Sugar and Spice

The concept is deceptively simple: Five women, each modeled after cookie-cutter female stereotypes. The Sybil of all bands. Each Spice Girl was christened by the British media with a name that handily describes each of the five categories that women of the 90s occupy (a frighteningly large portion of the population seems to agree that there really are only five categories women inhabit): Scary, Posh, Baby, Sporty and Ginger.Scary: She's rebellious, she's snotty, she's pierced and yes, she's the only non-Caucasian of the bunch.Posh: She wears stilettos and a lot of gold jewelry, and her ultra-short skirts show off her professionally waxed legs.Baby: By far the tackiest of the bunch, Baby looks like the trashy older sister of Cindy Brady, and she flaunts her oral fixation by constantly sucking on some sort of lollipop.Sporty: She dances the most convincingly, sings pretty well, and she has been tagged as Gay Spice, implying that only women who are lesbians can be athletically talented.Then there's Ginger: Ginger? What exactly is a Gingerly woman? Of course, those of us who are scholars in the school of pop culture know that Ginger's handle is an homage to her supposedly ginger-colored hair. But what, really, was Ginger's place in the Spice world? She was the one who wore the cabaret-inspired satin and sequin unitards. She was the one who had a bona-fide figure (in stark contrast to the other four's physiques). She was the one who, in a cheeky moment, pinched Prince Charles' ass. The woman had balls, and we loved her for it. And, alas, Ginger is gone, having been the first Spice Girl to leave the pack in pursuit of the Spice-inevitable: a solo career.But really, the idea of Solo Spice just doesn't have the same appeal that the whole gang offered. The Spice Girls, as individuals are far less interesting than what they've come to represent in this post-grunge, pro-woman world. One reason for the Spice Girls' astounding fame is that when those five voices yelled "Girl Power!" while striking pre-fab poses, they actually seem sincere. (Quit snickering. Even the most jaded of indie-rockers will jump to explain who their favorite Spice Girl is; There's nothing to be ashamed of!) "Girl Power," in the Spiciest meaning of the phrase, presents an interesting slant on the feminist ideal. Five women who embody the most extreme stereotypes of women, who traipse around in all of their heavily-cleavaged glory, proclaiming that women -- I mean girls -- have power is quite a contradiction.I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing the spectacle of No Doubt's first post-fame homecoming show last year. There I was, at my first arena-rock show since puberty, surrounded by thousands of teenage girls with bindis, poorly peroxided hair, and midriff-baring tops in homage to their idol, singer Gwen Stefani. The other half of the audience (barring these kids' captive parents) was made up of frat boy types, who had come to ogle the svelte singer for their own less-than-angelic reasons. Each time the singer shook her hips, the crowd erupted into peals of glee, adoration and lust, at a truly deafening level. When the band broke into their first modern-rock hit, "Just A Girl," Stefani decided to indulge in a bit of audience participation fun. She demanded that the boys sing along with the chorus, "I'm just a girl/I'm just a girl in the world," which they did dutifully. Then Stefani instructed the throngs of girls to sing along. This time, she altered the usually G-rated lyrics, and on command, thousands of little girls were obediently singing, "Fuck you! I'm a girl!" along with their idol. I had goosebumps due in part to the sheer decibels of the pubescents singing along, but also in part because the semi-feminist message of "Fuck you, I'm a girl" coming from the mouths of the midriff-baring masses.This whole phenomenon is reminiscent of Madonna's early years, when belt-buckles proclaimed "Boy Toy" and see-through lacy tops became de riguer for thousands of cool girls all over the world. Even though it made our Middle-aged mothers cringe, there was something oddly liberating about the concept then. Years later Courtney Love came around and made the essence of the Riot Grrrl movement available for mass-consumption, which was in stark contrast to what the grrrl nation envisioned for its movement. She was the first famous woman to parade around with "Bitch" and "Slut" scrawled on her arms, while boasting of her new breast implants while riding the coattails of her hugely adored husband.All of these women paved the way for the Spice Girls. They each, in their own, mainstream and subversive ways, set the stage for Girl Power and the Spice Girls to become household terminology. What to make of all of it? Should these women and their message be taken seriously, or should the campy presentation be the focal point? The bottom line is that this act (I hesitate to call them a band) is here for entertainment purposes, and they've been very successful to that end. Countless magazine covers, Web sites, merchandising ploys and even a major movie have been devoted to the image and message that the Spice Girls project. Nonetheless, the social implications of a fabricated pop sensation comprised of a bunch of smart-ass but sincere women will surely merit at least a few dissertations from Evergreen Ph.D. candidates, and if Dan Quayle was still in politics, you can be sure he'd find a way to use the girls as an example of poor family values. And that alone makes these girls okay in my book.

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