By David Templeton
Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting films in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This column is not a review; rather, it's a freewheeling, tangential discussion of life, alternative ideas, and popular culture.
Randy Blume, who's seen the effects of sexual harassment plenty of times before--both on the ground and in the air--wasn't planning on discussing that particular subject today.
As a former airline pilot and flight instructor, Blume frequently encountered discrimination at the hands of condescending supervisors, flight trainers, and countless non-female fellow pilots. As revealed in her delightful, semi-autobiographical novel, Crazy in the Cockpit (DK Ink; $21.95), Blume, in her travels from the airports of Boston and San Francisco to the runways of Japan and Guam, has seen women demeaned, stereotyped, put down, objectified, humiliated, and ignored.
The last place she expected to encounter such stuff was in a muppet movie.
"That was awful," Blume gasps, re-entering Earth's orbit after the noisy, G-rated Muppets from Space. With a disbelieving smile and a shake of her head, she adds, "There's a lot to be offended by in that movie."
This longtime Muppet enthusiast--I, not she--is forced to agree that the film, while showing plenty of loopy wit and patches of sweetness and charm, is a veritable parade of gender stereotypes and demeaning portrayals of women--when women are present at all. Here's the story: Gonzo, the weird critter with the beaklike nose and a fondness for chickens, comes to believe he's a space alien, long ago orphaned on Earth; when he is abducted by a crazed government operative, Kermit the frog and friends set out to save their friend.
Aside from the token female, Miss Piggy--who's less interested in helping Gonzo than in using him to get a reporter's job at a UFO-oriented news show--the few non-males that do show up spend their brief time either in engaging in petty one-upmanship and catfights (that's Andie MacDowell trying to tear Piggy's eyes out) or in serving as attractive diversions. Piggy does beat the stuffing out of one cocky FBI goon--"And what kind of message is that?" Blume wonders--but her main response to trouble is to dress up in slinky, cleavage-revealing outfits and seduce people. When Kermit and the boys are given cool crime-fighting gadgets like invisibility juice (sprayed from a rubber ducky) and something called Door-in-a-Jar, it's the magic mind-control perfume--it overpowers all who whiff it--that is issued to Piggy.
Most jarring of all is the sight of Sam the American Eagle shamelessly ogling the bared midriff and bouncing bosom of a buoyant bikinied teenybopper.
"I'm not sure that kind of thing belongs in a Muppet movie," I confess.
"Well," shrugs Blume, "it doesn't belong anywhere. Does it?"
"I remember when Miss Piggy was a big deal," Blume says over lunch, "but I can't say I ever understood it. She certainly wasn't much of a role model in this movie. The Columbia logo, that really pissed me off, too," she adds. "They recently redesigned her. She used to be more 'Rubinesque.' Now she's skinnier, shapelier. I'm really mad about that."
Randy Blume, clearly, cares deeply about these issues.
As the daughter of famed children's author Judy Blume, she was raised with powerful examples of what women could accomplish. When she was hired as a Continental Airlines pilot 10 years ago, she was among the meager 1 percent of airline pilots that were female. That number has grown to 5 percent, in part owing to legal action against airlines, including the successful class-action suit that Blume help fight against United Airlines. She's since retired from flying to write full-time and raise her son.
"I once wrote a research paper on 'tokenism,' " she muses. "I interviewed women airline pilots and air traffic controllers, and they talked about why there aren't more women in non-traditional roles and why they don't make it above the glass ceiling. One of those reasons was that mentoring, among women, doesn't really exist. Since there are so few women in those non-traditional roles, there are almost no role models for the women that do come along," she says.
"On the other hand, at least in America there are female pilots around. There aren't any female pilots on commercial airlines from Japan. When I was flying back and forth from Japan to Guam, all the passengers would come into the cockpit with their cameras, wanting a picture of the woman pilot.
"I was a novelty," she laughs.
And who knows?
"Maybe," I suggest, "unknowingly, you were a role model for some young passenger on one of those planes. Spying you at the controls of the plane, some Japanese girl might have taken inspiration. Even now, she could be gearing up to become her country's first commercial airline pilot."
"I really hope so,' Blume replies, brightly. "I hope I've been a role model to the women I've trained, when I was working as a flight instructor. I hope they see that I did what I wanted to do, without playing games that were beneath me."
Hmmmm. Maybe Miss Piggy should take a few lessons from Randy Blume.
From the date-date, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.