by Cathy Schwichtenberg
Cut, no. 24-25, March 1981, pp. 13-16
Television producer Aaron Spelling and ABC live and own the "once upon a time" of CHARLIE'S ANGELS — the fairy tale which is all too real exploitation and recirculation of the female image for further ratings mileage. The Father (whether Charlie, Spelling, the network, or in the broadest sense, patriarchy) will not relinquish possession of his daughters. For instance, when Cheryl Ladd (Kris Munroe, the "littlest" Angel) attempted to venture outside her "Angel" ambience with THE CHERYL LADD SPECIAL, which aired April 9, 1979, her show was used as a "teaser" to entice audiences to stay tuned for the ACADEMY AWARDS. Not only was Cheryl's Special used to capture a large share of the audience for ABC, glow but the show's rags-to riches narrative, which entailed Cheryl's visit home to the "simple life" of North Dakota after her Hollywood success and glamorization as an "Angel," bore a striking resemblance to the Cinderella story of CHARLIE'S ANGELS. (The special's opening sequence depicts the Angels, i.e., Jaclyn Smith as Kelly Garrett, Cheryl Ladd as Kris Munroe, and Kate Jackson as Sabrina Duncan, as unsuited for mundane duties as policewomen. They are subsequently transformed by Charlie, who "took them away from all that" to give them glamour and status as private investigators with fashionable clothes, cars, and money.) Even Farrah Fawcett as Cheryl's mirror-image sister Jill Munroe is unable to escape CHARLIE'S ANGELS, her image-maker. She was given permission to leave the show only after signing an agreement for future guest appearances.
Thus both CHARLIE'S ANGELS and THE CHERYL LADD SPECIAL cut across genre lines as a crime drama show and a variety show to reveal studio construction and manipulation of the female image. I have divided my analysis into three — literal not theoretical — categories of my own devising (THE ACT: the format; THE WORD: the narrative; and THE LOOK: the standard of beauty)(1) to prove that both shows limit the representation of women, moving always back to a pre-packaged ideal, a male fantasy.
CHARLIE'S ANGELS relies on a crime drama format that presents three (and sometimes four when Farrah Fawcett guest stars) beautiful women in action situations. Heroines Kelly Garrett, Kris Munroe, and Sabrina Duncan are sex objects as well as dangerous women. They are cool, capable private detectives who are compelled to triumph against the forces of evil — usually nasty, conceited men. Although female viewers can fantasize about the Angels' beauty and capability to survive in a man's world, the Angels have to use their highly conventional beauty to maximum advantage when infiltrating the world of masculine corruption. Typical of male-oriented crime drama shows, woman becomes "bait," a siren who leads men to a dire fate, a Jungian dark anima figure. Although CHARLIE'S ANGELS is distinctively a female crime drama show, the women (usually Jill, Kris, or Kelly) still function as bait and are often shown in call-girl, disco-queen, and harem-girl impersonations. They can lure a stupid unsuspecting villain into a false security because he has assumed that beauty and sexuality are analogous to stupidity and helplessness.
For instance, in the February 15, 1979, episode Sabrina and Kelly used a stereotypical feminine helplessness, which supposedly accompanies beauty, to feign car trouble. When the unsuspecting villain who'd been trailing them pulls his car over and looks under the hood of their car, Sabrina and Kelly dispose of him with a quick karate chop. Such female dexterity and capability seem progressive, but the Angels' physical action against male aggression is stylized. Whether Farrah jumps a villain from behind or Cheryl slaps a villain with her purse, all the Angels' actions are choreographed and sanitized. The Angels dance their fights and in the process emerge as "tigresses" or "spunky little things." We see minimal struggle (fellow Angels always show up with guns) and the Angels never get dirty or disheveled. Their confrontations with the villains usually appear short, neat, and clean. The "girls" remain statues — unruffled icons.
