Thursday, 28 January 2010

Bye bye Betty

The sad news that 'Ugly Betty' is finishing after this season devastated telly fans yesterday and I am still suffering the aftershocks (is it really inappropriate to be using earthquake metaphors after Haiti? I never know if it's bad taste or if it's good to normalise things again and stop them becoming taboo. Anyway.). Much as Betty's endless optimism and incredible work ethic have been known to get me down she is a role model on modern screens that I do not think we are ready to lose. While season four has seen Betty getting sleeker and more successful she certainly did not begin that way and more importantly, viewers have watched her work incredibly hard to get to where she is. Unlike, the girls we see in 'The Hills' or 'Gossip Girl' Betty was not born into a privileged lifestyle nor has her career been her birthright. In fact, the writers were obviously keen to show that this sort of nepotistic, careless handing out of jobs has a negative effect on business. In the Pilot, Daniel Meade is a hedonistic wreck with no idea what he is doing and not even savvy enough to recognise the most obvious plans to sabotage him. Cue Betty, who carries him for the entire season and rarely takes credit for any of it. Apart from hospital dramas, I think Betty is probably one of the most hardworking characters on television. Even when faced with difficult personal circumstances Betty always puts the job first. How many role models do we have doing that?

Which brings me neatly to my second point of praise for the wonderful Betty Suarez: her endless optimism and moral high ground. I won't lie, I'm one of those people who always likes the villains that little bit more. They're far more charismatic, entertaining and hell, they make me feel like a better person because compared to them my indiscretions are minor. 'Ugly Betty' has the Holy Trinity of bitching that is Wilhelmina Slater, Mark St. James and Amanda Tanen and they are fabulous. But they are also underhanded, scheming and mostly end up paying the price for it. Betty has been tempted to stoop to their level several times, but she never does in the end. She continually proves that being a polite, friendly and kind person (who works hard, never forget the work ethic!) can still allow you to achieve everything you want and more. The relationships that Betty has with friends, colleagues, family are genuine and built out of true love for her because she is worthy of that. Again, how many characters on television are really nice? Anyone who knows me will know that 'Gossip Girl' is, and always will be, my first love and I relish in it's vitriolic one-liners and life-destroying schemes but this is not a positive or healthy way to achieve want you want in life and I am not sure it should be so readily shoved down our generations' collective throat. We need Betty as an antidote to the bitching.

Thirdly, and this is my penultimate point so we're nearly done, Betty is a hit with men. As the cast member who weighs the most and is furthest from the American ideal of attractive, Betty has the most successful relationships out of any character on the show. The feelings expressed towards her by the opposite sex are always genuine and she is often in a happy relationship, full of respect. For those of us who are starting to doubt that good men exist and the ones that do are going to end up with the stick thin model-pretty girls anyway so we may as well give up now, Betty could not be more reassuring. Because while men clearly fancy her, she is also admired for that work ethic (yes, it's back) and because she is a GOOD PERSON. In these bleak times it is good to know that being nice is still an admirable trait and not as under appreciated as it seems.

Lastly, (well done for making it this far) Betty is actually believable as a real person. She deals with real problems, real discrimination and real arseholes. Most of what happens to her at work is explicit bullying. She is set up to be a victim but somehow still remains the heroine of the piece. In season one she spends a lot of time trying to get medication for her father when the insurance decides to stop paying for it. Then there's the whole issue of Ignacio's deportation. For a comedy, 'Ugly Betty' tackles darker social issues than many programmes would choose to. All of this brings a realism to Betty's character; she's not necessarily this paragon of virtue and hard work just because she's a good person, but because often she has to be. Her job at Mode is one of the few things keeping her family from poverty. While her goody-two-shoes act is a little nauseating at times, the show is careful to temper it with the deliciously devious acts of other characters, as well as by allowing Betty to slip up sometimes too. The kiss with Henry, witnessed by her boyfriend Matt, took Betty off the pedestal it's easy to put her on, making her more accessible and easier to relate to. No one is perfect and it would be a disaster if the writers tried to create her so.

Betty Suarez is one of the most human and admirable characters on television. Very few fictional characters actually inspire admiration in me but she has achieved it. The lessons she can teach a younger generation are indispensable; here is a woman who makes sacrifices, who often loses, who is a victim of the nastier people in this world but somehow remains positive, successful and most importantly true to herself. Unlike 'The Devil Wears Prada' that showed Anne Hathaway's character consciously choose to change herself to fit in, Betty did it all on her terms, proving to women everywhere that you can achieve your dreams without sacrificing your principles. What a girl. I am genuinely going to miss her.

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