Women of The Not Too Distant Future: Female Fandom and Figures in Mystery Science Theater 3000

This could be the moment I begin a slam poetry jam emphasizing women’s inequality and the lack of visible women in comedy.  Without question the band starts playing the moment I land my split jump. Social justice discussion a la Patti Smith.

Not today.

We here at PopLurker have already written a badass salute to MST3K, which was an immensely enjoyable read, if we say so ourselves. And today we are paying homage to my favorite TV show, Mystery Science Theater 3000. Only this time, it’s time for the women to shine.

If you are unfamiliar with the show, just watch it on Netflix and get ready for a great ride.

Many of us were raised as “TV Kids”. We’ve known for a long time that TV is a special type of distraction, replacing those Beta brain waves for delicious Alpha waves. Boiling this down for my point here, Beta waves are generated when you are focused on a task, Alpha waves are linked with relaxation, meditation, and hypnosis. Television is a powerful painkiller. Down side- yes, it also makes it addictive. A drug. How would Salvador Dali’s statement “I don’t do drugs, I am drugs” apply here?

I’m just gonna leave that on the table for you to think about while I get back to MST3K.

These TV kids make up a majority of MSTies: Generation X (those born around mid-1960s to 1980ish, they get the cooler name in my opinion) and Millennials (born 1980-1996). These years are the body electric, fast swelling rise of television and its medicinal use. For better or for worse. I feel the comforting blanket of those Alpha waves just writing about it.

Mmm it’s cozy, I hope we don’t crash.

MST3K (using the combination of bad movies and comedy) curated a powerful brand of medicine. They did this inadvertently; the crew was just trying to make something funny. (That subtle simplicity is kind of beautiful, no?). Us MSTies find our connections and a certain level of validation (the “hey there are other dweebs like me out there” kind) in MST3K and our little fandom. It’s the MSTies that have turned MST3K into medicine, we invented the SOL PICC line!

Famed (at times infamous) film critic Pauline Kael once said “Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them.”  When she said this, I don’t believe she had “Manos”: The Hands of Fate in mind (Fact: Manos means hands in Spanish, so the title is really “Hands”: The Hands of Fate).

It is fun to apply it anyway, like when you’re a kid and you peel dried glue gunk off your fingers.

Different articles have related high IQ to liking bad movies. We become so accustomed to the usual algorithm of storytelling when we come across a movie we can’t make sense of (because it has no sense!) one becomes fascinated by it. Honestly, I realize that is just intellectual theory when it comes to how that rates one on the IQ scale, but it’s flattering to us MSTies- so we’ll take the compliment.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return was brought to life by the faithful fans through one of Kickstarter’s most successful campaigns. MST3K now is opening up to a new generation with the 2017 debutI’ll refrain from mentioning how important it is for there to be varied and positive females visible in media today.

I trust you to know it’s VERY important.

Pictured: Ashley Holtgraver (AKA Christmas Sagan of band Freezepop) with Joel Hodgson for the 2015 Turkey Day Marathon.

 As a child Ashley sent in a fan letter and it was read on the ’92 Turkey Day Marathon. Ashley has gone on to help the gang with the Kickstarter, Invent the Theremin Turkey, and write on the show!

MST3K has developed and shifted throughout its eleven seasons. The riffs in each episode have a balance of pop culture references, and situational riffs based on how the nightmare fuel on the screen is churning. Many past and present folks involved in the show will tell you that there is a riff for everyone.

The humor of MST3K actually transcends gender (again, inadvertently). As a female MSTie I’ve never felt the show’s riffs were particularly masculine or feminine (except one great riff in a Mike episode “I think the T-Rex is the ultimate pear shape,” delivered with the perfect tone).

I don’t know the actual MSTie gender demographic, but I feel there are just as many female fans of the show as there are male (don’t you burst my emotional truth bubble). Most of them I’ve connected with through the social media sites. It’s the illusion of human connection, but it’s perfect to chat with your fandom peeps when there aren’t people cool enough to “get it” around you. Connecting with MSTies has always been positive and a lot fun to chat about favorite episodes, riffs and see other’s amazing fanart.

