My Friend Flick Off
Published: November 30, 2011
I tell you what, I’ve got one fierce crush on Lisbeth Salander. I haven’t been this polymorphously smitten by a fictional character since my grade-school fixation on Coily the Snake from the Q*Bert cartoon. (He had a The Wild One Brando biker cap and motorcycle jacket. Very “Scorpio Rising” for a Saturday morning cartoon.) I don’t care about the crimes she solves. I don’t care about the revenge she justly enacts. I don’t care about the unreadable Swedish potboilers in which she appears. (I’m not kidding: unreadable. Nora Ephron nailed Stieg Larsson’s Ingmar-Bergman-at-the-Teletype “prose” in her parody “The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut”: “Salander opened the door a crack and spent several paragraphs trying to decide whether to let Blomkvist in.”) And I actually despised the have-your-rape-and-eat-it-too gratuitous violence of the Swedish movies. So then why am I all hearts and flowers for this Pippi Redstocking in Joan Jett drag?
Maybe it’s how tiny she is. In the book Larsson specifies she’s 150 centimeters of pale and anorexic, with “hair as short as a fuse.” I make the opposite impression: I’m like that Liz Phair song, 6-foot-1 inside my 5-foot-2 (or foot-4, in my case.) My personality’s so big no one believes I’m short. Tiny women like Lisbeth, they’re like the dark compressed center of a black hole, pinprick dense and crushingly magnetic. Not even light can escape. I stand in awe of women who radiate small, precise Thanatos with every breath. Ah, Lisbeth . . . who else can live on machine code and nicotine like it’s faery aether? Who else can look badass while performing that most emasculating, servile onus of modern life: putting together IKEA furniture? I’m going to ignore that in the second book she spends her money on much-coveted breast implants. (Larsson . . . sigh. Thanks for trying.)
I love her self-possession. She may not live only for herself, but she does not live for others. Lisbeth has never fretted over whether she needs to send a Christmas card to a co-worker who may or may not reciprocate. She has never worn flats on a date with someone short. She has never agreed to be a bridesmaid for the fourth time this year, or to spearhead a bake sale, or to host a Pampered Chef party for the neighbor she doesn’t like. She has certainly never paid any attention to the suggestion, “You’d probably be really pretty if you stopped bleaching your eyebrows.” She expends all her selflessness and persistence on that which is needed—justice for victimized women, an n-set that includes herself—and ignores all the trivial distractions of women’s servitudinous lives. (She also has the added gift of being a fictional character. I’m sure even bell hooks needs to fold laundry or wait around for the cable guy some days.) Regardless, Lisbeth is one of the very few females in the public eye possessed of Tyler Durden’s intoxicating ability “to let that which does not matter truly slide” —and its obverse, to wrestle everything that does matter into the bloodstained dirt.
When I was little I wanted a horse, a beautiful buckskin stallion with a black star striping down his nose. And I would get on him and ride away, anywhere we wanted. The boys in my class wanted cars, vroom vroom. What an ill-conceived obsession. A car needs gas, and where can you find gas in the middle of a mountain range, or a desert, or a field of wildflowers? Why settle for a temperamental hunk of machinery as your mode of escape when your transport can spirit you away fueled only by mouthfuls of sweet grass? Can a car come to your rescue or nuzzle you on bad days? Amateur Freudians can make all the hay they want out of girls and their obsession with horses, but I don’t flatter their proto-horsedick fixations on What Women Want. What women want is liberty, power, and a means of escape. A horse provides all three, plus a pretty mane to brush.
Lisbeth has that pretty mane. (I love the Bauhaus bangs of Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth in the soon-to-debut David Fincher-directed U.S. film version.) She has that liberty and power and that symbiotic communion with a nonhuman. She feeds her computer “sugar cubes” and it nuzzles her hand, spitting out exactly what she needs to enact revenge, giving a big “dra åt helvete” to Men Who Hate Women. She got—earned hard—the pony we all wanted, and those of us still hosting and folding and gritting our teeth spirit away on her bony tattooed back. Coily, you’ve been replaced.
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