Susan Swift at all, and I know she’s a “personality”… but don’t “personalities” get popular because they relate to a lot of people? So basically, Susan Swift relates to a lot of really awful people who enjoy mocking people who have a different world view than she has… as she and her ilk speak of “freedom” from government overreach. Why don’t they see that the government is now trying to reach into the most private and personal aspect of women’s lives? Women make up about half the population!
Over the past a couple of weeks, I have found myself becoming even less tolerant of uncivilized people who feel the need to hurl abuse at others, especially when all they’re doing is respectfully trying to share an opinion. Lately, I’ve been exploring Twitter. I’ve had mixed results with it. Some people on Twitter are hilarious and witty, and it’s fun to read their comments. Others are just incredibly toxic, and they think nothing of insulting people they don’t even know for not sharing their world views. I had to change my settings on Twitter, because I couldn’t deal with the poisonous spew that came forth from Twitter users who lack common decency and decorum. It was giving me a very dystopian and distorted view of my homeland. I’ve been blocking a lot of people on social media who can’t behave decently, especially if they’re strangers.
Anyway, I know that actors and actresses are people too, and one can like an artist’s work and not like them as a person. For years, I’ve loved watching The Brady Bunch, but I had to unfollow Susan Olsen on social media, because I couldn’t take her racist screeds against Muslims and pro Trump rallying cries. And I know I have a lot of former friends and family members who don’t follow me because they don’t want to be exposed to my opinions. At least most of them were decent enough to take action quietly and without mocking or outright abuse. My Uncle Ed is an exception… he actually cussed me out, called me a “liberal nutjob”, and reminded me of some of my dad’s most horrible verbal abuse tirades after one of his frequent benders. I don’t have to abide that from strangers at all, and certainly not from a former child actress turned Republican flunkie.
I remember back in 1991, I was a freshman student at Longwood College (now known as Longwood University). A new movie by Stephen King had come out in late November of 1990. It was titled Misery, and it starred Kathy Bates and James Caan in the primary roles, with support from Richard Farnsworth, Lauren Bacall, and Frances Sternhagen. My good friend, Chris, who was a fellow English major and writing enthusiast, told me about the film. Chris and I both liked to write fiction, and the story was about an obsessed fan who held a novelist captive in her home, forcing him to write to her specifications. It was very compelling to us.
I’m pretty sure that we saw the movie together at some point, but I don’t remember when, or how. At one point, Chris worked at a video store in Farmville, the town where our school was. Maybe he brought the movie home one night and invited me over to watch it. Or maybe he just told me about it, and I watched it on HBO. In any case, the point is that it resonated. We used to make jokes about the movie, especially Kathy Bates’ character, frumpy Annie Wilkes, who just happened to be a very skilled nurse with a screw loose. I remember laughing about how Annie called James Caan’s character, novelist Paul Sheldon, a “dirty bird”, and referred to him as “Mister Man.” All the while, Paul tried to keep his cool and appease his captor, in the hope that on some day he might escape her clutches and reclaim his life.
As 18 year old writers who aspired to be “famous” someday– remember were 18 years old, and still had our whole lives ahead of us— Misery was a story that pointed to the potential pitfalls of fame. In the film, novelist Paul Sheldon, who had created the Victorian romance heroine Misery Chastain, and made a huge name for himself, found himself in a real bind when he was in a serious car accident during a blizzard in rural Colorado.
At first, Annie Wilkes is Paul’s savior. She’s a highly skilled nurse, capable of saving Paul’s life and providing him comfort. But she’s also deranged and angry, and she has an unhealthy obsession with Misery, and the man who created her. The movie has some comic elements to it, and is genuinely entertaining. But, as it’s a Stephen King story, it’s also horrifying! There are parts of that movie that I can barely stand to watch, even though parts of it are almost cartoonish.
