Sunday, June 11, 2006

"Get Smart" was a totally silly, over-the-top half hour sitcom about a spies that had no relationship to any way spies might be in reality.

"Get Smart" was a slightly exaggerated spoof of how many executive offices operated before the women's movement made it possible for women to get jobs with power instead of just being secretaries.

Maxwell Smart, the lead character, was really really stupid. (Note name. This show wasn't given to subtle jokes.)

Agent 99, his assistant, was really really smart, and gorgeous. Smart wasn't particularly good-looking. He had a number too--he was Agent 86, but she only had a number, no name. (Lesbians note her name. At some times and places, lesbians have chosen to be called professionally by names that don't indicate gender, like the name Agent 99 doesn't. What was the first well-known and for decades the only well-known lesbian novel was written by Radclyffe Hall--not only not a woman's name, but a good name for a stately mansion. In private life, she preferred to be called John, as lesbians of her generation and class (upper) tended to want to go by guys names.)

Smart would bumble through most of the half-hour not understanding what was going on or what his orders were because he couldn't understand much of anything.

Toward the end of the show, Agent 99, Barbara Feldon, would get this light mischievious smile and lean in and whisper to him (sexy, and all the sexy energy they had, except for her ever-present looks) a couple of sentences about what to do.

He would do as she suggested, succeed in the mission, and get the credit.

It worked for everyone. It worked for him, because why wouldn't. It worked for her because she was a flat character in a comedy who smiled lightly, often and well.

When women absolutely couldn't be executives, when they had to be secretaries, and when many qualities of white guy could easily be an executive because a lot of the world had be bombed out of having complex industries, and the rest of it hadn't advanced to the point of having complex industries, some executives were really stupid and there secretaries were really smart, and saved them again and again.

"Get Smart" was a thinly disguised fable popular right at the end of when that system seemed to work for everybody. Nobody ever asked where Agent 99 kept her bottle. No credit, stupid boss, slight smile--what was up with that?

"Get Smart" was on from 1965 to 1970, and so stopped right as feminism was starting. Agent 99 maybe wouldn't have to hit the bottle or wonder what was going to happen when she became less gorgeous. She might have gotten together with a group of women talking about the difference between what they could do with their talents and energies and what they were allowed to do and how they felt about that.

Support groups are and political action to improve your situation are a great alternative to treating a broken heart with booze or self-created zombieness.

Do you want to be a mommy or a nurse or a teacher? Do you want to be a mommy or a nurse or a teacher or a secretary? Do you want to be a mommy or a teacher or a secretary or a nurse or a drunk or a depressive?

I talked a woman in Sausalito who had worked at the shipyard that was wildly actively building troopships to take men to the Pacific War in World War II.

She had essentially been an engineer--without the title--figuring how to do things better, how to redesign things so they could put the ships together faster.

She loved it. It fit her mind in a way that made her very happy. She thought that after the war she could get training to be an engineer and do this thing she loved for good money.

No. The training was for guys, the jobs were for guys, no way. It took a whole other way of thinking and lots of angry women and a lot of lawsuits for that to change. The door slammed in her face.

Her face was the face, when I talked to her, of a very serious alcoholic, and maybe, if she'd had the work she was born to do she would have been an alcoholic anyway.

Maybe not.