Due to a confluence of events, I found myself with a powerful urge to watch The Facts of Life this weekend. Not just any episode, mind you; I wanted to watch the first season, otherwise known as “The Jo-less Year.”
The first year at Eastland was a whole different animal. Instead of the four girls we know and love, there were seven girls under Mrs. Garrett’s care: Blaire, Natalie, Tootie, Cindy, Sue Ann, Nancy and Molly. I had never seen any of these episodes, and I got it into my head that I had to see them, so I ordered the DVD off of Amazon and sat myself down for a good old marathon of entertainment, circa 1979.
Here are the important lessons I learned about school life in the 70s:
Episode 1: If Blaire Warner calls you a lesbian because you are a tomboy who is affectionate with her friends, the mature thing to do is call her a giant slutty slut so she learns a valuable lesson about not judging books by their covers.
Episode 2: If your mother is a giant slutty slut, telling her as much will get you a slap in the face, and then she will re-learn how to cook from your friends.
Episode 3: It is very easy to win at poker if you make up your own rules.
Episode 4: An impromptu IQ test will turn your overconfident headmaster into a quivering, sweaty mess, forcing him to admit that the scores really aren’t that important.
Episode 5: Twelve-year-old girls don’t really know what they are doing with their lives, so parents shouldn’t be alarmed if they say they want to open a beauty salon instead of becoming the first woman president.
Episode 6: In 1979, no one in the state of New York was terribly familiar with the works of Emily Dickinson.
Episode 7: Starving yourself for a date is a horrible idea, and Mindy Cohn fucking rocks.
Episode 8: Van dates always end with police intervention, and Molly Ringwald as a young feminist fucking rocks.
Episode 9: If you tell a group of young women that they need a man to come and save them, they will dig ditches in a flood to prove you wrong.
Episode 10: Thirteen is too young to find out who gave you up for adoption, and Blaire’s father manufactures electric underwear.
Episode 11: Sometimes adults are assholes who care more about sports trophies than the students who win them.
Episode 12: Schemes based on The Parent Trap are unlikely to work in real life, and middle aged orthodontists do not look sexy in gold chains.
Episode 13: Bongs are not for holding jellybeans and, contrary to popular belief, smoking pot won’t give you a better understanding of Moby Dick.
Now, for what I really learned by watching The Facts of Life:
The first six episodes were, shall we say, problematic. They very much reflected the thin, blonde, heteronormative ideals of the time, but after the dieting episode, things got much better. The show did a fairly good job of showing different viewpoints about things like premarital sex without overtly pushing one over the other. Molly Ringwald saying “I don’t trust any system where a man knows more than I do. I want to teach him a few things [on our wedding night]” is pretty awesome. And, seriously, Mindy Cohn fucking rocks. When all her thin friends were starving themselves to lose a few pounds, her response was to say “Nah, I’m fine the way I am,” and flirt with the hot delivery guy. I’ve loved her for years because she has been the voice of Velma since the late ’80s, but seeing her as a young, fat-positive role model put her into a whole new light. Thinking back on the later episodes I do remember, Blaire spent more time worrying about her hair than Natalie did worrying about her weight. I know there were times that she did, but it was never central to her character. All in all, it was a fun trip down memory lane.