Well… I was reminded of Misery yesterday, as I read tweets by Ex, who is a big fan of a certain novelist. By and large, I don’t read novels myself, so I don’t know this writer’s work at all. But Bill knew who she was, and he said that when they were married, Ex was a huge fan of the writer’s. And Ex, who spends a lot of time on Twitter, tweeting celebrities with thinly veiled requests for money, had contacted this writer with a “proposition”. Someone had asked the writer if she had published a new book yet. The author wrote that she had “barely begun writing” her newest book. And Ex, in true “Annie Wilkes” style, tweeted this:
…I have a proposition… I’ll come over, you can tell me the story in true storyteller form. We will record it, digitize it, have it auto printed out and then you can have some meat on paper to play with and edit! What do you think?? I have ‘granbairns’ in Arizona to visit!
The author, to her great credit, responded very graciously. Perhaps she’s seen Misery, too. She wrote this:
A generous offer! I’m afraid I don’t write “in true storyteller fashion”, though. I don’t write with an outline, I don’t write in a straight line, and I have only the vaguest notion of things that might happen.
Again, I don’t read many novels anymore, so I haven’t read any of this person’s books. It looks like she’s very popular, though, as others were posting on the thread. She’s probably had to deal with more than one “Annie Wilkes” in her career. Before anyone comes at me, allow me to state that I wouldn’t necessarily think this about Ex if I didn’t know her, or about the things she’s done. I do think it’s an odd offer to make to an author, especially since I’m pretty certain she was being totally serious. She does have grandchildren in Arizona, too, so if the writer had taken her up on her offer, it would be an excuse for Ex to go bug former stepson and his wife.
Anyway, Ex responded with more over-the-top ego stroking and praise, which may or may not be sincere. Ex often tries to seem like a really good and interesting person, but sometimes she goes so far that she comes off as totally fake and a little screwy. She wrote, complete with emojis and Scottish flags:
Hmm…given that, I now have hope that my stories will make it to print. The method you enjoy…works! Please, just keep doing it; you create lives, no small feat! Remember me, though; it would be a delight to collaborate. I’m a Fraser du Lovat, by the way, & that’s fun!!
Lately, Ex has been claiming to be a member of a prominent Scottish clan. I have no idea if her claims are legitimate. What I do know about her is that she was adopted, and had a genuinely horrifying childhood. She’s supposedly met her birth parents, or met one of her parents, who explained that she had been the product of an extramarital affair. If that story is the truth, I don’t know how, under those circumstances, Ex would find out about her supposed ties to famous Scottish families. But hell, maybe she’s being honest. Or maybe not. Maybe telling herself she has noble family ties makes her feel better about herself. If it means she’s kinder to the people in her life, I’m all for it. My issue with her, though, is that she’s done a lot of real damage to people, to include my husband, who was her second husband. If she was just a little batty and eccentric, I could easily and happily ignore her. But I know firsthand that she can do serious harm to people when she puts her mind to it.
Well, I doubt the author she’s tweeting is in any serious danger. Ex is nutty, but she’s not THAT nutty. Or, at least I hope not. I don’t want to read a news story about an obsessed fan from New England going all “Annie Wilkes” on a novelist out west. But, at least at this point, Ex seems most likely to harm her husbands and exes, than she is other folks. This writer is someone she clearly admires, though. It’s a little creepy to see her boldly offering her “services” in this way. I hope Ex never calls that author a “dirty birdie”. Maybe that’s an occupational hazard of being a famous writer… it’s probably safest to stick to being an unpopular blogger.
This post may be triggering for anyone suffering from an eating disorder. Reader discretion advised.
A couple of days ago, I decided I couldn’t stand to watch any more old episodes of Snapped. I actually find Snapped very interesting, but I can barely stand to listen to the former narrator, Sharon Martin, who (to me) has an annoying, over-the-top, salaciousness about her that bugs. I read that Sharon Martin was replaced as the narrator on Snapped. Having looked her up online, I know I’m not the only one who finds her irritating. She must also have her fans, though, because she was the narrator for many years, and there was even a Change.org petition to bring her back.
