Monday, May 14, 2007
Do we really love Betty because she's ugly?
Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a big fan of the show Ugly Betty. And even though some elements of the plot line strike me at times as perhaps not completely the kind of thing I should allow into my brain ("think on these things. . . ," you know the verse), I still allow myself this guilty pleasure because I believe that in addition to being entertaining, the show has redeeming value.
Recently I was checking out ABC's Ugly Betty fan site Be Ugly 07.com and noticed an interesting trend in the rhetoric they use to promote the show. Be real. Be kind. Be smart. And finally, be true to yourself. Ahh, yes. The old-as-the-hills American ideal of being true to ourselves. It seems in our country and era that authenticity, beyond any other trait, has become our highest virtue.
When I thought a little more about the character of Betty, though, I asked myself, what is so beautiful about Betty? Why is she so darned likeable? She's quirky, yes. She dresses kind of crazy and dosen't care what others think. She stands out from the crowd because she won't bend to peer pressure. And she always seems to do the right thing. Ah! The right thing. . . And suddenly it struck me. We do not like Betty so well because she is merely an individual. For when we are "true to ourselves," often the self we are true to is petty, greedy, selfish, childish and downright mean (like some of the other characters in the show!). So there must be something more to Betty than that. Yes, in fact the reason we like Betty so much is because she's good. She makes mistakes, but she can be counted on to make virtuous, selfless, moral decisions in a morally defunct environment. She cares more about others than she does herself. She submits herself to a moral authority outside of herself. And she does it with a spunk and style all her own.
And yet, the best thing Hollywood can say about her, the best wisdom ABC believes she has to offer us, is to be "true to ourselves." This line of thinking assumes that to be true to self automatically means being a good person by drawing on the innocence within. I think, however, that deep down inside, we all know better. The Christian narrative is the ultimate of beauty-in-ugly stories, for what is more ugly or more beautiful than Christ on the cross, the picture of true sacrifice and love? I think the "ugly" we see in Betty is (on a much smaller scale) the same "ugly" we see in Christ, which is part of the reason the show is so compelling and enjoyable. And when we say we want to "Be Ugly in 07," beyond simply saying we want to be individuals, we are saying we want to emulate that quality of self-sacrificial love.