Reader Beware! Spoilers for both the novel and the movie Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe below, as well as Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, also by Fannie Flagg. Existential kvetching.
1. I never made a conscious decision to be androgynous. PCOS did most of the heavy lifting, keeping my breasts small and my face hairy enough to put me squarely in the center of the gendered uncanny valley since puberty. The rest of it primarily stems from laziness. Why hunt for products for difficult hair when you could just cut it off? Why shave your legs when pants exist? Why find a mascara that works behind your glasses when you could just, you know, not?
Fortunately I grew up among intelligent and generous people, and any trouble I had with my appearance came from outside the house and mostly in the form of teasing. Combine the above with a love for English riding style and you could normally see me stepping out in a black t shirt under a peacoat with nothing filling it out, unknowingly looking vague and feeling just right. I’ve always leaned towards fitted clothes because they seem “correct” on me- not because they seem masculine. The skirts available in the early 2000s were either too short or too draped for my liking, so I avoided them as a rule.
Not to say that I’ve always loved my body; I still kind of hate it, but it’s always felt like mine. For a long time I thought of it in terms of Buts: I’m a woman but I can grow a goatee. Aging seems to be a relentless quest to turn into the person I’ve always hoped to become, and along the way the Buts become Ands. I’m a woman and I look a lot better with a pixie cut. I’m a woman and I have more hair on my arms than my boyfriend. I’m a woman and I look damn good in a suit.
2. Not surprisingly, Idgie Threadgoode is an extremely important character for me. High on Misery, I watched Fried Green Tomatoes for another shot of Kathy Bates and got a huge side helping of Mary Stuart Masterson as everything I have ever wanted to be. Confident, generous, great with jokes, deeply loving at the cost of being a little unhinged- and above all remarkable, of course. And able to werk an untailored tuxedo jacket.
The novel Fried Green Tomatoes is probably the reason I reach for southern girl power stories when I’m stressed out: Idgie is a human tornado in text and on screen and I keep hoping she or someone similar will rub off on me. I just reread the text in about two sittings taking a train to a wedding and I noticed… everything else.
How convenient for the characters of color that their external hobbies line up so perfectly with their occupations and archetypes, down to knowingly splitting colorist hairs. Sipsey, the family nurse, is so interested in babies that she runs halfway across town to retrieve (a black) one abandoned at the train stop. Her grandson Artis is “marked” from the start for being so dark his gums are blue: he gambles his life away and dies alone in a hotel lobby. These are the bookends to a barrage of ignorant little moments, seeming to imply that the characters worth our attention behave predictably, but the rest of them….
And there is definitely a them, in both Idgie’s timeline and Evelyn’s, despite the words in any white character’s mouth. That out of place church scene near the end of the movie comes from Evelyn’s desire, bluntly, to see how black people worship, and her monologue in the book is mostly about how strangely she feels the men are dressed. Mercifully, the movie left out Railroad Bill- probably a bit controversial even in the early 90s. The mystery man who throws canned food off the train into the black half of town turns out to be Idgie. In coal dust.
I’m appalled, partly because this was intended to be innocent humor, mostly because I forgot about it in the glow of my hero worship.
3. With that unpleasant rediscovery in mind, I switched to another Fannie Flagg novel and absolutely hated it. Can’t Wait To Get To Heaven touches less frequently on us white people and them (being set in modern Mississippi, they come in a wider variety now) but it is so heteronormative as to completely undo the good Fried Green Tomatoes brought into the world. Heaven, it turns out, is exactly how you personally imagine it, and for the protagonist, God appears as a couple she knew once. “Dorothy and Raymond” split up the duties for creating the world. Guess which one invented color. Now guess which one invented science.
Halfway finished, I took to Facebook to complain about this and got a friend’s mother’s interest piqued. She wanted to know if Jesus appears (he does not) and seemed inclined to look into it herself. I offered her my copy and didn’t get an update.
Towards the end of Heaven, however, a long-referenced scene appears and is handled in a manner that offends me to my core. It has nothing to do with religion except that it serves as evidence for why the protagonist got into heaven. As an agnostic, I’m aware that I’m not in the target audience, and have literally seen people agree with this interpretation of spirituality: for most of the novel, I took grains of salt with my own opinion. But this ending takes an abhorrent situation that might be explained fully in 50 pages and attempts to resolve it to the point of laughability in less than ten. Fannie Flagg gave me Idgie Threadgoode: I trusted her more than this. I assumed she was more talented. I wrote my friend’s mom saying “I really can’t recommend this anymore”, and I didn’t hear back.
4. Which leaves me wondering: How much do we forget when we embrace stories the way we embrace people? Are we more or less inclined to hang onto details like these, more or less inclined to react to them?
What evils have I willingly overlooked in seeking to support my own id?
The information overload era has led me to a distinct, unsettling real life horror: we lose details with every piece of media we consume. If you care passionately enough about something, you overlook its potentially dangerous flaws- and 2017 America is defined by its passions. I feel like I was dogwhistled into smiling racism, then petty, cruel thoughts about disabled people: diverted from an innocent fictitious path to something disgusting and terrifying in the real world. Given that none of this is designed to be scary, I’ve tried not to write about it for a month, but it just keeps popping up to disturb me like a mental Babadook.
Fried Green Tomatoes still fills a void for me (the movie to a larger extent than the novel, especially now). I can’t bring myself to not recommend it, but for everyone’s sake, please stay awake through it. You can skip Can’t Wait to Get To Heaven, though- it’ll make you feel the same just so you can stop reading it.