Because I needed to break away from Snapped, I went on a downloading binge. I ended up buying the box set of Growing Pains, which was a popular show, starting when I was a pre-teen. That show famously starred the late Alan Thicke, Joanna Kerns, Kirk Cameron, Tracey Gold, and Jeremy Miller. I’ve just now started the second season and am unexpectedly delighted by how well written and funny the early seasons are. Kirk Cameron was legitimately cute and funny before he became a Christian evangelist nightmare. Jeremy Miller was seriously adorable when he was a little kid. And then there’s Tracey Gold.
I’ve always had kind of a love/hate fascination with Tracey Gold. I think she is a talented actress, although the roles she’s played have often annoyed me. I remember seeing her on shows like Trapper John, MD and any number of movies of the week. She truly has a gift for acting, especially the kind of acting required by shows of the 70s and 80s, which was the height of my childhood. I probably know her best from her time as Carol Seaver, though… and I remember all too well how she was often made fun of on the show for being fat, ugly, and nerdy. Then, when she was in her late teens/early 20s, she developed anorexia nervosa and had to leave Growing Pains for treatment.
In 1994, Tracey Gold even made a TV movie about her real life eating disorder. For the Love of Nancy is one of maybe a dozen or so television movies about the horrors of eating disorders. For all I know, Tracey has recovered from her illness. I haven’t seen her on TV lately, but then I also haven’t been in the United States since 2014.
Yesterday, as I was watching old episodes of Growing Pains, I started thinking about all of the eating disorder themed movies of the week and after school specials. Next thing I knew, I started searching Google and promptly fell down a rabbit hole. My search was prompted by a guest star on Growing Pains by an actress named April Lerman (now known as April Haney). She played an annoying, pretentious girl named Juliet on Growing Pains. In 1987, she also played a girl named Cindy Greco on an after school special called Little Miss Perfect. On that show, she was second banana to Mary Tanner, who played the lead role– a bulimic girl named Debbie Welker.
I remember watching that special and being a bit shocked by it. On that special, Debbie (Mary Tanner) was upset because her mother remarried and forced her to leave her old neighborhood. She finds herself in a new school, where she has to prove herself as a budding musical theater star and high school cheerleader. I distinctly remember the cheerleading coach making comments about how the high school cheerleaders needed to make the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders “jealous” of them.
The hourlong show culminated with a scene showing Debbie stuffing her face with tons of junk food and then throwing up. She ruptures her esophagus and ends up in the hospital, where her mother lectures her about her habits. Cindy Greco (April Lerman) is there doing a horrible Humphrey Bogart impression as Debbie’s mom promises her that they will “lick” (see what they did there?) this problem together.
I went looking to see if I could find that particular cringeworthy special on YouTube. I have seen it there before. Alas, it’s one of the lost episodes that isn’t currently on the popular video platform. I’m sure it will show up again at some point. What I did find, however, was a hilarious article about movies and shows about eating disorders. This snarky piece, written by Claudia Eve Beauchesne, makes the very astute observation about the the media’s portrayal of eating disorders. She writes:
Between 1981 and 2003, at least a dozen cookie-cutter movies and after- school specials about eating disorders were broadcast on North American television. Nearly all of those films had titles combining the words “Dying,” “Perfect” and “Body” (Little Miss Perfect, Perfect Body, Dying to be Perfect, etc.) or including the word “Secret” (Kate’s Secret, The Secret Life of Mary Margaret, A Secret Between Friends, etc.) Save for a few exceptions, they all followed the same recipe:
A white, upper-middle-class teenage girl with mommy issues and a name that ends in a “y” sound (Casey, Debbie, Nancy, Lexi, etc.) secretly begins to “scarf and barf,” or stops eating altogether, in an effort to excel at a performing art or competitive sport, to emulate a popular new friend, or to regain a sense of control after a move or her parents’ divorce. A few dramatic incidents later—often messy binges involving chocolate icing, desperate midnight workouts and/or laxative theft—her friends and family start to tell her that she looks too thin, yet fail to notice that she now also sports ghoulish purple eye shadow and beige lipstick.