Representative male shows of this genre — STARSKY & HUTCH, CHIPS, and THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO — present more "realistic" violence with their action sequences. Men fight men vigorously and often draw blood in the process. But this is not the case when women fight men, for the Angels are showcased as objects like aggressive Rockettes in their action sequences. Their physical fitness (note Farrah Fawcett's commercial pitches for Vic Tanny Health Spas) becomes a spectacle of male desire for the child-woman. That figure, with her prepubescent sexuality (seen in her kittenish athleticism), is childishly non-threatening and invites paternal ownership. Indeed, according to New York psychiatrist Alan Rosenberg, the Angels' "innocence and bold abandon" allows them to dance their fights like wholesome, animated cheerleaders.(2) This is illustrated by their athletic ingenuity combined with their innocence — their inability to get dirty and disheveled.
Just as the Angels can be seen as a spectacle in a showcase, so can Cheryl Ladd in her variety show. Since Cheryl Ladd has replaced Farrah Fawcett in CHARLIE'S ANGELS, she has been recording albums, doing commercials, and making guest appearances on variety shows. Cheryl Ladd has been called "the most ambitious of all the Angels."(3) This is because she has been able to capture an audience through her innocent sex appeal and make that audience responsive to her not only as Kris Munroe but as Cheryl Ladd. Yet even when Cheryl is given THE CHERYL LADD SPECIAL, she still projects the sexy, girl-next-door image created for her as Kris Munroe in CHARLIE'S ANGELS. And while the Special attempts to undercut Cheryl's sex appeal with an all-American girl appeal, her role still conforms to her studio manufactured image. The Special does not free Cheryl Ladd from her Angels' mold but rather concretizes her as a marketable commodity — an image of an image.
While THE CHERYL LADD SPECIAL is classified as a variety show, there is very little variety. The main focus of the show is on Cheryl as the little country girl who makes it big as an "Angel" in Hollywood and returns to visit the small town of her humble origins. In contrast, CHARLIE'S ANGELS cleverly tries to disguise the Angels' iconographic function by weaving sanitized violence into the narrative. Here THE CHERYL LADD SPECIAL is divided into six sections: (1) a dream sequence opening, (2) a medley of country songs, (3) a sexual dance fantasy, (4) Waylon Jennings, (5) Cheryl dancing in the country, and (6) Cheryl as glamour girl singing to the audience. For my purposes in this section on spectacle, I will analyze (3) the sexual dance fantasy and (5) Cheryl dancing in the country to point out how these two seemingly incongruous sequences operate as spectacle to create Cheryl as icon.
THE CHERYL LADD SPECIAL fetishizes Cheryl Ladd as sex object as with her bikini-clad exploits in CHARLIE'S ANGELS to gratify audience expectations. Yet to sexualize Cheryl in a visit to her home town presents a narrative problem. Such a display would ring untrue in a country setting. The writers, however, cleverly solve this problem through the use of dream sequence. One of the farm boys is playing pinball. As he stares at a picture of a sarong-clad girl decorating the front of the pinball machine, she turns into a sarong-clad Cheryl who winks at him and beckons to him to follow her. Cheryl becomes an icon come to life. (The female image as "poster-come-to-life" is an old convention often situated in romantic musical comedy.) The home town narrative of THE CHERYL LADD SPECIAL seemingly provides a safe distance between reality and fantasy by including the added dimension of sexual fantasy. In this space, anything is possible — even the actualization of sexual desire and spectacle. Indeed, this new dimension provides an acceptable space for Cheryl the Siren to display and flaunt her sexualized image. Thus the promise of sexual gratification underlying Cheryl's Angels' persona is explicitly realized in the fantasy space of her Special (whereas in CHARLIE'S ANGELS such space is woven into the narrative, i.e., a bikini-clad Cheryl swims to a yacht to detonate a bomb).
The sexual dance sequence becomes a male wish fulfillment fantasy, for it presents Cheryl among an ensemble of male dancers who are the farm boys from her "home town." Cheryl tempts them with "bumps and grinds" to the song "Bali-Hai" (from the musical SOUTH PACIFIC), which personifies her into the hauntingly seductive voice of a tropical island calling to sailors to "come away." Following "Bali Hai" Cheryl sings "Heat Wave," another suggestive tropical song popularized by Marilyn Monroe in the musical THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS.
