Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, Free for CAPC Members
Reinke wants to help readers not be manipulated and enthralled by the spectacles of our media age. Instead, he shows that we see the greatest spectacle of all in the Cross.
It actually does sit on a hellmouth.
That’s what Piz says upon his first visit to Neptune High in Veronica Mars, the Kickstarter-funded film based on the tv show that debuted last weekend. His comment was one of many knowing winks to the fans throughout the film, a nod to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the television character Veronica Mars (Kristin Bell) is most often compared to.
But where Buffy fought demons, Veronica fought a broken justice system. The teen-noir television show (which ran from 2004-2007 on the CW) followed Veronica through highschool and into college in fictional Neptune, California. Once one of the most popular girls in school, Veronica is shut out after her father, town sheriff Keith Mars, investigates the wrong person in a murder case. As an outsider, Veronica begins to understand the power of the “haves” over the “have-nots”. Over three seasons, she joins her father in private investigations, exposing dirty cops, corrupt politicians, a pedophiliac actor, and titans of industry who use their wealth to bend the laws to their own advantage.
The television show was beloved by its small fan-base not only for its clear-eyed treatment of rape, roofies, frat culture, class, and politics, but also for its characters. No teen drama during the same years (and few since) featured a protagonist like Veronica: fierce, prickly, independent, smart, vulnerable, and funny. Rob Thomas, the show’s creator, says the character was born out of his experience observing students as a high school yearbook advisor. He wanted to give adolescent girls a character they could look up to: “Other girls on television, like Buffy or ‘Alias,’ they could literally kick ass,” Thomas said recently. “I felt like Veronica’s superpower could be that she just doesn’t give a sh*t what people think about her.”
The show had other unique strengths, too. Veronica’s relationship with her father (the perfect Enrico Colantoni), always one of the best parts of the show, was sweet and authentic. In her friendship with Wallace (Percy Daggs III), teens saw – perhaps for the first time – a strong, non-romantic male-female friendship.
The movie draws on all these strengths, giving fans who donated 5.7 million to its record-breaking Kickstarter campaign exactly what they hoped for: appearances from all the series’ main characters, noir photography, self-referential jokes, witty banter, and a LoVe (Logan and Veronica) reunion.
Veronica is about to begin her first job in a big Manhattan law firm, and happy in a rekindled romance with college boyfriend Piz (Chris Lowell) when the movie opens. Then, on the weekend of her ten-year high school reunion, she returns to Neptune to help clear the name of swoony ex-flame Logan (Jason Dohring) after he’s suspected of killing his pop star girlfriend.
Like a good film noir, the movie tells a story about a flawed protagonist. At a job interview early in the movie, Veronica explains that the “compulsive, addictive personality” indicated by her teenage obsession with private investigation is not a part of who she is anymore. But in voiceovers throughout the film, we hear Veronica wrestle with what she calls her “addiction” to fighting crime. Her need to expose corruption, to topple flawed structural systems that privilege the wealthy over the poor, and to protect the weak gets her in trouble. She bends the law, lands in jail, disappoints her dad, loses the job that would have enabled her to pay off school loans, and ends a relationship with a pretty perfect boyfriend.
But at the end of the film, Veronica considers her options. She can return to New York, leaving the dirty town of Neptune (“ground zero for class warfare”) behind for good. Or she can stay.
“In what kind of world do you get to leave the ring and declare victory?” Veronica asks.
Walking away from injustice, turning a blind eye to class warfare and sexual abuse, settling into a life of ease far removed from these realities – these are not options for Veronica. And maybe they shouldn’t be for us either.
Veronica Mars reminded me that we can’t pretend we are somehow removed from the brokenness of the world. Growing up doesn’t equal giving up. Success isn’t finding a way to remove yourself from pain and complexity. We can’t just leave the fight and declare victory.
We’re here to work for justice. Let’s hope we can do it as winsomely as Veronica Mars does.
(Seasons 1-3 of Veronica Mars are currently streaming on Amazon Prime. The movie is in theaters and on VOD.)
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