Welcome to movie week! I realized in the past few days that I have a lot of movies that I want to write about, but I struggled trying to figure out which movie I wanted to use for our theme week. In recent weeks, one of the movie channels has played Harriet the Spy a few times, and since I’m home most days, I have watched it every single time, of course. I can say this without embarrassment. I loved Harriet the Spy as a kid. I saw it in movie theatres with my mom when I was 7 and was instantly obsessed.
There has been a problem with these recent viewings, though. The more I watch it, the more I realize that this is a terribly upsetting movie. It was all fun and Nickelodeon style games when I was little, but now, as a wiser, more cynical adult, I find the movie a bit more morose, chock full of life lessons that I now understand all too well.
What’s changed for me? Let’s take a look at some moments from Harriet the Spy that I can no longer see in the same light.
- First of all, I said that I was obsessed with this movie. I was so obsessed that I was that kid who saved up cereal box tops, or whatever it was, in order to mail away for a super awesome spy light! I felt like Ralphie from A Christmas Story when he was ordering his super-secret decoder ring, and they both turned out to be duds. Read: It ended up just being a small flashlight with a bendy neck. Nowadays, small flashlights fill my Christmas stockings and random occasion gifts so that I don’t die walking to my car at night, apparently. They’re all in a drawer in my room. Somewhere. Meh.
- Marion Hawthorne. As kids, I’m sure we all had someone that we loved to hate. In the case of Marion, she was just so confident, and so perfect, that Harriet and her pals had to gag and pretend that Marion was awful. They had to invent a reason to hate Marion. As an adult, I do not like to use the word “hate” in relation to people anymore, unless we’re talking about all of the other drivers on the highway during my commute. I also hate how horizontal stripes look on me, but I don’t hate any of the people in my life, whether we’re friends or not.
- Harriet the Spy is like the original Mean Girls. Her notebook is even worse than The Burn Book. Made-up gossip is harsh and unfair, but Harriet’s notebook is worse because those who are in it have to face reality about themselves and how others may see them. Harriet’s whole notebook faux pas makes me sick, now that I’m watching it all grown up. I don’t like that Harriet takes simple observations about her peers and turns them into insults. The boy in the purple socks should kill himself? Being quiet and liking a certain pair of socks is in no way a reason to stop living. He’s just misunderstood.
Perhaps I take such issue with this is because I’m an educator and I stand firmly against bullying. Maybe it’s because I’ve been there, on the inside of a Burn Book or spy notebook. It’s part of growing up, but I don’t want it to be.Then what the kids do to gang up on Harriet makes me sick, and their oblivious teacher would never last a minute in today’s classrooms. The blue paint scene? Oh yeah, that upsets me. For Nickelodeon, that was like the blue version of getting slimed, but for me, that is the extreme version of disrespectfully marking someone as alien, as not like the rest.
- Rosie O’Donnell was always one of my favorite parts of this movie. Seriously. Watching it now, I forgot that she wasn’t in the movie that much, and her leaving was what lead to Harriet’s downfall. It’s actually slightly traumatic watching Golly leave Harriet so soon. She’s so serious, and she just lets Harriet run after her car. That’s deep. That’s tear inducing. This is happening too quickly for me. I grow to love her, and then you rip her away from me! But I guess that’s the point. This movie is about Harriet, not Rosie. Meh, again.
- When Harriet cuts off that girl’s hair. How does she not get absolutely slammed for that? That was always one of my worst nightmares, by the way, back when my hair was long enough to sit on.
- Why is Harriet in Eartha Kitt’s house? Why is that acceptable? Eartha Kitt, call the police! Her character, by the way, is incredibly depressing. Doesn’t she just stay in her bedroom, all day, every day? I think she said something along the lines of the secret to life is crawling into bed and then never, ever, ever, ever leaving it again. It has been really rainy and gross out today, so actually, I kind of agree with that right now, because I’d definitely rather be in bed.
- Stink bombs in the school play? You can’t even say the “B” word anymore, especially not even in the vicinity of a school. Instant expulsion, police action. We live in a very different world now, sadly.
