Why Blanche Devereaux was the 80s’ Most Important TV Character
When one of the Golden Girls dies, it’s really like a member of my family dies. And not because Blanche, Rose, Dorothy and Sofia were essentially surrogate grandparents to me growing up. And not because a large part of my obsession with Miami came from watching this show. No, because every time one of the Golden Girls dies, I get at least a dozen texts, phone calls and Facebook messages from people telling me they are sorry for my loss. I guess I’m the biggest fan anyone knows.
For the unaware, Rue McClanahan, who played Blanche Devereaux on the show, died of a stroke early Thursday morning. And while the loss of any of the Golden Girls is a loss of a national treasure, this one is particularly difficult. Because Blanche was the youngest of the Golden Girls. She was the sassy, sexy southerner who had an endless parade of men through her bedroom, and flaunted it proudly. And for the show’s most ageless character to finally see the end, well, it reminds us that as much as we try to hold on to youth, it is never possible.
AN UNDERAPPRECIATED SEXUAL PIONEER
Blanche was perhaps the most groundbreaking character to come onto TV in the 1980s. Not only because she took female promiscuity from shameful to boastful, but because she did it as a woman in her early 50s (or early 40s, if you asked her). Before Blanche, it was unthinkable to have a woman over 40 openly discussing her extensive, extensive sex life. Grandmas didn’t have sex, right? But when the Golden Girls came around, we learned that sex drives don’t end when you retire to Florida. And Blanche was the main catalyst behind breaking this TV Taboo.
More than that, she was the first TV character to really celebrate female promiscuity. Blanche showed that women can have fun having sex with countless men, and not have a social stigma surround them. Without Blanche, we never would have had “Sex and the City’s” Samantha Jones, who sent the same message to the next generation of young women. And it’s funny to me how many young women now think Samantha was the one who destigmatized female promiscuity. No respect for their elders, no respect for their pioneers. Perhaps in Rue’s death more young ladies can learn about Blanche’s great work.
A PROMISCUOUS CHARACTER WITH REAL DEPTH
But the reason that Blanche was such an exceptional character is that she showed the underlying insecurities that make a person need to have sex with that many people. It was not blatant, it did not slap you in the face. It was subtly written into her vanity and the way she objectified herself, ever so slightly showing cracks in her overconfident veneer. The episode where she learns she has reached menopause - and doesn’t leave her room for a week - is perhaps the best example. It showed that when someone who has traded on youth and looks her entire life realizes that they are fading, it is devastating. And, so much more so than the never-flappable Samantha Jones, she had a depth to her character that made us understand why people like her act the way they do.
So it is a sad day for fans everywhere. Much like it was when Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty died. But when the sexy older lady who was the first to teach you about sex goes to that great big Heavenly Bed, it’s especially upsetting. Blanche was one of the most important characters in television history, and the work Rue McClanahan did to bring that character to life is a legacy that few appreciate. Thank you Rue, and thank you Blanche, for your historic part in the sexual revolution.
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