Friday, September 22, 2006

Lilith unpins her bun and lets her hair down

Sure, Frasier joked about her. But Lilith was never a castrating shrew battle-ax harridan fishwife.

Not on Cheers, anyway.

When Frasier got his own show, he moved into a parallel universe, one where he had been married to a castrating shrew battle-ax harridan fishwife named Lilith and good riddance to her.

But it was necessary to that show's storyline that the audience didn't keep asking, When are Frasier and Lilith going to get back together?

It was also intrinsic to the show's guiding spirit. Frasier was one of the most strangely gynophobic sitcoms ever. Lots of sitcoms have hated women and treated them as the Other and the Enemy. Frasier's main characters were all terrified of women.

The only good woman was a dead one---literally. Fraiser's mother---or a version of a boy, Roz, or an impossibly virginal overgrown little girl, Daphne.

Whenever Lilith made an appearance, everybody, including Roz and Daphne, quailed before her like the Munchkins whenever the Wicked Witch broomed in.

Meanwhile, back in the Cheers' universe, the other Lilith was a much more sympathetic character.

Sometimes she could be a bit of a scold, and often she seemed to be one of the types of girlfriends that Matt Groenig classified in a list Velvet Goldmine helpfully posted in the comments on my last Cheers post. Huffy.

"I see nothing humorous in those silly cartoons you keep snickering at."

Also known as: No Fun, Humorless Prig, Cold fish, Chilly Proposition, Iceberg, Snarly

Advantages: Your friends will feel sorry for you

Disadvantages: You will have no friends.

This is how Norm, Cliff, Carla, and the regulars would describe Lilith. It's how Frasier sometimes sees her himself. But she's only this way because she can't help disapproving when her smart, decent, reliable, heroic husband acts like a particularly dorky teenage boy, a side of him hanging out with the gang at the bar brings out.

Lilith doesn't like the gang as a gang, but she likes Woody and she likes Norm and trusts his taste as an interior decorator. She makes friends with both Diane and Rebecca. And she loves Sam, thinks of him as one of her best friends---he thinks of her this way too---she has him over to her house a lot, and she trusts him to look after Frederick.

She's not humorless, either, although her sense of humor Zeppo is her favorite Marx Brother.

She is not No Fun. She and Frasier are always doing things together that they both enjoy. In fact, whenever they are in the bar together it's usually because they're either on their way out for an evening on the town or on their way home.

And she is anything but a chilly proposition.

Fraiser jokes that she uses sex as part of a system of punishments and rewards, withholding her favors whenever he misbehaves or is disobedient, which, in his jokes, is synonymous with acting adult, male, and independent. But there's not much in the writing and nothing in Bebe Neuwirth's performance that supports this.

Lilith has a very passionate side---a hot temper and a sex drive always on the boil---and it doesn't take much to bring it to the fore. She and Frasier got together in an explosion of lusty abandon---their foreplay took place on television!

Not only does she delight in her sexuality, she is even a little vain about it. When she asks Henri, the caddish French photographer who has followed Kelley home from Paris, to take her portrait, they agree that the picture must be tasteful, serious, and becoming to a professional woman and a wife and mother. Henri promises those results but:

Henri: With a hint of smouldering sensuality dancing behind ze eyes.

Lilith: That goes without saying.

We don't get to see the final photograph, but we can tell from Frasier's reaction---"OH MOMMA!"---that once she got in front of the camera Lilith shed a few inhibitions and some clothes. They're both driven wild by the sight and Frasier sweeps her up into his arms and carries her out of the bar, heading for home and the bedroom as fast as he can.

Then there's one of my favorite episodes. Lilith goes on a TV talk show to promote her new book, Good Girls, Bad Boys---the title was her editor's idea; she wanted to call it "A Cross-sectional Study of Control Group Females With a Tendency Towards Self-Destruction Vis-a-vis Damaging Relationships With Members of the Opposite Sex."

As Woody says, "Oh brother! Not another one of those."

She brings along Frasier and Sam for moral support and the men wind up on stage with her, called up by the hostess as examples of a good boy and a bad boy.

Sam's bad boyness excites the all-female audience to the point that they start demanding an answer to what they consider the most important question: "What does Sam look like with his shirt off?"

Women in the audience (chanting): Shirt! Shirt! Shirt! Shirt!

Lilith (to hostess): Now this is the perfect example of what a bad boy like Sam can do to a roomful of good girls like these fine women. (Her eyes lock on Sam) One can't help but be attracted to his steely glance and the strength therein, to imagine (her gaze grows more intense, her voice slower and hoarser) the warmth of his skin against ours, his arms pinning us down so we can't move. (She's losing it; Sam sees it and starts looking nervous.) One sees his full lips and imagines what they must feel like (seductive pause) slightly moist, (another pause) tugging at ours, before long one's feeling a little dizzy, and for God's sake, Sam! Let the buttons fly!

