Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist
Platt Liebau is a senior member of the CaliforniaRepublic.org
editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator
based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel,
Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs
throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University
and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the
first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Different Kind of “Blonde
The Unique Appeal of “Legally Blonde”’s
[Carol Platt Liebau] 6/30/03
more and more, California feels like a state in crisis. It
has a skyrocketing
deficit, an inept governor, and a Democrat-dominated
legislature, which is -- to put it charitably – manifestly
incapable either of understanding or implementing the kind of
policies that keep a state economy strong and vibrant.
all these problems, California remains the cultural crossroads
of the United States (as noted by syndicated
radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt in his book “In,
But Not Of”).
Happily, this preeminence is one thing that even our floundering
state government can’t take away (at least until they
tax the film industry so prohibitively that all production
moves to Canada).
with the premiere of Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde,
Hollywood offers a movie featuring a heroine hailing from
California – Elle
Woods. The film is the sequel to 2001’s Legally
about a Southern California sorority girl who enrolls in
Harvard Law School as a stratagem to win back the college
who has unceremoniously dumped her before graduation – and
her ultimate triumph in unique style over the assorted
personal and professional obstacles strewn in her path.
had the opportunity to serve as a script consultant on the film
has led to something
resembling celebrity (well, maybe “C-list” celebrity)
status among friends’ “tween” daughters. And
even a cursory inspection reveals a host of web sites devoted
to the celebration and discussion of Elle Woods – as distinct
even from the actress who plays her, Reese Witherspoon. These
facts, taken together, raise an interesting question: why the
film’s heroine strikes such a chord with so many girls
and young women.
too facile (and certainly too pretentious) simply to describe Elle
as the “face of modern feminism” – that
is, as a girl who can stride the halls of Harvard Law wearing
Manolo Blahnik stilettos. It would also be untrue. Part of
the delightfully subversive charm of the original film lies
in the reason Elle heads off to Harvard. She’s not
there to fight the “hegemonic, phallocentric, male-dominated
power structure” (as HLS-speak would have it), or to
speak in “a different voice” or to do battle
with the Law School’s trinity of evil: the oft-invoked
specters of racism, sexism and homophobia. No, at least at
just there to try to get an engagement ring from a man.
many ways, Elle does, of course, represent an exercise in
. . . what girl wouldn’t want
to do what she does and look like she looks, all at the same
time? And she manages to be brilliant without being intimidating – a
pretty neat trick. After all, in the original’s last
scene, the audience sees Elle address her law school graduating
class, hears about her job offer from a prestigious Boston
law firm, and learns that her (new and superior) boyfriend
intends to propose that very evening. Perfect.
more to the Elle Woods phenomenon than that. Heroines don’t
grab the popular imagination unless their target audience
can relate to them -- not an easy task when a
movie’s protagonist supposedly possesses a first-rate
legal mind, combined with the ability to sport a skimpy,
Playboy-bunny style costume (as Witherspoon does in one memorable
the original film). Part of the attraction of Legally
Blonde lay in its ability to forge a bond between the
viewer and the heroine through the comic mishaps and embarrassments
plagued her (from the unexpected breakup, to humiliation
school lectures, to even a pass from her law professor).
Young women saw a supposedly “smart” (and certainly
beautiful) heroine enduring life’s slings and arrows.
Apparently, blondes can suffer, too – and must earn
their hard-won confidence, like the rest of us, by achieving
things they never
thought they could.
But the success
of the Legally Blonde series ultimately lies not in its potential
as a feminist
morality play -- where
a woman can have and do it all -- nor in its ability to
engage the interest
and compassion of the viewer, and certainly not in its
power” insistence on “believing in yourself” (which,
these days, appears to replace belief in any other Higher
Power). At its essence, the magic of the films is their promise
someone might be able to do it all and have it all without surrendering her sometimes unfashionable – even ridiculous – uniqueness.
From her law school application (featuring a video with her
floating in a pool, bikini-clad and discussing soap operas)
to the way
she wins her first trial (by noting an inconsistency in a
about her hair), Elle’s appeal stems from the fact
that she achieves and prevails without losing the highly
preferences and idiosyncrasies that others have earlier mocked.
an era when too many young women feel too much pressure
to conform to the “role models” decreed by the
dictates of elite opinion (from the trendy hipness of the
provocative women on Sex and the City, to the calculating
ambition of Hillary Clinton), it is heartening to encounter
who (unlike Hillary) actually succeeds on her own terms,
refusing to remake herself even if it means that she’s
temporarily out-of-step with – and roundly ridiculed
by – the “in-crowd” surrounding
it could even be argued that Elle Woods is something of a symbol
of modern California. As a state,
share her good
intentions, her frequent obliviousness to what others think
of us, and even a portion of her naivete; we likewise often
the indignity of being ridiculed and underestimated by
the rest of the country. We certainly have a unique style and
approach to our problems. So as the lazy summer days pass,
all take a break, kick back, go to the movies and hope that
California meets its own challenges with even half the finesse
of Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods.
CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and
commentator based in San Marino, CA.