Through the span of time I’ve been on Twitter, I’ve voluntarily (and involuntarily) been a part of enough “which host is the hottest” discussions to know a lot of female fans are out there.  Even in my silly fandom crushes I can’t help my “catch me if you can” attitude taking over. I grew up watching too many noir femme fatales.  I say “put the blame on Mame, boys.”  I’m not one to makes things easy. Imagine a dark detective office I’m asking my favorite host to help me find my poor kidnapped punt bunnies.

But I digress.

I could write an article on my psychological theories why female fans are drawn to Joel, Mike, or Jonah. Really! I would use words/phrases/concepts such as archetype, subconscious memory, the rise of the “nerd” (why nerds are so “in” right now), biosocial conditioning, empirical evidence, axiology, adorkable, daddy issues, and sexy blue bedroom eyes.

I will spare the world of that article. Enough about the guys for now.

MST3K has employed many brilliant female writers and crew members. I feel this is especially true for Season 11 The Return.

This is for the ladies on the screen and on crew.

In 1995, Beez started as an intern and was soon hired in the prop department for Season 7. She was known as the soft prop gal and worked at Best Brains Inc. until the end. Like many of the crew, she also had a few appearances on camera. For The Return she had the well-deserved position to design costumes for Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot.

Lesley Kinzel

When Lesley was an editor for xojane.com in 2013 she wrote an article about the influence MST3K has had in her life. This was before the Season 11 new wave. For Lesley the water mark left by the mighty comedic wave of the original MST3K was still clearly visible. As MSTies, we hold very dear to our hearts the idea that “the right people will get it,” a phrase coined by Joel Hodgson concerning how he felt during MST3K’s inception.

Lesley was really one of those people that did “get it,” so much so she was a part of and ran MST3K forums since she was a teenager. She was one of those faithful fans holding what she had taken away from the show close to her as she moved forward in life. Lesley was a fundamental part of the Kickstarter (also officially on the communication team). Lesley has gone on to be a writer on the show and associate produce.

Bridget Jones Nelson:

Bridget was a long-time staff writer who made many on-screen cameo appearances during her time on the show. In the late 1980s she met fellow stand-up comedian, young Frank Conniff and soon after, Mike Nelson. Her first known involvement with the show was as an “at home writer”.  She was treated like any other applicant and auditioned to become a regular writer on the show. In an interview on the MST3K Revival League podcast she recalls that Ator (AKA “Cave Dwellers” Season 3-01) as the first episode where she applied her riffing skills.

In Season 3 Ep. 16 (the 63rd ep.) “Gamera Vs. Zigra” Joel calls upon Rocket No.9 to speak with Kenny and Helen gloriously riding on the back of the friend to all children, Gamera! Of course, this was a cameo from the young Mike and Bridget (imitating the poorly dubbed style of Sandy Frank’s films). “Gamera is my boyfriend.”

Bridget was also one of the voices of the Nanoites. Mistakenly on Wikipedia (yes, the internet is wrong) she is credited as “Magic Voice.” In a joint interview with Mary Jo Pehl, again on The Revival League podcast both confirmed that Bridget never was Magic Voice but Mary Jo Pehl was Magic Voice for most of that character’s run.

According to Bridget herself she is an extreme extrovert. This along with her born to riff (that’s a phrase I’m trying to make hip) nature brought more variety to the show.  I’ve been told in an interview with creator Joel Hodgson, Bridget was his first pick as his replacement when he (sadly) stepped down as host. I have not seen said interview and I don’t know how “official” Joel’s statement might have been.

It doesn’t hurt me to believe it’s true, so I’m gonna keep believing it. I don’t like too many things spelled out for me in film and TV. The answer to “who is Kinga Forrester’s mother?” doesn’t interest me much.  I must say that if they do answer that question and Kinga indeed has a human mother (as opposed to being some outcome of an experiment) I hope Bridget Jones Nelson plays that character.

