Three Things The Mindy Project Taught Me

By now we've all been accosted by the news that Fox - the brilliant organization behind such gems as Bones! and The Swan! (note my sarcasm) - has canceled The Mindy Project. 

Let's all take a moment to sob. And sob some more. Now hiccup cry. Now breathe deeply. One more sob. 


I guess in some ways the cancellation makes sense. I mean, it was a witty, well-written, often insightful look into the lives of women. There were episodes that made me fist pump alone in my living room. Scenes that made me cry. And moments that made me feel less alone. It was groundbreaking in a way I've been begging female-driven vehicles to be for years. Rather than securing show's future, all these things made the too-soon cancellation of the series practically certain from the first episode. Network TV is an aging behemoth that is sustained by soap operas and reality TV. Are there exceptions to this rule? A few. But they fill an ever-diminishing need. For the most part, anything that challenges or engages or lifts has no place on network tv. Because, like, that's not the point. 

Am I pretty fried that I no longer have a fall date with Mindy's parents and Danny? Yeah, pretty much. Pretty fried. But I am also a little relieved on the behalf of the best show I've seen in the past ten years. Mindy deserves to hang her Wreath Witherspoon in a home that feels lucky to have her. 

I've got good hope that if a situation that is good for cast and crew presents itself, they'll take it. Maybe Hulu, where the show already has a fierce viewership. Or Netflix, the home of #femalesarestrongashell. Or maybe we can all just kickstart and get Mindy Kaling her own damn network already. 

In the meantime, as a way to distract myself from the grief cloud hovering over this house (MORGAN!!!! MORRRRRGANNNNNNNNN!!!!), here are three things I learned from The Mindy Project. 

God rest her soul till we meet again.

1.    I don't have to wear sleeves. This one may not seem like much. Really, Meg? Sleeves? This is worth noting? Hell yes, it is. When I was fifteen, someone told me to avoid sleeveless clothes because, "although you look great, your arms are a bit heavy." I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. I mean, I knew I wasn't waving around Madonna stick pins. But the wording really worked me over. 

My arms were heavy? That description took my upper limbs a step beyond chubby and into the world of practically deformed. My heavy arms that hung heavily by my side while trying to lift light things that were too much weight to add to the heaviness of my already heavy arms. Holy hell, forget sleeveless. It was obvious to me that the best thing I could do for myself, and the pitiable people who had to look upon me, was to cover those weighted monstrosities the hell up. So I did. With ¾ length sleeves on hot days and thin sweaters on cold days. (Cable knit would have amplified the heaviness.) When I did venture out in anything less than full arm coverage, I did so as an act of defiance, "I know I don't deserve to have the sun hit the skin above my elbow, but look me in the eyes and see if I give a damn." 

I was nearly thirty years old before Madcap Mindy showed me how ridiculous I'd been. Mindy isn't my sister in "heavy" arms. I didn't find solidarity in her lack of pin thin appendages. Rather I found inspiration in the easy grace with which she handled her body - arms, legs and all. There was no point being made by her choice of sleeveless blouses or short skirts or va-va-voom dresses. Her clothes were not an act of defiance. (Which was revolutionary in itself.) She wore what the hell she wanted because she was being who the hell she wanted. 

In Mindy's world, a woman who weighs more than a package of stevia could wear something something more fashionable than a sack of flour. That fact wasn't was simply a matter of course. And that, for me, was freeing as hell. I'll never be able to thank my "best friend I've never met" enough for that fact. She's changed my outlook and consequently, changed the dialogue I have with my own daughters. 

2.    Women don't have to be ashamed of what they want. And they don't have to be angered by what other women want. I'm not delusional. I know that Mindy Kaling is different from Mindy Lahiri. I know that Dr. L's life goals diverge greatly from Grand Dame Kaling's life goals. That being said, Kaling wrote Lahiri, and she did so with a great degree of grace and tolerance. As I watched the show, I didn't feel Kaling judging Lahiri for having different aspirations than her creator. I felt her honoring her, rooting for her, pushing her forward. Oh my goodness, what if we could extend that same respect to the real women in our lives not just the ones we meet on TV? Could you imagine the dialogue that would ensue? The steps we'd take forward? The wounds we'd heal? 

What does Mindy Lahiri want? We know early on in the series that Mindy L. is a professional woman who is also "looking for someone to go apple picking with". She wants marriage and babies and she defines those things as integral to her happy ending. And she isn't ashamed of it. Do you know how refreshing that storyline has been for me? A writer who also has two babies and a husband? A girl who wants her name on the front of a book and wants bubbles and baby laughter in her backyard? The Mindy Project doesn't preach the false hope of "having it all". Mindy has given up plenty of almost dreams for her better parts. (Dammit, San Francisco) But she is unwavering when it comes to her core happiness. To the things she feels she deserves. To the dreams she isn't afraid of matter how outdated they might seem to the people around her. 

