Jessica Fletcher, Badass

I love watching television.  I try not to do too much of it because my taste in TV tends to fall into the lowest common denominator category rather than the subversive, intelligent category (think NCIS and Grey’s Anatomy rather than 30 Rock or anything on HBO and Showtime).  So when I watch television, I can’t make the argument I’m doing anything productive like making myself smarter.

I fell out of the habit of watching TV earlier this year when I had a friend move in for a few months while her house was being renovated.  The only working TV and cable connection is in my bedroom, where there is barely enough room in the mess for me to watch alone.  We did manage, after shifting massive piles of clothing and paper, toward the end of her tenure as my housemate to watch the entire series of Veronica Mars in preparation for the movie we both funded.  It was effort, though, and not comfortable for either of us.  So for the most part, while she lived here, I forwent my mindless habit because I felt guilty that I was the only one who could engage in it.

I started up again

at the beginning of this month when I started up again with swimming.  Swimming takes everything out of me and leaves me with not that much energy.  How little energy?  So little that as I imitate an inanimate lump of flesh in my TV chair, I can’t even be bothered to watch shows that I haven’t seen before.  I have only the capacity to watch reruns, and not even recent reruns.  Y’all.  My “new” favorite show is Murder, She Wrote.

Snicker all you want.  Judging from the things that get advertised during M,SW (various age-related medical supplies and medications, annuities, special life insurance to cover funeral costs, LifeAlert, etc.), I deserve it.  The show, even in its heyday, skewed toward an older crowd, and not the coveted 18-49 demographic the networks covet.  I started watching because it was easy and familiar, but now I’m watching because Jessica Fletcher, product of the 1980s and 1990s, is a 21st century badass.

Don’t believe me?  Consider this.  She is a 50-something widow from a tiny, rural town in New England.  She’s also smarter and more observant and logical than most of the police who investigate the murders that happen around her (yes, yes, more than her share – not the point of this post).  Even though she is an incredibly successful writer of murder mysteries, people who meet her are rude to her.  They patronize her, condescend to her, dismiss the things she says.  She’s an old lady from the sticks – what does she know?

It turns out, she knows a lot, beyond her extreme powers of observation.  You see, when someone is rude to Jessica Fletcher, she corrects them in the moment.  She knows what her boundaries are and who she is, and she doesn’t feel the need to apologize for either.  When someone crosses a line, she tells them that they were wrong to do so, and she does it politely, matter of factly, without anger (I’ve never met an adverb I didn’t like).  If the rudeness continues, she calls the offender on it and removes herself from the situation, making it clear that she’s leaving because of the boorishness and won’t tolerate the condescension.

We’ve all been treated like this, been “dissed” by people we encounter in our lives.  In 2013, it seems like the fashionable way to deal with this is the “you go, girl” response in which we fight fire with fire – we are rude back.  After tolerating insults or rudeness out of misplaced politeness or fear until we can’t take it anymore, we come up with a snappy comment, or we find the most cutting insult we can to shrink the offender down to our size.  Some women take pride in this, bragging how we finally put someone in his place.  I find it troubling because we are not right-sizing when we do this.  What we are doing is two things:  demonstrating that we think of ourselves as small and defenseless, creating the need to cut someone down to size, and sinking to their level, a level that we recognize is base and low.

Watching these episodes of M,SW makes me realize that fighting fire with fire is what impotent children who don’t know any better do.  We are entitled as humans to our boundaries.  If we want to show strength and power as grown-ups, like Jessica Fletcher, the way to do that is to fight fire with fire extinguishers.  This means that we defend our boundaries (get ready for more adverbs) consistently, firmly, politely, immediately, and unapologetically in statements rather than questions.  I’m grateful for the reminder.  (It’s also good to know where to go if I ever need a walk-in tub.)

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