Mary Jo Pehl

Mary Jo also started off in stand up. She joined the MST3K writing team in 1992. She played a few cameos and was magic voice from 1993 to 1997. But then…

Oh, but then…

Pearl Forrester Phase 1: Mama Pearl

In the Comedy Central years, Pearl Forrester first appeared in Season 6 ep. 6 Bloodlust!. Dr. Clayton Forrester invites his mother to Deep 13 in hopes to impress her. Funny enough we find out she and Frank communicate fairly often and have become friends. Clayton for her was always a disappointment.

When Frank (sadly) left the show and went to 2nd banana heaven it is stated that Mary Jo as Pearl Forrester became his replacement.

I see it differently.

Fairly quickly the roles of primary antagonist and 2nd banana shifted between Dr. Clayton Forrester and Mama Pearl. Pearl’s character became more dominant, embarrassing Clayton in front of Mike and the bots (remember that trombone recital?) Her relationship with Crow also started here, where she clearly favored him (and left him in charge to babysit the others). She never did bother to get his name right but I never remember Art… I mean Crow correcting her.

In an interview with on the Revival League podcast (guys listen to it, you learn a lot) Mary Jo recalled that Pearl really became Pearl Forrester during the 1995 Thanksgiving special where she says grace while putting her leg up on the table.

Pearl Forrester Phase 2: The Lawgiver

Season 8 Ep. 1 (The Revenge of the Creature) in the year 2525 Mike and the bots find themselves linked to an Earth taken over by Apes. They send them bad movies because the “lawgiver” demands it. Of course, that lawgiver without question was Pearl Forrester.  At this time Pearl Forrester was having her awakening (like Eat, Pray, Love only not boring). At the season finale for Comedy Central Clayton Forrester had turned into a “star baby” in a great 2001: A Space Odyssey parody.

Pearl was going to rule the world even if she had to do it one person at a time (seriously, she specifically tried to do that, check out Season 9 Ep. 10 Final Sacrifice). She’d given up on the idea of starting over with her son. As Brain Guy later states in Season 11, Forresters’ never see things through to completion. But she had vowed to avenge his death by carrying on his experiment (something he whispered on his deathbed…according to Pearl).

Two key factors of a MST3K mad are one, you have to be evil. And two, you have to be funny. Pearl was sarcastic, would never bother to remember your name, rude, and outright hilarious.  She’s had many fiancés and husbands…and killed them all. Nothing could hold her down. Sure, she was delusional, narcissistic and insane but isn’t that what you want in a Mad?

Mary Jo (to my knowledge) was the first woman to riff in the official Mystery Science Theater with the bots on the SOL Season 9 Ep. 12 Quest of the Delta Knights. Yes, fellow MSTies I do remember there was a Joel episode where Gypsy was in the theater for a little while. Although Gypsy is a female character she was voiced by Jim Mallon. It doesn’t count as a woman in the theater.

Hold your pretty little horses MSTies: I’m gonna get to Gypsy soon.

Pearl Forrester Phase 3: Grandma Pearl

Mary Jo makes a few cameos in The Return as new reigning Mad Kinga Forrester’s grandmother. Like her relationship with her son when it comes to family ties and connection, Pearl would rather not get involved when she has more important things to do. She made a clone to do those sorts of things for her. Unlike with her son she does find pride after witnessing Kinga’s complete disregard for others in the season finale. It was…. heartwarming?

Well as heartwarming a moment with the deliciously evil Pearl ever could be.

I really miss Mary Jo’s dry, sarcastic, sometimes scary, cartoonish yet deadpan delivery as Pearl. She brought an entirely different flavor to being a Mad that we’ll never forget. I’ve known quite a few female MSTies who strongly relate to Pearl.

Rebecca Hanson

Rebecca is a Second City alumni, actress and singer. She has also taught improv. extensively. On MST3K The Return Rebecca is a writer and the voice and attitude of the new Gypsy! Rebecca brings a little bit of dry wit to Gypsy. Gypsy again is let into the theater to deliver occasional riffs. Even though Rebecca is not technically in the theater, I’ll count her as the second female to riff in there officially.

