It’s a sweet and tender moment, the first time you and your kid watch a movie together when neither of you is humoring the other. That moment came for me and my daughter a few days ago, just after her fourth birthday . . . that brief, exquisite intersection between when this strange creature who came out of my body was mine, mine, mine and when she will be hers, when she will belong to the wide, wooly world. The decision of which movie you choose just then is dire. For Sadie and me, it was the cheerleading flick Bring It On!
After watching the film, Sadie told me – her mother, the last self-proclaimed-feminist in America – that she wanted to be a cheerleader. I was pleased.
You may know me as the performance artist Lisa Suckdog, who peed in a litter box, or as the publisher of the dark and disgusting zine Rollerderby, or as the chronicler of my real-life sexual exploits. But once upon a time, I was small and shy and good, and I joined the cheerleading squad. I had to get up on frosty mornings when other teens slept in, and train. I had to jump and yell and smile when I was sick. I had to support the football team even – especially – when they were doing badly and everyone was against them, and us, for being on the losing side. The enthusiasm and oomph I managed to infuse into my tawdry chosen professions throughout a repressed and depressed, ironic and apathetic era (the ’90s) had to have come, in part, from having been a cheerleader. Whatever weird, dirty things I did, I did them with feeling. And when it was cool to gaze at your shoes and mumble, I was one of the few you couldn’t help but hear. Bless me, I was always loud. And I always worked hard. I didn’t care who was against me. So I take cheerleading movies very seriously.
The plot of Bring It On! is this: Big Red, departing captain of the ultra-successful San Diego Toros cheer team (winners of the Nationals competitions five years in a row!), has just handed over the crown to nice girl Torrance (Kirsten Dunst). A little detective work reveals to Torrance that the legacy of Nationals trophies is a lie: Big Red was ripping off cheers invented by the black, better-but-unknown Compton Clovers, who were too poor to make it to Nationals (held in Florida) and show the judges what they had . . . until now.
Suddenly everyone, it seems, has turned against Torrance: her squad, the whole school, her ditzy boyfriend (who advises her to give up captainhood and let someone more qualified – “bitchier” – take over and “deal with the politics” in these dark times of stolen cheers discovered). Only one person believes in Torrance’s ability to lead: the unlikely anti-hero, a new kid in school, with black clothes, a lopsided grin, and a love of guitar chords circa 1977 to 1983. “Nevermind the crap,” he advises her (while pushing her on a swing . . . sigh). “You can do it.”
Bring It On!, like many cheerleading movies, deals with overcoming adversity, and the plot pivots on a question girls are too seldom asked to ask themselves: Would you allow truth to triumph over glory?