Eventually, our heroine faints in public and wakes up in the hospital, her mother asks herself out loud, “What did I do wrong? What did I miss?!” and a doctor gives the worried parents a complete rundown of the possible causes and effects of eating disorders. After a failed attempt to run away from the hospital, our heroine learns that her enabler friend or sassy hospital roommate has died of heart failure or committed suicide. The news sends her on a downward spiral until she hits rock bottom and resolves to get better. Cue the tearful reconciliation with mom.
I sat there chuckling, because Claudia is so right. I’ve seen most of those movies. Some of them are better than others, but they all do follow that basic formula. And they all kind of make it out that the only real eating disorders are anorexia nervosa or bulimia, and they’re only “real” if someone winds up in the hospital on the brink of death. Also, one thing Claudia doesn’t mention, but I’ve noticed, is that they always show the heroines jogging through beautiful neighborhoods, as if they are so healthy and wholesome… but underneath, there’s a bucket of crazy!
The actors portraying the victims sometimes actually look the parts they play. Jennifer Jason Leigh portrayed Casey Powell in The Best Little Girl in the World, an ABC movie of the week loosely based on the book of the same name, written by famed eating disorder therapist Steven Levenkron. I read that Jennifer Jason Leigh lost about 22 pounds to play Casey. She’s also a legitimately good actress. But they still used an emaciated body double in a doctor’s office scene. You can tell, because Jennifer Jason Leigh had really beautiful, thick, natural hair, and in that scene, it’s obvious the body double is wearing a godawful wig. But the shot only lasts a few seconds.
In For the Love of Nancy, there’s a similarly revealing scene. Tracey Gold, who actually did have anorexia nervosa, comes into a Christmas party looking like death warmed over. In that scene, it really looks like they mostly used her real body, although she was reportedly in recovery when that film was made.
I’ve seen For the Love of Nancy a bunch of times. This is the first time I’ve actually stopped to look at this scene closely. It’s probably because this movie kind of grates. Even though it has a somewhat decent cast, there’s not a lot of chemistry among the actors. Jill Clayburgh and William Devane are not convincing as a couple and the siblings all look like they came from different gene pools. But now that I look at it this infamous scene in slow motion, I think they used body doubles for this film, too. Tracey Gold probably no longer had the super skinny body that would deliver the requisite shock value to viewers, since she had been in recovery. I’m sure this film was not easy for her to make. It was probably pretty triggering for her.
Nowadays, movies of the week aren’t as common as they used to be. We have so many outlets for entertainment now. All of the streaming services make their own content now– Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu all have their own shows, and there are so many dramatic subjects that can be tackled that shock even more than anorexia nervosa does. Personally, I think these kinds of movies, which entertain in a way akin to that of horror movies, do a disservice to people.
There are a lot of different kinds of eating disorders. They are all soul crushing and devastating in their own ways. But no one wants to see an obese woman with compulsive overeating disorder stuffing her face and not vomiting, even though compulsive overeating is, in fact, a dangerous eating disorder. Ditto to orthorexia, which is an obsession with “clean” or “healthy” eating. Even though it’s unhealthy and destructive, it’s not as dramatic or sexy a subject as is anorexia or even bulimia. Maybe a really gifted screenwriter and director could make a compelling film about the lesser acknowledged eating disorders, but they probably wouldn’t stir as much interest, even though informing the world about those problems would probably be a public service. At most, people with compulsive overeating or binge eating disorders will get spots on a “freak” show aired on The Learning Channel (TLC).
