By Becka Wall – @BeckaWall
Do you love “Saved by the Bell”? Do you also love feminism? Well then boy, have I got a fun surprise for you.
Liz Laribee is a teacher in Pennsylvania who created the phenomenal Tumblr “saved by the bell hooks.” The blog mashes up 90s show “Saved By The Bell” with insightful and inspiring quotes from feminist scholar bell hooks. The result is everything your 90’s feminist heart could ever dream of. I had the chance to ask Liz a few questions, chat about gender equality, 90s tv and what it’s like to run a hugely famous Tumblr blog.
Do you identify as a feminist? When did you first refer to yourself as one?
I was first interested in a very “Ally McBeal” form of feminism: the self-assured lion roar of girl power. I was 13, I had some pretty bad bangs, some pretty strange social quirks and I was warmed by the idea of an entire school of thought that existed to help me stand up for who I happened to be.
But here’s why, after years of making mistakes and trying to learn from them, this has become a difficult question to answer: the people addressed by the concept of feminism, and the actual lives they live, present a wide spectrum of specific needs often overlooked by [many in] the movement. In a world prone to justice and equity, it would feel complete enough to call myself a feminist.
But even within a campaign concerned with leveling the playing field, the feminist movement I learned from growing up has largely ignored the realities of anyone who isn’t white, American-born, upwardly mobile, able-bodied and cisgendered (all of which are terms that describe me, and by which I gain an unquantifiable privilege). As I learn more, I am growing increasingly fond of intersectional and transnational feminism: lenses that insist on a clear and honest examination of what a person’s life is like. I can’t get away from the fact that I benefit from white feminism, and it’s on me to address that.
Where did the idea of Saved by the bell hooks come from?
I was at a bar! Some friends and I were discussing post-Ferguson America, the representation of women in the film “Selma,” and the shifting national conversation about race in our country. And generally, I am Rolodex-ing through puns and portmanteaus in my brain during every conversation I have. I created the blog later, in bed, under five quilts (it was January).
What came first – your interest in Zack Morris or your interest in feminist theory?
As for me and my house, we preferred AC Slater. And I watched the show pretty faithfully until I discovered “The Simpsons” in high school. My interest in feminist theory was initially piqued by being an English major in college.
Were you surprised by all the love Saved by the bell hooks got? Did it lead to any personal internet fame?
Oh, certainly it was a surprise. One factor in this is that I had no real experience with Tumblr and was unfamiliar with how quickly interest-based memes are precipitated through that channel. I know it’s a little silly to marvel at the internet, but it’s honestly pretty remarkable to observe how many distinct personalities are granted unique platforms, celebrated in their particular niche markets, and described in specifically hyperbolic ways.
Almost every article that came out about the blog, and there were many more than I had expected, spoke about it in a way that I think is indicative of internet journalism language: they were all versions of “STAHP this feminist theory blog is the only thing that I’ve ever cared about!!!” Which is of course not the case, and which is of course how they had also written about the blogs Clarissa Explains White Supremacy, Feminist Ryan Gosling, Feminist Lisa Frank, etc. Which are all fantastic, of course.
Do you see “Saved by the Bell” as a feminist show?
Ahahaha. Nope. It was a show created within an industry and culture postured toward patriarchal aesthetics, storylines, and motivations. That the actors and characters weren’t specifically hostile or malicious isn’t enough to make it a show that takes feminism seriously.
What is your favorite scene from “Saved by the Bell”?
With the caveat that I haven’t watched the show since I was a high school sophomore, the first scene that came to mind was when Jessie Spano went on a date with that guy despite being giraffe-ishly taller than him. As a tall lady, I related to that brand of social anxiety. Also, every episode from the beach season for obvious reasons.
What is your favorite excerpt from bell hooks?
“Contemporary black women felt they were asked to choose between a black movement that primarily served the interests of black male patriarchs and a women’s movement which primarily served the interests of racist white women.” This is the caption of the blog post that’s been shared the most often (80,000+ times). The amount of response this quote has generated has stuck with me; that it struck a chord speaks to a painful, ongoing reality that ought to be at the forefront of how we understand advocacy. Lazy and privileged “feminism” has undermined and ignored huge portions of the very people it purports to shield.
Do you think bell hooks would be into the blog (or has she outwardly said that she is)?
When the bell hooks Twitter posted a link to to the blog, I felt a wave of enormous starstruck relief. I also hear, from a friend in Berea, KY, that she once chuckled deeply when he’d asked her about it.
Any advice for others looking to bring their creative mashups to the internet and Tumblr?
Always cite your source. Never read the comments. Your mashup will never be more important than getting a good night’s sleep.
Which Saved by the Bell character do you most relate to and why?
Though I think she’s considered a little non-canonical, I had always been partial to Miss Bliss. She is so sweet and strong.
*photos by Dani Fresh – http://danifresh.com/*