Degrassi, Eh? Sarah Bunting relays a young Americans journey into Canadian pop-cult

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Degrassi, Eh?
Sarah Bunting relays a young Americans journey into Canadian
pop-cult .


My brother and I looked forward to church every Sunday morning – or, more
accurately, to getting out of church. Starting at eleven on Sunday morning,
one of the local TV stations ran two episodes of Degrassi Junior High
and Degrassi High back to back, and if we could hustle our parents
out of “coffee hour” in a timely enough fashion, wed get home in time
to see the second episode. (Summertime brought with it a respite from
regular church services, which in turn meant that we could watch the entire
hour of Degrassi programming uninterrupted by annoyances like religious
observance.)

I dont remember
which one of us discovered Degrassi, or how – though if I had to
guess, Id lay odds on my brother; he ingested TV in such cancer-causing
quantity that the entire family relied on him for accurate program scheduling
information. Regardless, everything about the show tickled us. The exposure
of the average New Jersey child to Canadian culture consists of the occasional
Yankees-Blue Jays game, and Degrassi was our window into an alternate
universe. Strange pronunciations given to words like “about” and “drama,”
outlandish insults which we promptly incorporated into our vocabulary
(“Shut up, you narbo!” “You shut up, you broomhead!”), unfamiliar
terms like “Grade Eight” – all these things proved irresistibly exotic.

If the allure of
Canadian pop culture drew us in, the regrettable fashions modeled by the
cast kept us coming up back. I hardly cut a stylish figure myself, and
we got the reruns reasonably promptly in the States (I think I was about
the same age as the oldest “Degrassi kids”), but I still couldnt
believe the clothes. The girls in particular boggled the mind; never in
my life have I seen such aggressive accessorizing with scarves. I wont
mention Spikes various hair-donts, or Joey Jeremiahs prescient anticipation
of Swingers chic, or Melanies tendency (shared by Kathleen) to
attire herself in the garb of a fifties schoolmarm. I will, however, observe
that acid-washed denim hung on a lot longer at Degrassi than it
did in American high schools – and remember, we grew up in New Jersey
– and that I wouldnt have minded if Wheels wore looser jeans.

Accents and apparel
aside, the Degrassi shows encompassed a high-school experience
not only completely alien to my own but also completely different from
any high school Id ever seen represented on television. Degrassi
had an element of reality, of sincerity, that fascinated me. Mercifully
free of the customary preachiness of an ABC After-School Special,
it still had all the hallmarks of a traditional soap opera, but without
the odious Beautiful People; the boys had pimples, and the girls had hips,
and neither of these things made them any less attractive to the opposite
sex. I didnt go to school with boys, but watching Degrassi, I
felt like I grasped the basic essence of co-education. Plus, unlike most
of my classmates, the kids at Degrassi seemed genuinely nice, most
of them.

Of course, Degrassi
managed to wedge enough “important issues” into its series run to tie
up the 90210 writers for twice the time. My favorite episodes:

1.
Spike gets pregnant. I think most people remember this one the most vividly.
I can still recall the bleak light in the pharmacy where she buys her
pregnancy test.

2.
Erica gets pregnant and has an abortion. I always felt bad for her twin
sister, Heather, in that episode, because Heather wanted to support Erica,
but at the same time she sort of resented her for having more sexual experience,
and in my high-school role as “Sarah, Pure As Driven Snow,” I could so
relate. Erica acted like a total beeotch in that episode, too.

3.
The students spread rumors that one of their teachers is a lesbian. It
pains me to admit this, but in seventh grade – pardon me, “Grade Seven”
– my friends and I did that to teachers we didnt like also. Not that
it ever worked or anything, but still.

4.
The father of Spikes baby (Sean?) does acid, falls from a great height,
and winds up in an irreversible coma. As if Spike didnt have enough to
deal with. At least she ended up meeting that cute Irish lad with the
Pogues t-shirt.

5.
L.D. gets cancer. I got misty whenever that one aired – the part where
Lucy visits her in the hospital got me every time. In any case, L.D. ruled;
I admired the way she waged a constant battle against chauvinism.

6.
The Caitlin-Joey-Claude love triangle. Caitlin dates Joey but sort of
starts seeing Claude; Caitlin dumps Joey to go out with Claude, but volunteers
to work with Joey on a class project; Caitlin dumps Claude; Claude kills
himself. My brother and I called Claude “Drone,” because of his tiresome
Green-Party blathering and silly goatee, and because for whatever reason
we couldnt ever remember his actual name. Still, we couldnt believe
hed actually offed himself over Caitlin, who to tell the truth kind of
chafed us.

7.
Scott the football player uses “niner” Kathleen as a punching bag. Kathleen
kind of chafed us too, but no way did she deserve that kind of abuse from
a runt like Scott. (Scott had his uses, though, namely inspiring us to
coin the term “gerbilicious” to describe his mustache.)

8.
Wheels and vehicular homicide. First both his parents get killed in an
auto accident; then he gets drunk in the finale and kills Lucy. Dude,
figure it out.

9.
Michelles parents get divorced. The main plot of this one didnt stick
in mind as much as the fact that her boyfriend, whom her father has forbidden
her to see because hes black, acts so understanding and sweet that I
wanted to transfer to the mythical Degrassi immediately, since Toronto
boys seemed to know how to treat their girlfriends.

10.
Joey has to repeat Grade Eight. A pox upon ye, Mr. Raditch!

11.
The adventures of Stephanie and Arthur. Yeah, yeah, Arthur had that crush
on Caitlin (and now that I think about it, I found the wet-dream subtext
in that episode kind of icky), but who could forget his older sib Stephanie,
who took the word “scary” to a new level with the outfits she brought
to school and changed in and out of so their strict parents wouldnt find
out shed turned into a ho?

12.
The musical stylings of The Zit Remedy, a.k.a. The Zits. “Everybody wants
something,” indeed. The episode in which The Zit Remedy makes its stunningly
bad debut at the school dance rules, of course, but dont underestimate
the one in which The Zits shoot their stunningly even-worse video. Suffice
it to say that Joey plays a guitar-strap keyboard, and that nut-wedgies
do not get more flagrant than the one on Wheels.

13.
Alexa and Simon knock it off with the PDA. Oh, wait, that never happened.

Sarah mixes
it up about TV and more over at Tomato
Nation
.

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