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Friday, February 21, 2014

Episode Spotlight: The Facts of Life - "Who Am I?"

I've decided to do another episode spotlight for this edition of the television themed blog.  And, in this blog entry, we're going to be talking about self-identity, and how sometimes the people we associate with might make us question exactly who we are?

Confused?  It's not really that hard to understand.

I'm sure that most of us have all felt influenced by people at some point in our lives, whether we hang up their posters on our walls, whether we listen to their music or read their words, or simply being around an older family member.  All of the people we encounter in our lives, whether they be family, celebrity, or fictional character shape us into being the people we were meant to be.  And, I know that in my own life, there are a core group of people who I was influenced by.  Mind you, in the recipe of human personality, we are all the main base in which the final product is made.  The people who influence us are just the seasoning and flavouring that make us

And I would hope that in most cases, the flavours and spices that we add to our personalities blend well together and create something that is delectable, palatable, and enjoyable.

But what happens when you add an ingredient into the mix that completely spoils the taste of the personality that you wish to display to the world?  What happens when you let someone into your life that completely tries to improve an already decent recipe and ends up making it incredibly hard to stomach?

I mean, just think about it for a second.  Suppose you let someone into your life who is nothing but a toxic influence on you.  Suppose that person talks you into doing things that you don't feel comfortable doing and you do them anyway because he/she won't like you unless you do.  It's almost akin to being in a sort of abusive relationship - only in this relationship physical violence need not be present.

And, sometimes a person might come into your life who may appear to have the best intentions when it comes to friendship, but ends up being a wolf in sheep's clothing.

And, sometimes you might not even be aware that the person might be a negative influence on you until they change you so much that you alienate people who used to be your friends.  I know that when I was young and impressionable, I probably ended up losing a couple of really good friends because I found myself charmed by people who were nothing but bad news, and ultimately I ended up paying the price for it.

Well, in today's episode spotlight, we're going to be taking a look at a classic episode from the NBC television sitcom "The Facts of Life".  I've done a couple of blog entries on this show in the past, and it's probably one of the shows from the 1980s that I enjoyed watching because it dealt with real issues and focused on realistic problems.  It also happens to be the longest running sitcom of the 1980s, airing for nine seasons between 1979-1988.

Well, for this entry, we'll be taking a look at a season two episode.  As you well know, the second season was the one that introduced us to Jo Polniaczek, and it was the season that really began to see a surge in ratings.

In this episode, the star of the show this time around is the character of Dorothy "Tootie" Ramsey, played by Kim Fields.   And, in this episode, Tootie ends up asking herself the question "Who Am I?"

Okay, so I have to say that before we begin discussing this episode which originally aired on December 17, 1980, I have a bit of a disclaimer here.  Of the core four girls of the Facts of Life (Blair, Tootie, Natalie, and Jo), Tootie was my least favourite.  It had nothing to do with Kim Fields' acting ability.  I thought that she did a wonderful job with the role.  I just found that the Tootie character was written to be a little bit whiny and somewhat on the self-centered side.  In some cases, she could even be worse than Blair!  But, I keep telling myself that Tootie was the youngest of the girls, and then it all makes sense.

(And, besides...I liked Tootie better than some of the Season 1 girls that were dropped.  Molly was one-note and I couldn't stand Sue Ann.  But again, nothing to do with the actors themselves.)

That said, I will say that Tootie ended up getting some storylines that were quite serious in nature.  She had a meltdown over not being able to go and see Jermaine Jackson in concert, she feared that she was losing her hearing, she ended up befriending a child prostitute, she was involved in a car accident which had her intoxicated brother behind the wheel, and she almost became a child model who was almost coerced into posing nude at the tender age of eleven!

Wow, for a woman who had a wacky nickname, she sure had some serious storylines.

And in the episode "Who Am I?", I would say that Tootie had to face the exact situation that many others have faced.  Imagine having an identity crisis over the colour of your skin, and wondering who your real friends are because you're so confused over who you are because of people who consistently tell you that you should act a certain way or else you can't consider yourself truly proud of your heritage.

So, before I continue with the discussion, have a look at the episode HERE.  All twenty-two and a half minutes of it.  I'll take a break while you watch.  We'll talk about it later.  And, try not to make too much fun of the music at the end of the episode.  1980 was a transitional year in which disco didn't know whether it was still in or fading out.

All right.  So it comes as no secret that Tootie is black.  And, it also comes as no secret that Tootie's three best friends are white.  Heck, you could really consider Eastland to be a place in which there aren't a whole lot of visible minorities.  The only other non-white student that I can recall appearing in the series on a semi-regular basis was the character of Miko, played by Lauren Tom.

But prior to this episode airing, Tootie didn't see that as a problem.  She considered Natalie, Jo, and Blair to be like sisters to her.  And, since they were all forced to share a bedroom together at the beginning of season two, Tootie felt closer to them than ever before.  Tootie also shared a really close bond with her former house mother and then dietician of Eastland, Edna Garrett, who as it turns out is also white.

And, again, this is fine for Tootie, and when the episode began, she saw nothing wrong with making a dress for Blair, and helping Natalie find a partner for an upcoming dance contest that was being held at Eastland that weekend.

But then Tootie crosses paths with a boy named Fred, and all heck breaks loose.

Now, one thing right off the bat that Tootie and Fred seem to have in common is skin colour.  Both of them happen to be black.  But whereas Tootie didn't see it as being an issue, Fred seems to feel differently.  For some reason that was never really explained in the episode, Fred seems to have some sort of prejudice against Caucasian people.  And, when he discovers that Tootie happens to be friends and is living with three of them, he is completely shocked at what he perceives to be Tootie's white friends using her, and he claims that Tootie is completely ignoring her black heritage by continuing her friendship with them.  In fact, he is so touchy over the situation that he completely shows his racist side by remarking that mixing colours together is absolutely the worst thing that Tootie can do.

Now, initially, Tootie is completely believing that Fred is a jerk (and rightfully so, might I add).  Unfortunately, when Tootie is left alone to think about Fred's words, she starts to wonder if maybe Fred was right about everything.  And, with Tootie facing an identity crisis over the colour of her skin, she begins to make choices that leave her friends puzzled.

She makes Blair a dress with obvious African inspiration, and while Blair admits that she likes it, she does have reservations over wearing it, which makes Tootie very defensive.  Tootie decides that she can't be the dance partner of a Caucasian boy named Carl because of her feeling weird about being paired up with a boy of a different background, so she decides to let Carl down so that she can take Fred to the dance.  And, Tootie is so worried about who she is that she decides to hang out with other girls at Eastland who are black while shunning Natalie, Jo, and Blair.  It all becomes a big mess, and by the end of it all Tootie is left feeling even more confused than ever before. 

It really boils down to Mrs. Garrett taking action and trying to convince Tootie that she should not have to change herself in order to get someone to like her because she already had three very good friends who did like her regardless of what colour skin she had.

And when the scenes at the dance contest began, Tootie was already beginning to have second thoughts about who she picked as her date for the dance contest.  She was beginning to get bored and annoyed at Fred's constant complaining about the white people at the dance, and when she realized that her dance partner was a complete dud (Fred can't dance to save his life), Tootie decided to ditch him and go back to dancing with Carl, which transformed Fred back into his racist, less than charming self.

But I think that if you watch the end of the show, the situation resolved itself...and Tootie finally came to terms with who she really was.

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