The other day, I found myself watching reruns of Saved by the Bell. This may sound like it’s a one off, kind of rare activity; but in fact, it is a fairly common occurrence at my house. I tend to enjoy Slater’s “chauvinist pig” commentary and Zack’s playful antics while doing mindless tasks like washing the dishes or folding the laundry. I have even found myself grading student papers to the familiar noise of Kelly missing out on prom when her dad loses his job, Lisa spending too much money on her dad’s credit card, or Jessie freaking out at her dad’s wedding to a young(er) bride (not to mention when she’s “so excited” and yet scared, hopped up on caffeine pills).
I consider myself well-versed in SBTB lore, such that I often challenge others to trivia (What is Screech’s robot named? Easy, Kevin. How much is the Elvis statue that Violet and Jessie break and the gang has to replace? $250, Zack’s SAT score? 1502—even though that’s not even possible). I was once personally insulted at a trivia night hosted by the bar closest to campus when they asked their “hardest” SBTB question: “what is the name of the High School in the show?” (I mean, really?! That one still makes me mad…kids these days).
I may sound obsessed, but I have discovered that I’m not alone.* Zack and the gang (including the summer episodes with Stacy, and mid-season add-ons with Tory), represent a cultural movement that gripped a nation. Ok, that was hyperbolic. Rather, a cultural moment that helped shape a generation, namely, my generation. When I challenge my peers (late 20s early 30s) to impromptu SBTB trivia sessions, they are more than happy to compete. Even if you didn’t watch the show, or spend as many hours in front of the TV as I, you recognize this pop cultural powerhouse, and can be “in” on a casual reference to Mr. Belding, or remarks on Kelly and Zack’s everlasting love (post college years and Vegas wedding).
It is all this background and tangential banter that brings me to the point of this post. The other day, as I paired socks and folded tee shirts, I was caught up in the episode where Zack makes a deal with Mr. Belding to get students to join the Cadet Corps program that the school is piloting in order to avoid detention (Season 3, Episode 2, “Zack’s War”). Jessie, who is upset with the “macho-cadet-crock” ideology, engages in an antagonistic relationship with Corps leader. She begins their interaction with her signature up-front to-the-point style, asking: “Why aren’t women allowed on the Front line?”
This line made me pause my sock balling efforts. Coincidentally, I was passively watching this episode on the same day that the Pentagon lifted the ban on women fighting on the front line. I always hate to admit it (because it shows my age) but SBTB is about 24 years old. It ran from 1989-1993 (not including college years). I couldn’t believe that the issue that resident SBTB feminist Jessie had brought up was something that was only just addressed in an official capacity.
If SBTB is the iconic pop cultural television artifact from my generation, what is the equivalent for today’s youth? Moreover, 20 years from now, what issues will we still be facing? The debt ceiling? Immigration? Gay marriage?
In a way, it’s nice to know that SBTB is still relevant in some way. Or rather, that it is, (or was, up until yesterday) asking the questions that still need to be asked. In the show, the Corps leader craftily avoids directly responding to Jessie’s question by saying: “In the United States Army women are second to none as far as intelligence, stamina, and courage.” (this is of course, after Slater’s answer of: “because we need cooks”). It is true, that taking away the ban, in some sense, doesn’t change much. Women have been fighting on the front lines and in combat roles already. Especially in today’s conflict environments where the “front line” is hard to distinguish. Now, however, it is indeed official and I can finally and proudly announce to all the Jessie Spanos of this world that now, we are just a few steps closer to the equality that she and other fictional TV characters reminded us we deserved.
* Remember fairly recently when Jimmy Fallon tried to get all the actors back to do a reunion?