The theme of the tropics and heat in both "Bali-Hai" and "Heat Wave" effectively present the dancing and singing as suggestive of the "sexual heat" of passion between Cheryl, the object of desire, and her male audience of both dancers and viewers. Here in Cheryl's fantasy space, metaphoric intercourse becomes the spectacle as the dancing builds to a frenetic pitch and Cheryl jumps into a pool to cool off. The dream sequence ends with Cheryl as the sarong-clad beauty on the pinball machine flirtatiously waving goodbye to the incredulous farm boy.
To recuperate Cheryl's country girl image, we are given a seemingly "counter" spectacle of Cheryl's playing and dancing with the farm boys down on the farm. In segment five, the scene opens with Cheryl in her home town diner. She is dressed in a T-shirt, jeans, boots, and a cowboy hat. Although her clothes are suggestive of "one of the boys," they are carefully tailored to show off her curves — casual chic rather than play clothes. She shows that she is a spunky little Cherie Stoppelmoor (Cheryl Ladd's real name) by taking the boy's dare to ride a mock bucking bronco. As with the physical actions performed by the Angels, Cheryl becomes a spectacle through a sanitized, safe form of action.
Action for an Angel away from her ambience becomes primarily dance. The thinly disguised choreographed fights in CHARLIE'S ANGELS have a different "down home" setting in Cheryl's special, but they produce a similar end result: to roughhouse means to dance. Cheryl dances around fences with the farm boys, runs from a bull, and finally ends up participating in a fast motion mud fight with the boys where the pigs wallow. Here Cheryl adopts a tomboy persona and shows her exhilaration in simple "roughhousing" through a freeze-frame close up of her mud-covered, laughing face. Initially, this may seem like a fine tribute to Cheryl as the girl next door, yet it iconizes her moment of pre-pubescent, adolescent sexuality. She is frozen in time, spatially flattened, as a child with mud on her face — not a real woman. Thus the formula of Angel who is icon and Angel whose action is spectacle remains circular and unchanged.
The male voice has long been used to proclaim the law of patriarchy. When we are children, father sets down the house rules, punishes, and rewards. We defer to him. He occupies a phallocentric power position and we associate his voice with male domination and control. Later, this male voice of authority may belong to brothers, lovers, co-workers, or employers. And in the media we hear it in the countless voice-over narratives of commercials, news programs, and documentaries. We can recognize the voice of ownership and control as male. It gives a voice authority and credibility to be male.
A television series such as CHARLIE'S ANGELS easily relegates narrative control and the power of the voice to Boz (David Doyle) and Charlie (John Forsythe's voice). On a superficial narrative level it seems that Boz merely functions as comic relief through his jokes and zany disguises. However, Boz's comic persona is integral to his function as mediator between the Angels and the enigmatic Charlie and between the show and the male viewers. Boz is Charlie's body without Charlie's voice, the surrogate for Charlie's body in the Angels' world who relays messages to Charlie and assists the Angels. Although Boz lacks the voice of authority and becomes the brunt of the Angels' jokes, he functions as an unsexed buddy, an acceptable male presence within the female group. Rendered the position of eunuch through his lack of voice, Boz does not threaten male viewers. Because Boz relinquishes his desire for the Angels, male viewers can recuperate and own this desire. Thus Boz creates the conditions for male entry, with all its sexual connotations, into the Angels' world for ultimate possession of the Angels. He functions as a narrative pimp.
Charlie, on the other hand, lacks the body but possesses the voice. His lack of body, in contrast to Boz's presence, is illustrated through his visual representation. He is never seen full-frame. When we are given glimpses of him, he is shown seated in a chair, back to the camera, or with drink in hand, usually with a young lovely at his feet. Although Charlie's faceless image blocks our look and emphasizes primacy of his voice, his minimal representation serves to ground the voice in a type, i.e., bourgeois Chairman of the Board or Owner. Thus the source of the voice is concretized through the impersonal, static image of patriarchal law.
