The Princess Diarist (Book Review)

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The Princess Diarist, written by Carrie Fisher, also known as the only Princess in the galaxy to have strangled a giant slug with the help of her metal bikini, is the story of the beginning of an acting career. A career which would become much greater than ever anticipated, at the young age of 19 years old. This is Fisher’s seventh book, and sadly, her last. “The Princess Diarist” is one of her three memoirs, the first being Wishful Drinking published in 2008, and the next Shockaholic published in 2011. While her first two autobiographical books cover much of the early years of her life, being raised by her movie star mother Debbie Reynolds and abandoned by her father Eddie Fisher, The Princess Diarist delves into the beginning of Fisher’s own acting career. This began with her very first role in a film called “Shampoo”, and quickly moved to becoming the iconic Princess Leia Organa, in a low-budget Sci-Fi film called Star Wars, which later came to be known as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.

Fisher is incapable of telling a single story without a hint of sarcasm and disenchantment in her voice, from recounting her first experiences with boys (who she now realizes were gay men) in her early teens, to the memories of her affair with her 35-year-old co-star Harrison Ford, who would later become her movie husband, Han Solo. She describes what it’s like to be a young woman, or in her words “jail bait”, working and spending her weekends with an almost entirely male cast and crew in London for the filming of Star Wars. We learn about her infatuation with Harrison, both in her words 40 years after the fact, and through the diary entries written when she was 20, consisting mostly of poetry about her undefined relationship with him. Aside from this topic, Fisher goes into detail about the pressures of fame that she had never expected, and wasn’t necessarily sure she even wanted. Stories were told in full conversations with the crazed fans she would meet, always desperate for what she called a “celebrity lap dance”, or more commonly known as an autograph. She reveals what it was like to no longer be seen as just a woman, but a space Princess. Of course after the hype of the original trilogy died down and years had passed, money started to become a problem. She often found herself at comic conventions, bitterly giving celebrity lap dance after celebrity lap dance for cash. Fisher doesn’t go into a great amount of detail about her struggle with mental health, but it can be understood how it affected her from the way that she thinks and speaks about herself, and especially so when she was a less confident, younger woman. Her cynicism and her wit make it clear that now, 40 years later, as she looks back on the biggest changes in her life, she can’t take it all seriously. Shortly before Fisher passed in December of last year, the Star Wars films were revived, and she took part in two more titled Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. As she describes at the very end of the first chapter, the revival was, “like an acid flashback, only intergalactic, in the moment, and essentially, real.”

“The Princess Diarist” is enjoyable to read primarily because of its humor. Not to say it would be a bad book if it weren’t funny, or that it’s only funny in the way that Fisher is constantly telling jokes, but because she portrays her attitude and voice so well through her writing, the entire recount of her experiences seem like one big joke, making it easy to relate to and laugh at past experiences as she does. Even though this is a story about life-changing experiences, none of it is taken too seriously. You could say that she generally doesn’t take life itself too seriously. For fans of Star Wars, don’t expect to learn too much about the filming of the movie, what it was like to be on set, or what all of her co-stars were like. You don’t learn about Princess Leia, you learn about Carrie, who is dealing with sharing a part of herself with Leia. She comments that frequently they are mistaken for the same person. If you really want to learn more about Carrie Fisher, read this book. She describes her experiences during the filming of Star Wars with new and interesting details, but the important thing is that the way she speaks about them allows readers to understand what these experiences felt like for her.

This book is not just for young women, Star Wars fans, aspiring actresses, or Carrie Fisher fans. Known for speaking her mind and cracking a few jokes in the process, Fisher wrote a book for anyone who can share a laugh about the absurdity that is fame, popular culture, body image, giant hair buns, and love. If you can enjoy sarcasm, obscenities, references to oneself and their breasts as though they were two different entities in the world of film, detailed descriptions of the way Harrison Ford managed to look uninterested all the time, and sad poems about young love, then give it a read. Even better, listen to the audiobook narrated by Carrie Fisher herself, and her daughter Billie Lourd, who reads the diary entries.

The Princess Diarist

Carrie Fisher

272 pages. Published by Blue Rider Press. 2016.

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“The Uncanny” in The Twilight Zone

In Sigmund Freud’s “The Uncanny”, he describes the concept of the uncanny in psychoanalytical theory as, “that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar.” (825). Similar to defamiliarization, the idea of the uncanny is one which takes what is familiar and presents it in a new light. However, while defamiliarization presents the thing in a way that is pleasing, the uncanny is what is not pleasing at all, and is instead based in fear. Freud makes reference to the German word ‘unheimlich’  which directly translates to “unhomely”. He describes this as “the opposite of what is familiar; and we are tempted to conclude that what is ‘uncanny’ is frightening precisely because it is not known and familiar.” (826). The idea of the uncanny about the fear of things coming to light which were meant to remain unknown, or hidden under the familiar. The feeling of the uncanny manifests from fears which have been pushed deeply into the back of one’s mind, but remain present. These fears resurface when what is familiar no longer feels “homely”. This concept is often the basis of the 1950’s series The Twilight Zone, particularly in an episode titled “The Hitch-Hiker”.

