Tag Archives: Six Feet Under

Death becomes her

“Let’s do some living after we die”

“Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones

Death changes everything. (Yes, thank you Captain Obvious.) But it’s true. When someone close to you disappears, your entire worldview transforms. Ideas that you once took for granted might seem outlandish and ridiculous after a loss. And I speak from personal experience when I say that. In fact, I would argue that there are two versions of us: the people we were pre-bereavement and the people we are now. So what kind of person are you when death is a regular part of your life? Or when death is the way you finance your life? Well, if you are Claire Fisher of Six Feet Under, you accept that darkness without letting it define you. And that’s a difficult look to pull off.

Claire’s father–of the titular Fisher and Sons funeral home–dies in the first fifteen minutes of SFU‘s pilot. Like all people who lose a loved one, this affects Claire. But that is not the catalyst for her Outside Girl status.  As someone who spent her childhood in the vicinity of emotionally-shattered people, Claire attends her own father’s funeral in a state of calm detachment. After all, she sees this stuff every day. Funerals are just another part of Claire’s regular routine, and this prevents her from grieving her father’s death publicly. As this scene would suggest, death itself is the barrier between the youngest Fisher and the rest of the world. Her peers think she is freaky because of her father’s profession and the house she grew up in. Instead of being wounded or feeling excluded, Claire decides to be amused and enjoys being outcast. Why else would she paint her car (a second-hand hearse) lime green?

Avi Shoshana and Elly Teman argue that Claire’s refusal to let constant death ruin her life is proof of the character’s embodiment of the “life-self.” This is a self that “is unchained, liberated, and sexual. It does not conform to societal dictates but follows an original path based on curiosity, adventurousness…and openness.” Claire actively enjoys being shunned by her fellow students, and this independent streak even motivates her to carve out her own identity within the family. In other words, she likes that death keeps her away from other people, but she refuses to let it numb her from happiness or passion. Unlike her mother and brother David, Claire uses the constant death around her as a reminder to live her life by her own rules. She is not bogged down by melancholia, but is itching with the need to experience everything during her short time on earth. This primal drive leads to experimentation with drugs and sex, multiple artistic endeavors, deviation from the expected path, surreal musical performances, and attempts to find connection with other misfits and outcasts.

This isn’t to say that Claire is cold or apathetic towards the loss of her father and, eventually, her elder brother Nate. We do see her mourn in several different instances. But her liveliness, her “life-self” stops her from grieving in the socially predictable way. Instead of crying quietly next to her father’s grave, Claire sobs uncontrollably two years later at her mother’s second wedding. Instead of dressing up nicely to attend her brother’s wake, she shows up late in a T-shirt. Instead of acting like everything is alright after Nate is gone, Claire feels her sadness 100 percent. She shows up to work drunk, she flips her coworkers the bird, and screams at her family and boyfriend. Think of it this way: Claire knows that death is a part of life. But damned if she isn’t going to live her life the way she sees fit before she dies.

And unlike many of her fellow Outside Girls, when Claire breaks away from the crowd, she does not go back. From the first season on, she has a natural suspicion of what other people see as normal and even desirable. When she visits a school counselor, she asks: “Is that the only option? Go to college, get a job so you can be a good consumer until you drop dead of exhaustion? I don’t want that…I just want something to matter.” Claire’s personification of the life-self means that she does not care about conformity and living the life that her parents’ imagined for her. Instead, she cares about making a mark by exploring topics she cares about. Claire flits around from art project to art project; medium to medium; boyfriend to boyfriend; passion to passion; even city to city. In many circumstances, I would categorize someone like her as flaky, immature, and indecisive. But that’s not the whole story. It’s better that Claire tries to conquer as much as she can in her life than being like her father. After all, he only really lives after he is dead.

(Image #1 courtesy of theredlist.com; #2 courtesy of malustudio2.blogspot.com; #3 courtesy of rattytime.wordpress.com; #4 courtesy of hbo.com; #5 courtesy of nevermore1408.blogspot.com)

Maeby? She’s born with it

“Insanity runs in my family…It practically gallops.”