Charlie's voice informs the narrative on every level. Even during the show's opening credits, his voice constructs and creates the narrative ("once upon a time"). Here he patronizingly informs the audience that he has taken these "three little girls" away from "very hazardous duties" — an obvious irony since we are shown that these police duties amount to nothing more than those of a crossing guard, a ticketer, or a telephone operator. The Cinderella story unfolds as each Angel is shown bungling her respectively mindless "office chore" while clad in the drab asexuality of a police uniform. But like all good Cinderellas, the, Angels are "not suited" to their positions as middle-class workers. The wish for upward mobility is granted by Charlie, the beneficent father who "took them away from all that" to work for him. Thus the Angels discard the "suit," the police uniform, and the mindless office chores in favor of high fashion, money, and cars — and a sexualized image. Charlie has "made" the Angels. He places his final imprint on them with, "My name is Charlie," for they are "girls," Angels — an owned commodity, unnamed, with no voice. Even in the epilogue sequence, Charlie as omnipresent father provides narrative closure when he verbally "pats the Angels on the head" with, "A job well-done, girls," or "I'm very proud of you, Angels." Thus the narrative itself (the "once upon a time") is as circular and interchangeable as is the network's manipulation of the female image for control of the ratings. No matter where we see the "three little girls," they are always Charlie's Angels.)
Significantly, CHARLIE'S ANGELS is predicated upon the notion that women cannot act independently but must defer to males who hold power positions. Like dependent children they rely on Boz and Charlie. Moving this analogy to the social structure, Charlie can be seen as father or bourgeois owner, a position similar to that of producer Aaron Spelling, who describes his shows as his children:
Boz functions as a mother figure, for he is the interpreter of Charlie's law. He is more like a petit-bourgeois intellectual, for he may desire ownership and the power to exploit but is presented as a grotesque "partial male." In fact, this may reflect the self-hatred of the creators of the series. For the creators, petit-bourgeois artists and writers (who work for Spelling, ABC, and sometime co-producer Leonard Goldberg) function socially as interpreters for the viewers, an act which parallels Boz's function within the narrative and is a very unflattering projection.
While THE CHERYL LADD SPECIAL lacks the explicit hierarchy of CHARLIE'S ANGELS, the power of patriarchal law is subtly codified into that narrative, too. The show's homey, country format provides the audience with a recognizable, archetypal narrative that was popularized in such films as MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (1936) and MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939). The Special's plot line would fool us into believing that women are making progress, for we are shown that success hasn't spoiled little Cherie Stoppelmoor from North Dakota. Cheryl succeeds "intact" in the big city. This was not so with Bette Davis (as Rosa Moline) in BEYOND THE FOREST (1949), who dies from a self-induced abortion at the railroad tracks leading into town(5). Nor was it the case with Lana Turner (as Lily James) in A LIFE OF HER OWN (1950), who leaves Kansas to become a top New York model only to abandon love as a career substitute and as a part of her life.(6) Mr. Smith and Mr. Deeds both had succeeded in the city by reforming it — exposing its evil ways without having to return to the country. But Rosa Moline and Lily James could never successfully leave their small towns.
In effect, women must take the country with them and try to integrate the "simple life" (the earthy feminine) into their worldly successes in the big city (the masculine work place). Thus the sharp edges of Cheryl Ladd's "male success" must be softened by narratively re-placing her in natural, homey surroundings — woman's place.
Although Cheryl makes it in the big city where women in films of the past have failed, in her Special she must still return to her place of birth, her origin — the womb. Indeed, as the show opens Cheryl dreams of what it will be like to return home. In her dream she visits a diner in her home town, greets the owner (a simple old woman), her friend Emmie (a young waitress), and the farm boys. As the reverie ends Cheryl walks off suitcases in hand, ready to re-place herself within the simple, domestic life of North Dakota. Cheryl needs to re-identify herself as an earthy adolescent who takes pleasure in communing with nature, i.e., a mud fight with the farm boys and a ride on the "bronco." These familial, childlike associations picked up by her image will accompany her back to Hollywood and to her CHARLIE'S ANGELS series to concretize her as the innocently sexual Kris Munroe.
Cheryl Ladd's rags-to-riches narrative also receives patriarchy's sanction. She is placed within the safe, controllable position of virgin through an identification with nature, the home, and adolescence. Furthermore, success is shown to happen to good girls by their relinquishing male power and assuming instinctual, "feminine" power. If Cheryl can triumph in Hollywood and remain unspoiled, other potential Cheryl Ladds in the audience can identify with her success story and perhaps aspire to similar goals, i.e., Cheryl as role model. This is most clearly illustrated in the final section of the show, which presents Cheryl in a woman-to-woman talk with the young waitress Emmie, who dreams of seeking her fortune in the big city and who becomes the surrogate figure for any young girl in the audience who dreams of fame and fortune.