Whether your dream includes babies or not, a career or not, a partner or not, compromise or not, Mindy Lahiri's quest for her personal happiness should speak to you. You get to seek what you want without shame. 

3.    And finally, there is communion in the ridiculous. Listen, Mindy Lahiri is a little ridiculous. She spouts off half-baked political assessments, once said recycling makes America seem poor and went seven years without paying her taxes. But as the series went on, I didn't find myself laughing at her, I found myself laughing with her. No one of us is free from elements of the ridiculous. We are all filled with half-baked opinions...the fact that we might keep them to ourselves doesn't mean they don't exist. We are all ignorant until we are not. (And then ignorant some more until we are not again.) We all have literal or figurative un-opened envelopes with contents that are past due. 

Maybe we would all be better off if we stopped assuming ridiculousness was the burden of others and accepted it as the ever-evolving state of all of us. And maybe, just maybe, Mindy Lahiri style, we should just start being honest about it. Who knows? Maybe, like the great Project Herself, we'll learn something about each other and ourselves along the way. (And laugh a little more, too.)

You know, when I heard about the cancellation last night, I wasn't upset for the people in the show. They've proven they can create and sustain a small world and its misfit inhabitants. The actors will go on to movies. The writers will be asked to be a part of the next big thing. Mindy will continue her trajectory to a place in the stars next to Nora Ephron. (And maybe beyond?) They're doing just fine.

Me? I'm queuing up the first season and counting my lucky stars. For a half hour every week, in a little show with little pretension, I found a brand of feminism that spoke to me, rather than above or below me. I found men that loved strong women and strong women that loved men. And I found a world in which my arms were released from the constraints of décor and became beautiful and free simply because they were attached to me. 

Whoa, Nelly.

Disney's Beauty and The Beast is the same story as Fifty Shades of Grey. (Don't take your 5 year old.)

 Hey, Belle. Just take a break from the man game, eh? Maybe go to college! Or move to Paris. Or, you know, get a few roommates and start watching Mindy Project re-runs.

Hey, Belle. Just take a break from the man game, eh? Maybe go to college! Or move to Paris. Or, you know, get a few roommates and start watching Mindy Project re-runs.

Listen, I don’t really know how to use the word “ironic”. I feel like every time I employ it, someone much wiser than me explains that what I am describing is really just coincidental, curious, or merely paradoxical.

So, despite all my semi-literate inclinations, I’m not going to say I thought it was ironic when I saw the same FB friends that screamed outrage over Fifty Shades of Grey, freak out with excitement about the casting news for Beauty and The Beast. But I am going to say I thought it was…odd.

Let’s recap.

The curtain opens. A mysterious man with a dark secret. Something in his past has left him damaged and angry. A young girl imbued with innocence. The man uses abuse, coercion, and fear to maintain control. The girl goes back for more. Ultimately, the mysterious man is redeemed by his association with the young girl. He is transformed from isolated monster to mainstream "man of the house" by the end of the tale. Ah, romance.

And that’s just Beauty and the Beast. I don’t really have to take the time to write a Fifty Shades of Grey synopsis, because it would read exactly the same way. They are the same story. (Sure Christian had an abusive childhood and the Beast is a meanie that had a run in with a sorceress, but, in this case, the devil is not in the details.)

I think through all the talk of sexualization and “DID DAKOTA JOHNSON SHOW, YOU KNOW, IT?” we’ve lost the real terror in this year's blockbuster tale. Forget the Red Room. Fifty Shades of Grey is truly upsetting because one of its longest running story lines is the heroine’s unwillingness to speak up, not just about what she wants, but what she fears. She stays silent because she doesn’t want to lose a man. A man that hurts her to the point of tears. With a belt. Against her will. (The Atlantic has an excellent article on the concept of consent within the trilogy. Guess what? That thing Grey and Steele have? It's not a mutual understanding.)  

Many people continue to talk about Anastasia’s spectacular loss of virginity, I’d like to hear more talk about her spectacular loss of self.

If we rail against Fifty Shades of Grey, but then take our daughters to see Disney’s new Beauty and the Beast, we are sending them a horrific message.

We are telling them that good girls change bad men. That it is their job to change bad men. That it is, in fact, the stuff of fairy tales to change bad men. We are telling them that they are redeemers not partners. We are telling them man’s natural state is brutish and woman’s natural state is meekness. We are telling them that abuse is something a relationship can get over….if the girl is just patient enough. We are telling them that love is a dark and winding path instead of a light that illuminates. We are telling them that a sacrifice of self is a sacrament of love. By being outspoken against Fifty Shades and supportive of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, we are telling them that this is all just fine as long as what we perceive to be illicit sex is not involved.

And in doing so, we are telling our girls that what we call their "virtue" is more important than what God calls their soul.

That is a message I’ll never serve to my girls with a side of popcorn.

They deserve better. 

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