Blanche vs. J.Lo: On Memes and Aging

This post is a part of Fashion In the Broad Sense: a new series of posts that explores how The Golden Girls relates to important topics and issues surrounding women and fashion.


Welcome to 2020, everybody! Where even The Golden Girls are no longer safe from memes and bad takes on the Internet. Is nothing sacred anymore? I never thought that I would be writing something that connects The Golden Girls to the Super Bowl but, well, here we are. The meme below started making the rounds on Twitter the day after this year’s Super Bowl, and you know I have some thoughts. Despite its seemingly simple appearance, there’s a lot going on that deserves a closer look.

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Let’s start with the visual references. The photo of Blanche is, of course, from the pilot episode, “The Engagement,” that originally aired in 1985. I’ve written before about how this is one of my favorite outfits of Blanche’s, and that still stands. It’s a beautiful, timeless dress that’s pretty on trend even for today. The sequined shoulders make sense in juxtaposition to the metallic bodysuit that J.Lo wore during her performance at this year’s Super Bowl half time show. Next, the hairstyles are another visual cue in this meme. It appears as though the comparison being made is that Blanche’s hair is a short, outdated style while J.Lo’s is long and a style typically associated with youthfulness. This year’s Super Bowl also took place in Miami, Florida. That fact isn’t necessary for the meme to work on its own, but it adds a layer of reference that contributes to its origin.

From my point of view, I immediately saw this meme as a comment on women and aging. Specifically, that 50 looks better in 2020 than it did in 1985. This is an insult to Blanche, I thought! Moreover, it’s an insult to Rue! After all, she won an Emmy award for her performance in “The End of the Curse” episode from season 2. This episode deals frankly with the topic of aging as Blanche comes to terms with going into menopause. She laments how she used to be Magnolia Queen and that she’s scared of getting old and losing her looks and sex appeal. On the surface these seem like typical vain concerns of Blanche’s, but Rue’s emotional portrayal emphasizes the unfortunate fact that women share these feelings thanks to the media’s focus on youth as the universal standard of beauty. Blanche deals with these issues again later in the season in the “Whose Face Is This, Anyway” episode when she considers getting plastic surgery. Rue herself was also a very active and health conscious woman throughout her life.

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But let’s get back to the pilot episode for a minute since it deals with aging, too. Blanche is about to marry Harry (marry Harry?) because she fears growing old and alone without someone to love her. Meanwhile, Sophia shows up because Shady Pines burned down, and Dorothy and Rose worry about where they’ll live once Blanche is married. Harry turns out to be a bigamist, a marriage crisis is averted, and the central themes of friendship and sticking together no matter what are established.

Twitter fans also noted the reference to dancing in the meme and reminded me of several fantastic moments from the show in episodes like “The Operation,” “Foreign Exchange,” and “One for the Money.” Not to be outdone, there’s also Blanche’s star turn on top of the piano in “Journey to the Center of Attention.” Maybe she’s not the most graceful, but I don’t think I could do what she did and I’m only a year older than her (that’s 36, of course)! The International Pole Sports Federation was also recently awarded “Observer Status” by the Global Association of International Sports Federation which means that pole dancing could one day be a sport at the Olympics. Anybody who’s ever tried a pole dancing class will tell you that it’s definitely not as easy as it looks. J.Lo learned to pole dance for her role in the 2019 film, Hustlers. She admitted in an Instagram video that it “might be one of the hardest” things she’s ever had to learn, which says a lot coming from someone who was already in great physical shape as a performer.

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Especially astute fans will also notice that there are lots of inconsistencies throughout the series about the Girls’ ages, especially Blanche. I’m not one to nitpick about that, and I think it actually helps make the point that age really is just a number. For instance, in “The End of the Curse,” Blanche mentions that she would be 65 when the baby she mistakenly thinks she’s pregnant with would be 18, making her 47 at the time. There are many other instances of Blanche dealing with not liking her age, which was infamously deleted by authority of the governor in the “Mother’s Day” episode. It’s a running joke throughout the series, but it reinforces the point that our culture often places more value on youth than experience or knowledge.

Finally, this meme also puts Blanche and J.Lo in competition with each other. Yes, competition is another theme that’s central to The Golden Girls (like when Sophia hilariously tells Blanche to “beat it, you 50-year-old mattress” in the “Yes, We Have No Havanas” episode of season 4), but it’s always at the service of a more meaningful lesson. The meme suggests that one woman is more beautiful than the other, but there’s more than enough room for both! Whether you like her music and movies or not, there’s no denying that J.Lo is talented. Did you know that she’s the only female entertainer to have a number one album and film simultaneously in the United States? I also happen to think that the lyrics in her song “Waiting For Tonight” (a total a ear worm for me, by the way) are pretty tailor made for Blanche. Pitting Blanche and J.Lo against each other also ignores Shakira’s valuable contribution to the performance that included elements of her Lebanese and Colombian heritage.

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Some of the reactions to this year’s Super Bowl half time show have been entirely predictable. Yes, so many people are still out there spouting problematic views about how women should dress and express themselves. Thankfully, plenty of others also shared their positive thoughts about the performance. I liked this post from What’s Up Mom’s. Gemma Hartley wrote:

As parents, our words and our reactions have far more power than the performance itself. I’m glad my daughter got to see that performance, because I believe that the affirmation she heard in the room will have an impact on her. I want her to know that when women gather together to watch a performance like the one we saw during the Super Bowl, we have an opportunity to raise up those female performers for their strengths, not tear them down from a moral high ground. But when we…use the halftime show as an opportunity to criticize or malign Shakira and J.Lo, that teaches…a lot more than the performance itself ever will. Our kids are entertained by the half-time show. But they’re learning from us.

I think that’s a lesson that we learn many times over on The Golden Girls. The show continues to be as popular as it ever was in the 1980’s because it reminds us that what’s really important is living your best life and doing the things you love the most, no matter your age. Blanche certainly did that in 1985 as well as J.Lo does today. In fact, I think they’d be pretty great friends. Don’t you?

Blanche

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