The year didn’t snap into focus for me until Jan. 21, when I stuck a notebook, pens and a digital recorder in my pockets and started walking down to the Mall with my husband and my sister-in-law. I’d planned on writing a column about the Women’s March, but I didn’t expect it to start so close to home: As soon as we hit the main artery nearest to our home, I began to see people pouring out of houses and apartment buildings, wearing bright pink hats and carrying signs. It was as if women and girls had taken over the world — funny women; intently focused women; women of all ages, races and physical abilities, and most of all, women who were clear in their determination and anger, and were doing something with those emotions.
And even when I made it home, footsore and a little crumpled, hours later, that feeling of transformation didn’t end. The worst part of 2017 was that there was so much to be enraged about. But the best part of it for me, as a critic, was feeling that in pop culture, at least, the Women’s March never really ended.
When I think back on my year in cultural consumption, what I remember best are women’s faces.
I think about the contemptuous curl of Offred’s (Elisabeth Moss) lips under her bonnet in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the way she took advantage of a garment that was supposed to hide her from the world to seize a little bit of freedom; and Issa’s (Issa Rae) snarl in “Insecure” as she delivers one of her raps into the mirror, venting genuine frustration, but also trying to manufacture a confidence and conviction she doesn’t actually feel.
I remember the flare of super-mom Madeline Martha Mackenzie’s (Resse Witherspoon) nostrils in “Big Little Lies,” her fury about the schoolyard dramas in her wealthy community somehow lending those events the weight of genuine injustice instead of making her seem absurdly overwrought; artist Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise) plastering posters about street harassment all over Brooklyn in “She’s Gotta Have It” as she seeks to exorcise the memory of being grabbed and insulted; and sex worker Ruby (Pernell Walker) insisting on the right to be called by her real name with all the damned dignity of John Proctor in the season finale of “The Deuce.”
It lifts my spirits to think about Carmen Wade (Britney Young), Cherry Bang (Sydelle Noel), Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) and Debbie Egan (Betty Gilpin) slipping into spandex and slapping on warpaint and finding the aggression and bravery that have eluded them in real life in the professional wrestling ring in “GLOW.” And it gives me chills to think about the obscene, poisoned lipstick smeared across Cersei Lannister’s (Lena Headey) mouth in “Game of Thrones,” and Rebecca Bunch’s (Rachel Bloom) descent into vengeance and madness in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
Female anger, a subject that big blockbusters often treat as a sign of hysteria or as laughably ineffective, even played a role in two of the year’s biggest superhero movies. I still feel touched by Nebula’s (Karen Gillan) grief and ire over her father’s abuse in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” and I’m braced by Wonder Woman‘s (Gal Gadot) ferocious response to the human acceptance of war.
The juxtaposition of these depictions with actual events could have been depressing, even crushing. There are so many real reasons to be furious right now. A wave of revelations about sexual harassment has cost a number of famous men their jobs, even as these stories illustrate just how vast the task before us is and how infuriatingly immune the president of the United States remains even in the face of similar allegations. Hatred and brinkmanship feel as if they’re on the rise at home and abroad. And here comes pop culture, riling us up not just about the present but also stoking our emotions about the real inequalities of the past and imagined injustices that extend even to different galaxies.
Instead, it was hugely affirming to see pop culture tell us that we weren’t crazy, that sometimes rage is a natural response, and most of all, that there were plenty of things we could do with that anger. Most of us won’t incinerate our enemies with dragons, like Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), concoct elaborate revenge plots against people who jilted us at the altar a la “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” or use professional wrestling to work out our issues with our best friends. (Of course, most of us don’t live in high-fantasy, musical versions of central California, or the ’80s.) But we can decide whether we’ll be invigorated by our rage or destroyed by it.