Class, catalysts, and California

“We used to be friends a long time ago.”

The Dandy Warhols

These lyrics are straight from the Veronica Mars theme song, but they could also be considered the official Outside Girls’ anthem. When these women choose to leave their social situation, they often make a break with their close friends. While the song’s melancholy tone strikes the perfect chord (as breaking up with your friends is harder than breaking up with your lover), it also highlights the divide between past and present. While some Outside Girls leave their role for a change of pace, others leave after a trauma. Which brings me to this posts’s not-so-golden girl: Veronica Mars of her eponymous series:

Before discussing the nature of Veronica’s decision to walk away, I have to mention one of the underlying themes of the series: class.  This outside girl’s hometown is Neptune, Calif., where “your parents are either millionaires, or your parents work for the millionaires.” Veronica is part of the latter group; her father is the town’s sheriff.  Since her best friend and first boyfriend are children of the one percent, Veronica initially feels as though she fits in with the rich side of Neptune. However, when Sheriff Keith Mars goes after a well-liked millionaire for murdering his daughter (Veronica’s best friend, Lilly Kane), Veronica’s class divide is the least of her problems.

Suddenly she is shunned by her old friends, her father is fired, her mother walks out on the family, and Veronica is raped at a party.  As creator Rob Thomas aptly describes, “I thought, well wouldn’t it be interesting if somebody had gotten so far down that she just didn’t give a fuck anymore, that [high school] pressure didn’t mean much to her?”

Veronica’s decision to simply not care about what her peers, community and old friends think of her anymore is actually what sets her free. Yes, her downfall from rich-and-powerful-adjacent to cynic who no longer trusts anyone is the catalyst for her outside status. But her own agency and strength is what allows her to embrace her new found knowledge and skills in order to become Neptune’s newest pint-sized P.I. In fact, Judy Fitzwater argues that Veronica is “reborn” after her personal tragedies and characterizes Veronica as “fearless, both book and street smart, and incredibly savvy, strong enough to stand on her own.” Veronica has changed and her old friends  have not. She is jaded and sad, but her outside status allows her to see (and to punish) the immorality and casual cruelty that plagues those with trust funds.

Veronica Mars is famous for a lot: the critical acclaim/low ratings combo, the Logan vs. every other guy debate, Veronica’s quick wit, the Buffy comparisons, and the upcoming movie. But I think it lives as an Outside Girl text because it depicts how a girl who was kicked when she was down got back up again. Veronica did not choose for Lilly to die, for her mom to abandon her, for her father to be fired, to be raped or to be shunned by her former social circle. But she did choose to not be defeated by any of that. Veronica learns that “sooner or later, the people you love let you down.” Cynical? Yes. But it’s honest, real and is proof that Veronica embraces her isolation and turns it into her most valued trait: her sleuthing smarts. I’m sure the March 14 movie release will be further proof of that.

(Image #1 courtesy of badassdigest.com; #2 courtesy of money.cnn.com) 

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6 thoughts on “Class, catalysts, and California

  1. Great stuff, Rachel–really enjoyed all the entries and looking forward to more. As someone who’s spent some time thinking about gender and the bildungsroman genre, I’ll be interested to see how the girlhood of the Outside Girl is categorically significant. The mostly male “novel of development” tradition has been full of outsiders, from Dickens’ Pip and David on through Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield to Harry Potter. (In fact one argument goes that “bildung”…development…selfhood-achieving only becomes possible, or visible, as a result of outsiderness–one reason so many of these boys are orphans.) Beyond the specific issues of sexual initiation/predation in VM and An Education that you address really insightfully, I mean. No need to reply now unless you want to, BTW–I’ll happily learn about what is a new critical category for me by reading the blog as the project develops.

    Oh, and I wish I shared your optimism about the VM movie. I guess (sniff) I’ve been burned too many times before… And now I’m going to have the Dandy Warhols song in my head all evening.

  2. Thanks for your feedback!

    I guess I am cautiously optimistic about Veronica on the big screen. If Rob Thomas has total creative control, there has to be something good there.

    It’s very interesting that some scholars believe that characters can only come of age because of their outsider status. I have never considered that before. Most of the coming of age stories I’ve encountered had to do with misfits and outsiders, but I thought that said more about me than them.

    There really aren’t too many bildungsroman (hey, I learned a new word!) tales about well-adjusted adolescents. As a rule, the Outside Girls rarely experience true connection. And it is usually with one or two best friends who are also on the periphery of the social scene. And like you pointed out, family is an issue. Some Outside Girls grow tired of their nuclear family and its ideology (i.e. Daria and the upcoming Lindsay Weir). Others grow up in single parent homes and form a strong bond with the supportive parent, while their worldview shattered by the parent that left (Veronica, Rory,Enid).

  3. Though I have not watched Veronica Mars, your comments this week not only raise my interest in the show, they also bring me back to the very term “outside girls” that undergirds your entire project. I wonder if this character’s inside/outside status actually complicates the term a little. It sounds like Veronica exists in multiple social and socioeconomic groups, right down to the complication that her father’s job as sheriff doesn’t easily lend itself to the simple dichotomy of rich people vs. “those who work for the millionaires.” I don’t really see the role of a sheriff as “working for the millionaires,” particularly if, as you mention, Keith Mars risks job and reputation to pursue justice despite the wealth and power of the accused. If you haven’t already read Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (a hybrid autobiography/critical essay), you might find it obliquely relevant to your project. Anzaldua argues, among other things, that the very act of speaking and thinking “from the borderlands” (the margins, inside/outside, mixed, mestiza, etc.) is a particularly powerful position from which to survey both the inner circle (of which one is both a part and not), and the outside realm (from which, if one stood too far from the center–imagine a circle with an inside and outside–the workings of the inner domain just wouldn’t be visible/available). Anzaldua speaks initially about the surprisingly panoramic (she doesn’t use that word, but she does talk about how the person standing on the borderland can look around freely from his/her position) viewpoint of the mixed “race” person, but her notion of the “borderlands” has been taken up broadly in the field of cultural criticism, and I think Veronica Mars could potentially be seen as occupying this rather interesting position. Another compelling post, Rachel!

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