Hey, all you crafty, capable women wearing chunky, horn-rimmed glasses (this year) and doing your brainy chick thing with the vinyl purses and the Prada A-lines! You, with a smidge of that post-punk precociousness and Janeane Garofalo jadedness! Let's give some overdue credit where it's due: Let's talk about Velma. Yes, in fact, let us examine the Velmas all around us, starting with Numera Una, Velma herself:
Velma Dinkley has been on television for 32 years, an integral part of the cartoon show "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!" and its many spinoffs. She has been almost completely uncelebrated for her hard work -- until now, in these, the whip-smart, sardonic days of the early 21st century.
Here's what we know: Velma is a high-IQ, freckle-faced teenager, though her age is unclear; she might be 16 or 19 or 23. She is about 15 pounds overweight, but if a pirate ghost jumps out of a closet, she can scoot pretty quick. She has exactly one outfit -- a pleated, burgundy miniskirt and a roomy, orange turtleneck sweater with matching knee-high socks. (Actually, she also has a snow-skiing outfit, in the same shade of orange.)
Velma works for Mysteries Inc., alongside an all-American guy who wears an ascot; his shapely homecoming queen girlfriend; a freaked-out stoner with a perpetual case of the munchies; and a rudimentarily conversant Great Dane named Scooby-Doo. The five of them ride around in a lime green Econoline van and usually drum up work in haunted houses, castles, abandoned amusement parks and other spooky what-have-yous, as they've done since 1969.
But more about Velma: She wears heavy jam-jar glasses with thick black rims. (The glasses, as we shall soon elaborate upon, are crucial.) She keeps her brunet hair in a neat bob.
When she deciphers a clue -- for example, when a ghost leaves a note that says "Feed the organ" and Velma, and only Velma, realizes that this means the notes F-E-E-D on the organ, and plays them herself, thereby opening the secret door to the secret tunnel under the mansion, all this deeply erotic metaphor of feeding organs and opening tunnels, etc. -- she usually exclaims, "Jinkies!"
We know she is not afraid of ghosts. Evidence suggests she doesn't have a boyfriend.
There you have it. In Velma Dinkley, the modern sex symbol.
Or a variation on it. Velmas are everywhere you look now: Janeane Garofalo, who has built her comedy career on a wry, vaguely Velma-esque shtick, now appears in the movie "Wet Hot American Summer," sans her usual Velma eyewear. Linda Cardellini, the high school heroine of the dear, departed NBC drama "Freaks and Geeks," will play a live-action Velma Dinkley in Warner Bros.' "Scooby-Doo" feature film next year. In a current Dove soap commercial, a Velma-like artbabe lolls about her New York loft and talks about how Dove is gentle to her spunky, post-boomer skin.
Thora Birch plays Enid -- a marginalized, cynical Velma-derivative with the classic horn-rims -- in "Ghost World," a film based on an underground comic book, now playing at an art-house cinema near you, attended by flocks of Velmas with their slacker friends.
Pages and pages of fashion ads seem littered with Velmas of the moment, and the message is clear: Men definitely make passes at girls who wear glasses, but -- and this is so key -- the girls seem not to care anymore. It's like the revenge of all those mousy secretaries of "Laugh-In" skits and bad Playboy cartoons of three decades ago.
Half of any LensCrafters store display in a shopping mall now seems to deal exclusively in heavy, librarian-Velma specs -- for her and for him. Librarians happen to drive men wild; bookish and naughty, let's just set these glasses right over here, Miss Dinkley, that's the fantasy. Velma redefines that: Jinkies, she's got the whole thing figured out. She has unmasked the ghoulie -- it was Deputy Johnson all along! -- and moved on.
If you were looking, in the early 1990s, you first started seeing Velmas at rock shows -- small rock shows in grody clubs where the bands weren't famous. Velmas popped up in the audience with cute haircuts and lunch-pail purses and patent-leather Doc Martens. Velmas love thrift stores, where they buy sleeveless housewife shifts with big, shower-curtain flowers on them. Velmas, fed up with patri-rockal oppression, tended to start their own pop punk bands in the '90s -- Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinney, Dressy Bessy, Stereolab, Le Tigre, Veruca Salt. Early alterna-rock Velmas often joined guy bands -- three guys and a Velma. (Invariably the Velma played bass.)
Around the same time, let's say 1993, you started to see more Velmas on campus. They stopped eating meat and signed up for bus trips to protest marches. They took women's studies classes. In their flowering adulthood, they brought a certain playfulness to the office, with Hello Kitty T-shirts, emphasizing the ironic parts of their conversations with air quotes.
Then the Velma look caught on. Pop singer Lisa Loeb -- a brief, mid-'90s sensation and Ethan Hawke's one-time girlfriend -- became a saccharine Velma Lite. She seemed nice, although something was a bit off. In any case, it worked. Velmas were everywhere. You distinctly remember going to a Pavement show and a drunk acquaintance turned around, scanned the room, and said: "[Expletive], it's like a roomful of Velma from 'Scooby-Doo'!" And he didn't mean it as a bad thing.
By the turn of the century, the best place to see good Velma action was the office, preferably at a dot-com start-up. There, the Velma look thrived -- intelligent, problem-solving, sexy if you bothered to notice. Velmas riding scooters to work; Velmas taking their lunch hours on the benches of suburban corporate parks, reading Wired, drinking Diet Mountain Dew from a can, with a straw.
A huge part of the Velma-ization of the American woman has to do with the glasses. Now the world looks like a page out of a 1962 yearbook. With them, all women suddenly looked a little more Velma: Alanis Morissette, Demi Moore, Madonna, Courtney Love, Jodie Foster. Velmas would waltz onto the set of talk shows; Conan O'Brien would stammer. (But when Velma loses her glasses, as those of us with late-night Cartoon Network addictions well know, all jinky breaks loose. Velma comes apart, pawing helplessly around the floor, the way people used to do at parties back in the days of hard contact lenses and shag carpets.)
About five years ago the Cartoon Network -- which traffics in the notion that all of today's useful archetypes come only from cheap Saturday-morning animation of the 1960s -- finally gave Velma some props: Is Velma the center of the universe?, a campy commercial spot asked, and then set about in an effort to prove that yes, she is -- everything else is epistemologically, cartoonly, scientifically centrifugal.
On the Web (you kids and that darn Web), Velma has achieved Gen-X and -Y cult status. People debate: hot Daphne or Velma? (Only sexist pigs vote Daphne!) There was even a petition drive aimed at the makers of Scooby-Doo chewable vitamins, which for years included a vitamin likeness of every character but Velma. ("No Velma, no peace," was that effort's motto, which fizzled.)
By now you're saying: You fool. Everyone knows Velma is a lesbian.
Well, yes, there is that. But is she? Is every woman who's too savvy for the Shaggys and too invisible to the Freds simply a lesbian by default? Is the world really like that to its wallflower, crime-busting, meddling teens in unfortunate turtlenecks? Certainly the lesbians of the world welcome Velma into their fold -- there is actual lesbian love poetry already written to her, written by womyn who, as little girls, must have looked through a Count Chocula sugar haze and found solace in her unwavering, resourceful moxie. They would swathe her in flannel and offer her a motorcycle ride to paradise, but is that what Velma really wants?
Nah. This is the year that Velmas are marginal no more. The smart chick is behind the wheel of the Mystery Machine this time, and all the ghoulish men want a ride. The problem is she long ago figured us out: She knows that underneath all that monster rubber and prosthetic goop, we're just Deputy Johnson, and so she zooms on by. That doesn't make her a lesbian. That makes her a Velma.