Post by Josh Zinn.
Back when I was an unattractive and rotund child, I often used to feign sickness in order to stay home so that I could play Metroid and watch copious amounts of television. Because there are only so many times a boy can defeat Mother Brain and subsequently reveal his bounty hunter’s true femininity (if you never owned a Nintendo this is probably going over your head), the videogames regularly took a back seat to the joys of daytime programming. From the lurid tales of Divorce Court; the demonic possessions that plagued The Days of Our Lives; to the scandalous biopics of Liberace and Susanne Sommers that defined a then-young Lifetime television, my real education came not from the classroom, but from soaking in the televised depravity of the human condition.
Amongst this sea of scintillation, HBO would frequently air a film entitled The Legend of Billie Jean. Now, I’m not sure what it takes to qualify as a legend these days or if a female vigilante fighting for the cash to fix her brother’s scooter truly qualifies as such, but for all intents and purposes Billie Jean was a revelation for me as to what young folks could achieve if they adopted a defiant stance, a Dolph Lundgren circa-Rocky 4 flat-top, and a wardrobe filled with neon-tinted leather. No, this wasn’t some cheap dramatization of Mr. Showmanship’s seedy late-night male deliveries; this was a rallying cry for a life beyond the borders of small-town oppression, where men with bandanas on their brow, beef jerky on their breath, and beer in their bellies ruled the land.
Billie Jean and her ragtag group of freedom fighters (including Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson!) taught me that I didn’t have to listen to naysayers who didn’t believe in the power of youth and the possibility of a life outside of a six-pack of Mt. Dew and a minimum wage job at the dollar store. Furthermore, as she handily evades both the police and the rednecks that have defiled her brother’s possession, she becomes a symbol for women everywhere that they are their own keeper; a veritable Susan Sontag of the trailer park.
Finding myself at my own crossroads as I finally graduate from college this week, it’s easy to get caught up in the memories of experiences that have shaped my life. While I would love to tell you about the amazing learning journey I had way back in junior high school, the truth of the matter is that most of that time was spent at home, “sick,” watching a media-savvy Billie Jean exclaim, “Fair is fair!” to anyone with a camera and credentials. For those words of wisdom alone, I am thankful every day my folks bought my numerous stories about the dog’s puke on the floor being my own.