- I remember trying to eat tomato and mayo sandwiches when I was younger. I couldn’t. It rhymes and all, but that’s gross. What’s grosser is her mom’s suggestion of cream cheese and olive sandwiches. Yikes.
- Towards the beginning of the movie, Harriet asks Golly about why her dad is so stressed out. Golly says it has to do with his high-pressure job. This is how Golly describes working life to Harriet: It’s when you don’t get to do what you want to, and when you do, you don’t have enough time for it. Preach, Golly. Preach.
- Golly gives us a lot of moments of wisdom that, as a child, I definitely didn’t understand. “Good friends are one of life’s blessings. Don’t give them up without a fight” this is wisdom for any age, at any point in time. It’s so simple, but as a kid I totally dismissed this because the worst things that my friends and I fought over were who got to pretend to be which Spice Girl when we played during recess. Sorry, but no one ever wanted to be Sporty Spice.
- Sport tells Harriet, “You can’t be my friend if you’re not my friend.” When I was little, I laughed at that line because it sounded totally silly. But now? Truth. It’s like a “Truths with Lori and Allyssa” style truth. It’s a simple truth, but 100% valid.
There are some things, though, that will never change for me, which is why I keep watching this movie every chance that I get.
- Harriet and I have similar internal monologues, both then and now, but I appreciate it more now, since my internal voice has blossomed and is no longer an awkward child. I always feel like I notice things others don’t, just like Harriet caught that guy stealing the old woman’s wallet in the first 3 seconds of the movie. I’m just observant like that. I also like people watching. That’s the only reason people go to coffee shops, right?
Perhaps it’s also because I teach and participate in theater. Observation is part of the job. In order to become a character, sometimes you need to observe people who fit the profile. Learn a new walk, pick up a new accent. Sometimes, when teaching playwriting, I encourage students to go sit somewhere and eavesdrop on a conversation and write it all down. This helps them understand different cadences and patterns in the speech of real, varied people. Essentially, we have to be spies. Just like Harriet.
- It’s a Nickelodeon movie, what’s not to love? Those special orange tapes were one of the best gifts a kid could get. Even today, I am one of the many who thrive on 90s Nickelodeon nostalgia. Children who were born in the mid- to late 90s, you can stop pretending that you understand just because you saw an episode of Hey Arnold on Netflix that one time. Thanks.
- The student stereotypes. They were so universal to each school. The quiet kid with the weird outfit (the boy with the purple socks), the rich and popular girl, the girl who wants to be popular, the brainiac, etc. I see them all in my classrooms. However, I see them as real people, with personalities. When I relay stories to my friends about the kids that I encounter, I always preface it with the stereotype, but then I flesh out the character and tell a great story. Again, I am Harriet, an observer, and students will always be students.
- The cat man! First of all, that man will be me when I’m old. It might be me in the near future, actually. Except instead of birdcages, I’ll probably have dress forms everywhere for the cats to perch on. I loved him in the movie then, and I love him now. His story gets sad there in the middle, when he has to give up all of his pets. But in the end, he starts anew. His story has always been one to remind us to look for a glimmer of hope and renewal, no matter the circumstances.
- The play-time, whimsy garden. I want to play there! Bubbles and shiny things and crazy, abstract, avant garde sculptures. I’d like to think that Nickelodeon helped make me a lover of this fine, modern art. Seriously. Or maybe it just made me like ties and making things out of other people’s trash. Second one, definitely.
- “Talk to the hand ‘cause the face ain’t gonna listen” That glorious phrase was uttered in this movie. I still want to say this to people sometimes. If I try to bring this back, will people judge me? I don’t care. I love the 90s.
All said and done, both positives and negatives of this movie… Oh my god, why did I want to be her? Harriet was miserable. She learned a good lesson and worked hard, and said “I’m sorry”, but wow, this is awful. At least all of the kids dressed as dancing vegetables at the end kind of made up for it. Michelle Trachtenberg was one super fierce onion.
Also, apparently Disney channel made their own modern adaptation of the movie in 2010, about cute boys and blogs. Ruined. But this means that I need to watch it. Just like Mean Girls 2, it needs to be watched. Who wants to get snacks and watch this with me? Don’t all jump at once.