As Cheryl and Emmie look out of a screened window, i.e., a symbol of confinement that opens up onto the glamorous world of opportunity, Cheryl is suddenly seen on a runway, dressed in a tight, shiny slacks outfit. This carefully executed transition shows the "Emmies" in the audience that success may be rapid when they choose the path that leads to a runway. This "model" path shows young girls the value of Cheryl Ladd, their role model, selling her sexualized image. With microphone in hand and live orchestra and audience respectively behind and in front of her, Cheryl sings a medley of love songs as she moves back and forth on the runway. As unattainable, elevated object of desire, she seduces not only impressionable "Emmies" but male viewers as well. She becomes both virgin (pedestalized) and whore (sexualized, objectified) which echoes her Angels persona.
In CHARLIE'S ANGELS each of the Angels has a specific image combination that seems to parallel her public persona. For instance, Cheryl Ladd as Kris Munroe epitomizes the child-woman. She is small, cute, all-American but sexy. Her sexualization is contained by her being Jill Munroe's (Farrah's) little sister. Who can argue with budding sexuality? And then, Cheryl really is from North Dakota. Farrah Fawcett as Jill Munroe also possesses the all-American look (i.e., Vic Tanny, jogging), for she is athletic, blonde, willowy, and windblown — a good cheerleader. Stereotypically, Jill is not smart, so her body and hair create her character; in essence, she is defined by her hair. Farrah manages a line of hair products for Fabergé and her hair is considered a sexy marketable item,
Jaclyn Smith as Kelly Garrett epitomizes a "kittenish" sexuality that parallels her Southern-Belle upbringing. She too represents all-American sexuality but in a soft, refined way. Costumed as a ballerina in one of the episodes, Kelly seems doll-like, soft, vulnerable — empty.
Of all the Angels, Kate Jackson as Sabrina Duncan perhaps has the most unusual image combination, for her sexuality is second to her intelligence. She is the "smart" one. By opting for brains over body, Kate's Sabrina often works "behind the scenes" gathering data on criminals. Or she provides comic relief through disguises as a dumb maid or gum-chewing moll. Thus, she becomes a kind of female Bosley — an unsexed woman. For to be brainy (i.e., male) and a woman equals nonpresence or comedy. There is no room in CHARLIE'S ANGELS for a humanized, sexual, intelligent woman.
Here it would be too simple to rely on a genre argument, i.e., the crime drama format does not provide for substantial characterizations, for it obscures the crucial issue of what it means to be beautiful. CHARLIE'S ANGELS reinforces an iconographic standard of beauty based on metonymy (eyes, breasts, hair, legs, buttocks — separate parts) and metaphor (eyes as beautiful as) that do not define beauty but defer its meaning to Art.(8)
As Art, beauty becomes a perfect model that defines what is both culturally and economically desirable. Perhaps every culture regards certain metonymic elements (long neck, slim legs) as beautiful. When a woman possesses one or all of these qualities, she is designated as beautiful — thus creating a relative standard of beauty. This standard, while elevating beauty to an artistic domain (i.e., Cheryl Ladd's eyes are "enhanced" by brown eye shadow in the crease of her eyelid) also calls for imitation, thereby creating a norm. For the standard of beauty relies on both elevation ("Jaclyn Smith has a perfectly proportioned body") and replication ("I want a perfectly proportioned body like Jaclyn Smith's") for its designation as a standard.
Once a standard of beauty has been established, as in CHARLIE'S ANGELS with Farrah's abundant hair and the Angels' slim bodies, economic exploitation follows. The actresses who play the Angels are given guest spots on talk shows, they pose for posters, Cheryl gets a Special, Barbie dolls look like Farrah. In a circular way they become models at the same time that the media valorize, control, and create their images.
