30 November 2007

Redhead Roots

I was chatting with Denise the other evening, and lamenting how recent developments in Prison Break have meant that 'My life is deprived of redheads to the extent now that I have to watch repeats of The West Wing and Buffy.'

In consolation, Denise suggested that I track down How I Met Your Mother, Alyson Hannigan's new show, into its third season at this point, about a guy in 2030 talking to to his kids and looking back on how he met their mother twenty-five years earlier. Despite sounding simple, she said, it's both clever and humorous, which was all the excuse I needed to go on the hunt for it online. I've watched the first episode, and while not blown away by it, certainly enjoyed it, not least because of the charming presence of Ms Hannigan.

It must be said that I approve of Alyson Hannigan, who I saw on the stage in London a few years back, treading the boards in Meg Ryan's footsteps as the eponymous heroine of When Harry Met Sally. She did a fine job, unlike her co-star, whose performance had a rather wooden quality. But then Alyson has a gift for comedy, as Joss Whedon observes in -- I think -- more than one of the Buffy commentaries. I remember him saying in his commentary on 'Hush' -- where she's hilarious -- that with her hugely expressive eyes she'd have been a fine actress in the silent era.

Ravishing Reds
I've raved about Willow in the past, back on my old blog (although cunningly reposted in the archives of this one) when I commented on the modern televisual symbolism that uses red hair on girls as an indicator that there are serious brains at play.

While I think I was onto something in that one, I may have been a bit off the mark when I attributed this decidedly positive trend to the influence of one Dana Scully. For starters, friends of mine opined, how about Beverly Crusher, chief medical officer in Star Trek: The Next Generation -- she's highly intelligent and a redhead? I had to concede that she was, and then started to think afresh.

I wondered for a while if Maid Marion may have had something to do with it, at least as played by Judi Trott back in the 1980s Robin of Sherwood? In the end I decided that this didn't really work -- while Trott's auburn Marion was as intelligent as she was beautiful, she was never really cast as the brains of Robin's outfit, and doesn't even seem to have had much impact even on subsequent portrayals of Marion.

I don't want to talk about the BBC's current effort. It's too depressing. Both the show in general and Marian in particular are deeply disappointing.

Well, if not Marion, how about pushing this right back to the titian teen detective Nancy Drew, who's been thwarting evildoers for decades? You could definitely make a case for that, especially in her television incarnation as played -- in the main -- by Pamela Sue Martin, but I think a powerful blow to any notion that Nancy influenced people to think of redheads as clever gets skewered by the next teenager television crimefighter to be blessed with red hair, being the inimitable Daphne Blake. As long-time fans of Scooby Doo will recall, when it came to smarts, Daphne was no match for Velma.

Batgirl was a Librarian!
No, as a few people have pointed out to me since my theory was first outed, the roots of this lie in genre fiction even more outlandish than adolescent crime fiction. Yes, we're talking about superheroes.

Jean Grey stands out, of course. Call her The Phoenix if you like, or else think of her as the rather more placid Marvel Girl, but there's no denying that she's an intellectual powerhouse, and not merely because of her phenomenal telepathic and telekinetic abilities. Granted, she's immeasurably powerful in that regard, but judged purely as a person, rather than the only class five mutant, she's fiercely intelligent and exceptionally strong. And, em, she looks rather good when played by Famke Janssen.

Jean may well be the answer here, making her first appearance as she did back in September 1963, in Kirby and Lee's very first issue of The Uncanny X-Men. That's more than three years before Barbara Gordon made her comics debut - but Babs does have the advantage of being on TV by 1967, played to good effect by Yvonne Craig, that kind of leads me to think that she may have had the greater influence. I guess it's between these two, at any rate.

You don't know Barbara? Well, according to Businessweek, she's one of the ten smartest comicbook superheroes ever - and the only female to make the list.

Barbara Gordon is Batgirl. Or she was, at any rate, back while she was still a librarian and before she was permanently crippled by the Joker in a bid to drive her uncle insane. All it ever takes -- argued the deranged master criminal after showing the captive police commissioner photographs of his niece's agonised, naked, wounded body -- is one bad day to drive the sanest man alive to lunacy.

Since then, however, she's been reinvented as Oracle, as whom she's been played by the rather minxy Dina Meyer in the T.V. version of Birds of Prey.

It seems that Barbara Gordon has a genius-level intellect and a photographic memory, which must be useful, especially when linked with her phenomenal skills with computers and, um, as a librarian. You can kind of understand, then, why as Oracle she's become indispensible to the crimefighters of the D.C. universe, and why she's the person Batman turns to when even his resources fail him. Wheelchair-bound as she is, she's become an avatar of the precept that 'knowledge is power'.

I'm sorry, have I just geeked you out? For the record, nearly all of this I've had to look up. Thanks to Redhead Fangirl and the ever-reliable Wikipedia, though, I haven't had to look very far.

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