In this episode, a 27-year-old woman is driving across country from New York to California for a vacation, alone. She first sees the hitch-hiker after a minor breakdown in Pennsylvania, where he appears in front of her car and sticks out his thumb. She sees him again at the gas station a few miles down the road. Her fear grows quickly when she spots him for a third time 50 miles later, again in Virginia, again on the turnpike, and at a construction stop, a railroad crossing, etc. No matter how far she goes, he’s always there. Nobody else can see the hitch-hiker, which she learns from a Navy man who travels with her for some time. Eventually she gets to a phone to call her mother, as she needs to hear a voice, “A warm, familiar voice so I won’t lose my mind.” She is told that her mother is in the hospital from a nervous breakdown, due to the death of her daughter. She gets back in the car, and the man is in the backseat. She looks at him calmly, and the episode concludes.

It can be argued that the woman’s terror manifests from her fear of being alone, or particularly being alone with a strange man. She spends so many hours driving at a time, without seeing anyone familiar, that this man is created in her mind. He becomes a familiar face, but not one which brings her comfort. It’s common to have a fear of strangers, as we are taught from a young age to be weary of those we don’t know. The man is constantly described as being very plain, not particularly scary in his appearance or his actions. He is dressed in a drab, gray suit, and does nothing but stand in front of her. The fear does not stem from his menacing look, his violent actions, or his threatening words. He is frightening because he does nothing at all. He has become familiar in a way which does not make sense, and becomes a disturbing figure because his purpose is unknown. His reappearance cannot be explained as it isn’t logical, and this lack of logic in itself creates discomfort.

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Most women can agree that they’ve been told at least once in their lives when venturing out on their own to fear strange men. Women are told not to travel alone, not to be out at night alone, not to talk to men you can’t trust. This woman is put into all of these situations, and faces this odd man, completely alone. The hitch-hiker has become the uncanny; the unfamiliar man who becomes familiar in an unsettling way. The man who must have cruel intentions. He is the fear which lived inside the woman the moment she set out for her long, lonely trip across the country. She is heading as far away from what is “homely” as she can get by car, and her desire to turn around grows with every mile.

Roland Barthes “Toys” and Gender

In Roland Barthes essay Toys, he discusses the way in which toys are made to reflect the adult world, conditioning children to become accustomed to their expected roles and responsibilities as adults. “The fact that French toys literally prefigure the world of adult functions obviously cannot but prepare the child to accept them all…” (53). He goes on to talk about gender roles in toys, using the example of the baby doll geared toward girls:

There exist, for instance, dolls which urinate; they have an oesophagus, one gives them a bottle, they wet their nappies… This is meant to prepare the little girl for the causality of house-keeping, to ‘condition’ her to her future role as mother (53).

By conditioning children to find joy in or adapt to certain activities at a young age, they are likely to continue to conform to these roles as adults. To further study toys directed toward girls, I’ve looked more closely at ads for the Easy Bake Oven from the 60’s,  ”Poochie”, a toy line from the 80’s, and current ads from Toys R Us.

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Beginning with the 80s toy, the slogan reads, “A Poochie girl says what’s on her mind.” A Poochie girl, however, can only say what’s on her mind with the use of her cute, pink and purple puppy stamps with sassy lines like , “You drive me crazy.” Although the ad appears to be a progressive attempt to enforce little girls to be comfortable with “saying how she feels”, it seems to actually enforce the idea that she must still somehow be contained. Not only does this exhibit the obvious gendering of toys and how they relate to adult life, but it exemplifies the other piece of Barthes argument:

He is turned into a little stay-at-home householder who does not even have to invent the mainsprings of adult causality; they are supplied to him ready-made: he has only to help himself, he is never allowed to discover anything from start to finish (54).

In regards to this particular toy, the girl is not communicating what’s on her mind on her own, and learning how make her voice heard through her own discovery. She is instead given a pre-packaged set of “feelings”. This implies that she needs some kind of aid or excuse for speaking her mind.

Moving to the Easy-Bake Oven from the 60’s, this product sets the tone for the duties little girls are expected to have as women. The Easy-Bake Oven is the perfect example of a “ready-made”. It’s teaching girls to enjoy baking at a young age in a way that is simple, decorative, and fun. The cakes and brownies come in little packets that are as easy as add water, pour into the pan, and pop it into the miniature oven, then decorate.

The ad ends with a little boy coming along and eating the cakes and brownies which fill the table, replicating gender roles still common in the home at this time. The woman cooks and bakes, the man eats.

In regards to more current toys on the market, Lego Friends is a specific Lego line made for little girls. While they are advertising a toy which allows the child to build and create, the obvious differences between typical Legos, and these specific “girly” Legos, still creates division between genders. The set does not allow the little girl to build a car, a ship, a building, a plane, or super heroes, like Legos advertised to boys, but instead the pieces build a pink café. The main colors on the boxes designed for girls are pink and purple, while the boxes for boys are mainly blue. The significance of the café is that we are again brought back to a toy that prepares girls for tasks which require them to take care of others. The idea of serving is built into girls’ lives at a young age.

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