Escape from the Planet of the Angels

Even in 1976, at the height of her stardom, it was considered trite and superficial to like Farrah Fawcett. But everyone did, of course. All the guys had that ubiquitous poster, all the girls were blow-drying their hair to Farrahesque perfection. And how cold-hearted would you have to be NOT to like her? She was thin, blond and cute, with an impossibly toothy smile and a twinkling, little girl charm – the perfect blend of innocence and sex appeal that has forged America’s Sweethearts for generations.

The problem was that damn TV show. Years before Baywatch advanced the artform to epic proportions, Charlie’s Angels pioneered Jiggle Television, a celebration of braless females in the era of the ERA. To add insult to sexy injury, the intro to the program suggested that Charlie, in selecting these three graduates of the Police Academy to be his private dick concubine, had saved them from tedious desk jobs with the PD, thus striking a blow for Women’s Lib. The fact that they often got to go “undercover” in revealing bathing suits was just another way to “hear them roar”, right? How could the Steinems complain about that?

But beyond the charges of sexism, the show was just plain crap. Charlie’s Angels was the four trillionth regurgitation of the cop show formula, sexed up for the guys and dumbed down for the kids. But like so many products of the ‘70s, the age of Pet Rocks and Gay Bob dolls, it came with an implied wink, a “we know that you know” nudge that sought to excuse the consumption of garbage by those smart enough to know better. Trouble was the phenomenon of “camp”, the catch-all justification for an ironic appreciation of junk culture, had imploded a decade earlier with the Batman TV show. Irony isn’t seasonal, and it can’t be recycled.

The ‘70s crap factories of Aaron Spelling and his cynical ilk came too late for Farrah’s jiggling to be packaged as camp. But that’s what they wanted us to believe, meaning Charlie’s Angels wasn’t just junk, it was dishonest junk. And its successful selling of faux irony to bored hipsters inspired the television of today, where Judge Judy can gain a following of college graduates without even the aid of the Mystery Science Theater robots.

But far be it for me to put the weight of our cultural failure on Farrah Fawcett’s shoulders. The good news is she survived it. Farrah bailed on Charlie after the first season, eventually shedding herself of the t-shirts and bubble gum cards by taking on decidedly non-glamorous roles in Extremities and The Burning Bed. And in the end, it was Farrah the smiling ‘70s icon that we fondly remembered, not the poor quality TV show that made her a star. In a decade that spewed forth so much bad taste in the popular culture, I can think of worse candidates for ultimate sex symbol.

Even if I never once believed she could solve crimes.

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