Arsenic and Old Lace

If I was ever to embark on another in-depth research project and blog, it would probably be about dysfunctional families. Any medium that covers the inherent weirdness in a family is fascinating and hilarious to me. The Corrections, The Royal Tenenbaums, This Is Where I Leave You, Six Feet Under Little Miss Sunshine, Maine, the collected works of Nicole Holofcener, The Simpsons, The Snapper and The Upside of Anger are some of my favorite texts.  All of these families have an obvious love for one another, but that love is coated with a bit of hate. The best of this genre would probably have to be Arrested DevelopmentThe Bluth family is a menagerie of sociopaths and is arguably an Outside Family. Ironically, Maeby Funke is the Outside Girl of that family because she is the most normal Bluth. Riddle me that.

The layered aspect to Maeby’s outsider status is yet another facet to Mitchell Hurwitz‘s unparalleled genius. After all, Maeby’s characterization is just one example of the show’s narrative complexity or, as Jason Mittell would say, the “redefinition of episodic forms under the influence of serial narration.”  This style of storytelling is becoming more and more of a pattern in television. I would argue that Maeby’s layered weirdness/normality is a chance for Arrested Development to flaunt its own creative density. At first glance in the pilot, Maeby seems to be one of the freakiest members of family. The whole kissing-her-cousin-in-order-to piss-off-her-mother thing doesn’t really bode well for her maturity. But as the series evolves and grows, the other seemingly-together characters show their true colors and Maeby reveals that she is crazy like a fox.

Of course, like all Bluths, this intelligence manifests itself in cruelty. Maeby hangs out with her grandmother to rebel against Lindsay; she continually lies to her family; she convinces her entire school that she is actually named “Surely,” and is dying of “B.S.,” so they will take pity on her and give her money; in a fit of jealousy, she convinces a boy that her mother is a transvestite; Maeby proposes to everyone around her; she has a weird mutual respect with Michael; she even cons her way into a successful movie-executive career at “Tantamount Studios.” In normal situations, Maeby would be the mayor of Crazy Town. But by Bluth expectations, she is actually an independent self-starter. She has integrity, finds a way to make cash on her own, and holds down a career with the respect of her peers. Even the self-deluding Michael can’t claim that.

What I’m getting at here is that Maeby didn’t really choose to be an Outside Girl. Anyone who spends 5 minutes watching Arrested Development can understand why the Bluth clan does not fit in with regular society. However, Maeby does choose to double down on being an outsider by trying to be successful and normal (again, by Bluth standards). Lesley Hart-Gunn argues that the Bluths are not a family “pulling together, but a family keeping up appearances.” Maeby doesn’t care about appearances and she doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her; she cares about herself. This is undoubtedly selfish, but also is a indicator of her being an Outside Girl in a family that only thinks it is on the inside.

I believe that Maeby leads multiple hidden lives, lies constantly, and keeps countless secrets in order to preserve her sanity. Without this life that is just hers, she would surely devolve to Lucille Bluth status. (Maeby has a tiny bit of confidence about her body and appearance, so let’s hope that that never happens.) Like the upcoming Margot Tenenbaum, Maeby finds a way to separate herself from the Greek-tragedy-with-laughs that is her family. And that separation–that compounded Outside Girl status–is how she maintains her wits and her link with the audience. She recognizes how messed up the Bluths are and she is smart enough to know that the dysfunction is ingrained in her DNA, along with always leaving notes.  But she removes herself from the core crazy and manages to maintain some semblance of of stability by lying like there is no tomorrow.

*Fun Fact: I even wrote my college admissions essay about This Is Where I Leave You. I bet you really wanted to know that.

What are your favorite Maeby moments? Do you think she is actually as messed up as her family? Feel free to vent your dysfunctional family stories and favorite AD jokes in the comments!

(Image #1 courtesy of ifc.com; #2 courtesy of onetinyhand.com; #3 courtesy of verbicidemagazine.com)