(Lilith launches herself at Sam's chest and begins tearing at his shirt.)

Definitely not Groenig's Huffy type.

What Lilith is, is the Schoolmarm.

The Schoolmarm is the one who always has to be the grown-up in the room. She sees herself as setting an example. The Schoolmarm is always on her best behavior in public. She has a habit of treating other people around her, especially when they're fooling around, as if they were children, although she tends not to start scolding, but to wait. She'll wait patiently for everybody to settle down and get back to work. She judges the importance of situations and experiences by how much of a lesson can be learned from them, and she's very good at finding the lesson even when there doesn't seem to be one to be found. She knows the value of fun. She believes in play, but in moderation and only when all your homework is done and the toys and books and crayons are put away.

She seems to prefer to watch others having fun to joining in.

The Schoomarm is one of my gender-specific sounding types that actually is gender specific.

An important quality of the schoolmarm is that she holds herself aloof, her physical self as well as her inner self, but there's a promise implied. The promise is that later, when the time is right, she will unpin her bun and let her hair down. Her aloofness is the result of professional expectations. She has internalized the idea that she must be be a public virgin, an ideal of chastity.

Since that's not expected of men, even men who are actually teachers, men can't be schoolmarms. The closest type for them to this is the Parish Priest.

Other types related to the Schoolmarm but that can be male or female are the Professor, the Den Mother, the Scoutmaster, the Headmistress/Headmaster, the Mother Superior, and the Coach.

On Cheers, Coach was not a Coach type.

An important difference between all of them and the Schoolmarm is sex appeal.

The Schoomarm withholds the possibility of erotic and romantic adventures. She can't withhold possibitlities that are in fact impossibilities, therefore the Schoolmarm is usually relatively young, attractive, marriageable, and sexually desirable. She knows it too, but dresses to downplay or hide the fact.

The Schoolmarm as a type is a subset of the archetype of the Ingenue. Schoolmarms make themselves available as love interests, but their availability is subtly suggested and they must be wooed and won in the proper way.

This is a type that it is possible to age out of. When she grows older, or when she becomes too obviously a wife and a mother, she turns into a less complicated type, the Schoolteacher.

On Cheers, Lilith becomes a wife and a mother, but she doesn't show those aspects of herself around the bar often or show them at all, we can be sure, when she is at work. In fact, habit seems to prevent her from showing those sides of herself to Fraiser often enough that when she unpins the bun and lets her hair down it's always a surprise and delight to him...and to her.

Frankly, I'm personally drawn to Schoolmarm types, but I prefer ones who aren't quite as in control of themselves all the time as Lilith is.

I like the ones who are of the psychological type---as opposed to character type, which is what I've been describing in these posts; I've used personality and temperament to refer to psychological type, but all three terms refer to an individual's inner make-up, while character type describes their outward behavior---the Good Girl With a Naughty Streak.

There are Good Boys With Naughty Streaks.

Frasier wants to be one of these, but he can't manage it.

Frasier (upset that Rebecca has called him a good boy and compared him to a favorite pair of comfortable slippers): You think I can't be dangerous? Is that it? You think I'm just an old slipper? Well? Am I a good boy? Would a good boy do this? (He picks up a pair of scissors and begins running around the bar.) I am running with scissors! (After two laps, he heads to the door and stops.) I'm going swimming right after lunch. I'm leaving now. I'm going outside. I'm going to pet strange dogs no matter where they've been. Look out, World! Fraiser Crane's going to raise some hell...

(He leaves. Cliff comes through the door just after he goes.)

Cliff (calling back up the stairs to Fraiser): Hey, pet him if you want to Fraiser, but you don't know where he's been.

Lilith takes delight in being what she thinks of as wild and impetuous, but she doesn't have enough of a naughty streak to be able to imagine being truly naughty either.

Diane is more of the good girl with a naughty streak. She's also something a schoolmarm type herself, come to think of it. Explains a lot.

A variation of the good girl/good boy with a naughty streak is the good girl/good boy with a rebellious streak.

Again, these are personalities not character types. They are people at odds with themselves. The job they've chosen, the role they play, the responsibilites they've accepted, have required them to repress important parts of themselves or sacrifice a little too much of their own needs and desires.

Often, they've taken on tasks and responsibilities they're not cut out for, consequently they either hate what they're doing or they aren't any good at it or both.

Which brings us to the subject of the next post in this series.


Feel free to keep adding to our ever growing list of types. To get to the comment thread on A typical English professor spouts off click here.


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