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More than a 'Marshmallow': Veronica Mars Destabilizes Stereotypical Femininity

by Ethan Tussey

by Staci Stutsman for IN MEDIA RES

In the excerpted clip, which occurs toward the end of the series’ pilot, Veronica Mars’ friend Wallace calls her a marshmallow, a term which was later lovingly picked up by the show’s dedicated fans who refer to themselves as “Marshmallows.” Wallace tells her that “underneath that angry young woman shell, there’s a slightly less angry young woman who’s just dying to bake me something. You’re a marshmallow, Veronica Mars. A Twinkie.” While said with affection, the sentiment trades in stereotypes of demure femininity; anger is placed in opposition to femininity, baking and emotion. The “Twinkie” reference reinforces this sentiment as it pejoratively denotes a frivolous surface without substance.

Through its complex storytelling that uses episodic mysteries to structure individual episodes and larger serial arcs to organize its seasons, Veronica Mars grants its titular character the space to grow into a multifaceted woman who defies stereotypical notions of femininity and refuses to be singularly defined as either a “marshmallow” or an “angry young woman.” Kathleen Rowe Karlyn claims that women must “look beyond the doomed suffering women of melodrama and the evil ones of film noir” to find positive portrayals of femininity (Unruly Woman 8). The show unsettles these generic stereotypes as Veronica fails to remain within their restrictive borders and demonstrates that melodrama and film noir can produce a strong, empowered female protagonist. The structure of the show allows her to act as both the hard-boiled detective and the femme fatale. Her hardboiled voiceover provides the viewer with reflexive subjective access not typically granted to women in film noir while her detective drive often brings around the demise of male characters, an act typical of the femme fatale.

The 2014 feature film gives a shout out to the marshmallow moniker in its opening recap as Veronica narrates, “That was the old me, angry me, vengeful me. New me? People say I’m a marshmallow.” Bell delivers this line with a lilt in her voice that indicates the degree to which Veronica knowingly plays with these stereotypes and continues to prove that women in film and television can be much more than marshmallows.

References:

Karlyn, Kathleen Rowe. Unruly Girls Unrepentant Mothers: Redefining Feminism on Screen. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2011. Print.

Karlyn, Kathleen Rowe. The Unruly Woman: Gender and the Genres of Laughter. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1992. Print.

Mittell, Jason. Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Storytelling. Pre-publication edition (MediaCommons Press, 2012-13). Web.

Place, Janey and Lowell Peterson, “Some Visual Motifs of Film Noir,” in The Film Noir Reader, ed. Alain Silver and James Ursini. New York: Limelight, 1996. 65-75.

Schrader, Paul. “Notes on Film Noir,” in The Film Noir Reader, ed. Alain Silver and James Ursini (New York: Limelight, 1996), 53-64.

Williams, Linda. “The American Melodramatic Mode” in Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O.J. Simpson. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002. p. 10-44. Print.

Veronica Mars and Femininity

A clip from Veronica Mars

from Veronica Mars (2006)
Creator: UPN
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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