The one film that probably came closest to such an ideal was the 1990 comedy-drama film, Eating, which starred Mary Crosby. And that movie, which I have seen, is not that great. I remember there was another show– it was an actual series that quickly got axed– that was called Starved. It attempted to put a comic spin on eating disorders and, quite predictably, was deemed in poor taste.
I seem to remember Tracey Gold tried to do a series about eating disorders, too. Her show was more of a documentary/talk show format. I think I saw it once or twice before it was canceled. It didn’t have the best time slot. If you check YouTube, you can find a number of episodes of Tracey’s show, Starving Secrets, posted there.
One of my favorite movies about eating disorders remains the totally horrifying Karen Carpenter Story. Premiering on CBS on New Year’s Day 1989, this film starred Cynthia Gibb as Karen Carpenter and Mitchell Anderson as Richard Carpenter. Neither actor looked much like the person he or she was portraying, which meant there were really awful wigs used. There was also lip synching aplenty. I read that Cynthia Gibb actually had to wear Karen’s clothes, per Richard Carpenter’s insistence. Later, I read that Richard hated the movie and was sorry he’d had anything to do with making it. It’s a pretty campy movie and I’m not sure it holds up well against the test of time, however I will always love it for the music. I am an unabashed Karen Carpenter fan.
Cynthia Gibb also portrayed an anorexic on the old TV show, Fame. Her character on that show, Holly Laird, becomes anorexic when her parents divorce. Of course, since it was 80s TV, Holly gets sick and is completely recovered by the end of the show, even after a hospital stay. It’s never mentioned again. Naturally, this is a pretty unrealistic characterization of eating disorders. They don’t magically go away.
Below are a few screenshots from the dramatic fainting scene… these are supposed to be high school students!
Perhaps the best portrayal of anorexia nervosa I’ve seen yet– and perhaps as much because of accuracy as sheer entertainment value– was that of Emma Rigby’s portrayal of anorexic teen, Hannah Ashworth on the British soap, Hollyoaks. I enjoy British TV anyway, but these scenes are so over the top compelling. And as an American, I find the concept of “sectioning” someone kind of fascinating. Yes, one can be committed in the United States, but Brits make it sound so much more caring when they do it. That kind of warms the cockles of any drama queen’s heart.
Emma Rigby is also a good actress and the writers seem to have really done their homework about the most dramatic aspects of anorexia nervosa. They even mention the putrid breath one gets when one is in ketoacidosis from eating nothing but protein with no carbs. I was impressed by that. It’s not a very sexy aspect of anorexia and I have never seen it mentioned on any other dramatized program about eating disorders. It looks like Hollyoaks has gone there again more recently with a character named Cleo. I haven’t actually watched Cleo’s story, so I can’t comment too much about it yet…
I could continue writing about this, but it would take all day. I haven’t even scratched the surface. However, just to bring this back to the original topic that caused me to fall down this rabbit hole, I will mention the dreaded Cameron family again. Remember, I got on this subject because of Tracey Gold, who famously starred with Kirk Cameron on Growing Pains? Well, his real life sister, Candace Cameron Bure, is also an actress. And she also portrayed someone with an eating disorder on the family friendly show, Full House. Her character, D.J., diets compulsively for one episode in which she decides to lose weight for a pool party at Kimmy Gibbler’s house.
Anyway… I figure I’ve prattled on long enough about this subject today. Maybe I should write about politics again, but to be honest, I never enjoyed writing about politics that much. I only felt like doing it when Trump was in charge. My original blog was less about politics, anyway, and I’d kind of like to get back to that content… which is less depressing.
Is watching old episodes of Growing Pains better than watching “murder porn” shows like Snapped? Especially when it leads me to looking up movies and TV shows about eating disorders? I don’t know. I used to be pretty obsessive about dieting when I was young, which is why I know about this genre in the first place. I am less obsessive about this subject now, although it’s not something that ever totally goes away. I know I’m not alone, though, which is why I’m writing about this now.
Time to practice guitar before I completely lose my motivation and watch more bad TV from the 80s.
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