Although it may appear that the Angels are successful, their success derives from patriarchal sexism and capitalism. Since they are objects of desire calling for emulation, the Angels' market value is increased, which thereby increases the sale of specific items (eye shadow, hair coloring, clothing, wigs, etc.) which supposedly help create the totality and illusion of beauty: The Image. Since beauty has long been male defined and capitalism has long been male controlled, patriarchy cashes in on the Angels as commodities who sell their images vis-a-vis a standard of beauty to which they belong. Further, patriarchy relies on female consumers to buy the item — the image — so that they too can become a part of that standard and thus appear beautiful, desirable, marketable, and in the process gain male approval, i.e., social approval. Women become assimilated into an ideology of beauty that is male defined and circumscribed.
When women exchange their bodies — their attractiveness — for power sanctioned and controlled by patriarchy, this trade leads to a higher level of marketability for women with the choicest goods, which in turn creates envy, competition, and division among women. It's a high price to pay for purchased glamour. According to John Berger in Ways of Seeing:
This barter system elicits competition, anxiety, and discrimination among women. It has long been a ploy used by patriarchy to protect its power and domination, for men can perpetuate male rule and denigrate women's competition as typically feminine or catty. Those women who don't measure up to the standard of beauty, the losers in the competition, have no exchange value. Ugliness is outside the system, a sign of exclusion from the standard of beauty.(10) Ugly has no exchange value, for it does not fit into the male defined system which dictates what beauty is. Thus, CHARLIE'S ANGELS depicts its villainesses as punishing, ugly women who operate outside the system of "good" to which the code of beauty also belongs. The real law and order the Angels fight for is patriarchal law and the order of infinite replication of a standard of beauty.
For instance, in the November 28, 1979, episode about white slavery on a college campus, the villainess is a sorority matron who consorts with the suave, slave-trading professor. His trade entails seducing naive, beautiful young women. Desperate to keep her man, the matron allows herself to be used in trapping Tiffany (Shelley Hack, Kate Jackson's replacement) for prostitution purposes. In yet another episode, the Angels attempt to infiltrate a prostitution ring in a southern women's prison and end up beaten and slapped by a sadistic female warden who is incidentally ugly (her hair is in a bun) and repressed (she wears a starched uniform). Such unattractive representations of the villainess reinforce discrimination against those women not traditionally beautiful, a category now socially shaped by the Angels' own looks. Further, the equations of ugly/bad and beauty/good stereotype women and put them at odds. And these equations create the assumptions that women who are not conventionally beautiful desire this beauty and will punish those who have it.
Such elementary male logic seems operable in CHARLIE'S ANGELS, which seeks to divide women on the basis of looks in the effort to preserve the patriarchal system of exchange of the female image for profit. As Gayle Rubin states in "The Traffic in Women":
Men are linked to men through women and this cycle is perpetuated through the media images of the Angels, which men create and consume, which in turn perpetuates the exchange system in the viewers' own world.
In CHARLIE'S ANGELS the ideology of camaraderie among "beautiful" women is maintained on a superficial, suppressed level to undercut potential lesbian implications. Gayle Rubin speculates on what would happen if women became buddies/lovers:
Unlike the close male bonding depicted in STARSKY & HUTCH, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, and THE STING, the Angels' concern for each other is kept shallow. For instance, in the February 15, 1979 show, Kris's kidnapping by Anton Karazna and his men provides an excuse for Farrah's guest appearance (as Jill Munroe). When Karazna's men, intent on murder, drive off with both Jill and Kris, Sabrina and Kelly (and Boz, who has helped direct them) engage in a daring chase to retrieve their fellow Angels. When Kelly moves to shoot at the Karazna car, Sabrina cautions her that she might accidentally shoot Kris or Jill. In the other car, Jill looks back at her fellow Angels racing to her aid and mundanely states, "It's good to have friends." For Jill/Farrah, the "good friends," those who are in the car following her, are the Angels who don't have the camera eye. Playing to the camera eye, which becomes the eye of the male viewer, provides the conditions for her to expose and sell her image. Under these conditions, the Angels can never be true buddies. Such an act would disrupt their position in the heterosexual system of exchange as objects of male voyeuristic pleasure.
Moreover, since the Angels are replications of the same, they must compete. Each actress must fight to "stand out," and each Angel takes a turn as the central character of an episode. Thus, while the Angels seemingly work together, each one gets "showcased." Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine a lack of competition among the Angels in light of statements like the one by Director of Photography Dick Rawlings in his discussion of camera angles:
Such competition among the Angels not only serves to encourage division among "beautiful" women but also shows the reward of further media exposure such as specials and guest appearances, hence of the recirculation and circumscription of the female image. Indeed, as demonstrated in THE CHERYL LADD SPECIAL, once an Angel, always an Angel. The media image sticks, the look is valorized, and competition continues.
While there is no competition within the Special (Cheryl is star), female viewers can identify with either the elderly woman in the diner or Emmie the waitress. Both characters exist outside the standard of beauty and the system of exchange. The elderly woman seems complacent in her maternal role (the older woman relegated to a domestic position — outside competition). Emmie is a tabula rasa, in search of a sexualized image that promises her success in the big city. Cheryl Ladd is the only female character shown worthy of identification. She has succeeded in competing with the other Angels for a Special and has no one to rival her position. Success for the beautiful woman is shown as ultimate, complete, closed — a romanticization of the one and only.
This, of course, contradicts Cheryl's true position as a replaceable commodity. Through her competition in CHARLIE'S ANGELS she has been called most ambitious. Yet her struggle to momentarily break away from the show (to be the one and only) still re-places her within the same system of media exploitation and exchange. Her exchange value is high. Thus the network eagerly works to concretize her image by making it redundant, so that they can capture ratings and consequently capital. Indeed, Cheryl and the other Angels are not only redundant images of each other as a group. But they are also singularly an image of an image, which heightens their market value as infinitely replaceable and duplicable objects.
Finally, both CHARLIE'S ANGELS and THE CHERYL LADD SPECIAL function as symbiotic examples of commercialization of the female image. While Shelley Hack as Tiffany Smith serves as Kate Jackson's replacement, she has been "Charlie's girl" for a long time. For example, in the November 1979 issue of Vogue, Shelley Hack strikes a seductive dance pose for a Revlon Charlie perfume ad, and in the December 1979 Vogue Shelley walks arm-in-arm with Santa, an ultimate father figure, for Charlie perfume. Thus the exchange and trade of the female image continues to shuttle women from one patriarchal construct to another, in the name of "progress" — from Charlie to Charlie. Until women take up the pen, the camera, and the executive position, such media recirculation will continue as a source of patriarchal profit. Women must demand new definitions of who they are at the very base of image construction and take the subject position (the place of voice) by asking questions related to the economic and ideological mechanisms of patriarchy.
1. I have used these categories as shorthand to show how recirculation of the female image transcends genre. This structure could probably be used successfully by others who wish to study media recirculation, for it separates three crucial elements. I chose THE ACT because it implies performance and spectacle (part of the format of both shows), THE WORD because it implies a patriarchal voice-on-high (typical of both narratives), and THE LOOK, which refers to a manufactured image or appeal (a standard of beauty operative in both shows). I am not indebted to any French theorists for these terms, which have a literal meaning within the context of my paper.
2. Roger Rosenblatt, "Don't Change a Hair for Me," in Celebrity by James Monaco (New York: Delta, 1978), p. 98.
3. Marilyn Beck, "Back to Her Roots: Cheryl Ladd Goes Home on Her TV Special," Milwaukee Journal, April 8, 1979, p. 4.
4. Carolyn See, "This Man Knows What America Wants to Watch," Panorama: Television Today and Tomorrow, June 1980, p. 76.
5. Jeanine Basinger, "Ten That Got Away," in Women and the Cinema, ed. Karyn Kay and Gerald Peary (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977), p. 65.
6. Basinger, p. 67.
7. Associated Press, "Hairdo Like Star's Spurs Attack," in Celebrity by James Monaco (New York: Delta, 1978), p. 101.
8. Roland Barthes, S/Z (New York: Hill & Wang, 1974), p. 33.
9. John Berger, Ways of Seeing (New York: Viking Press, 1973), pp. 131, 134.
10. Barthes, p. 103.
11. Gayle Rubin, "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex," in Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna Reiter (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975), p. 174.
12. Rubin, p. 183.
13. Arnold Hano, "They're Not Always Perfect Angels," TV Guide, December 29 January 4, 1979, p. 20.