The SOL seems to depend on Gypsy to run properly, she is a little too busy to be involved with the all the antics of Jonah and the bots. Gypsy in earlier seasons is the more sensitive and at times motherly bot (especially in the sci-fi years). Personally, I favor Rebecca’s take on Gypsy, although I do hope to see more of Gypsy’s past traits. I always found Gypsy’s crush on Richard Basehart cute but the kids these days probably wouldn’t recognize the reference (honestly as a kid I didn’t either but I got the idea).

Who would be today’s Richard Basehart?

As Pearl’s Clone, Synthia:

Synthia for the most part appears robotic and unable to experience or share general human emotions properly. In a couple moments Synthia briefly lets the robotic act slid and we see a glimmer of the easy going gal she is.  Perhaps Synthia is smart enough to deploy such an act so she doesn’t have to deal with Kinga. This was something prominent at the MST3K live show!

I was one of the lucky MSTies able to attend the MST3K live show. I met Rebecca very briefly for a photo op. at the first show in Boston. Unfortunately, I did not get to chat with her like some other MSTies did but I can tell you she is just as kind and frankly, adorable in person.  All summer the gang toured around the country, Rebecca was the only female that was part of the tour (I state that as a simple fact, not a complaint, scheduling and so on). Her performance really shined through live, she has tremendous energy and charisma.

A better versed in the MSTieverse MStie I know only through twitter stated what all of us felt about Rebecca better than I could in my own little mind.  He felt that perhaps in the next season (now that The Return is a little more ironed out) Synthia will be a bigger part of the show.  It would be more of a trio dynamic similar to what Pearl, Bobo and Brain Guy had.  I haven’t seen any MSTie that went to the live show state anything different. We all want more Rebecca!

Felicia Day

Felicia Day, there is just so much to say about Felicia Day (I love rhyming, even if it’s terrible).  Felicia was a violin prodigy who graduated college at the age of 19 with a 4.0. You should just read her autobiography You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). It’s a hilarious memoir and despite her tremendous accomplishments, she remains humble yet frank.

After moving to LA Felicia found herself unfulfilled by the commercial jobs and “awkward secretary” roles she was offered.  She took it upon herself to write her own series about online gaming.  Every meeting with an executive to make The Guild something for TV lead to disappointment. Felicia and her comrades made the show themselves and put it online.

Eventually the “right people” found the show (remember those right people Joel reference before?) and The Guild gained a steady following (Hey! You can watch that on Netflix too).

Kinga Forrester

In an interview Joel Hodgson revealed that his inspiration for Kinga was the villain from The Super Inframan (1975).  He imagined Princess Dragon Mom (she was also the inspiration for Power Ranger’s Rita Repulsa) with the head of Lucille Ball. Sounds odd I know, but I enjoy how Kinga turned out.

Kinga Forrester is the Mad for the new generation. She is not quite evil yet but aspires to it. Instead of global domination, Kinga is focused on money and being the queen of all media (Felicia in an interview said she prefers the term Grand Duchess). Although, you would think ruling media is close to ruling the world these days. That statement is a void of impending darkness I’m going to avoid.

Marketing mogul might have been a better path for Kinga, similar to a Bond or Batman villain she knows about branding. The Kinga brand including a “stand by” screen with her face on it, the Moon 13 logo hangs on banners, the skeleton crew, her less than SD Kinga Chrome and the station breaks with Max’s voiceover feel like a constant reminder you are in her control. Her inventions are mostly ideas she steals and exploits from Jonah and the bots.  She might not be making money off of them anytime soon.

Kinga often reminds me of Veruca Salt: everything has to be her way or she’ll throw a tantrum.  We assume she lived a fairly isolated life surrounded by henchmen who don’t talk back. She is emotionally underdeveloped and this is what gets in her way most of the time. Remember in your early twenties that roommate who never had to do anything for herself growing up so she was completely inept to deal with basic responsibilities?  Yeah, that’s Kinga. She’d leave the place a mess, be annoyed you don’t want to hear every single way the world is unfair to her and she’d ask you to do her laundry.

In the appropriate Mad format, Kinga lacks skills for interpersonal effectiveness. Her only romantic experience was solely online. They only got to sorta meet up for that most excellent song Our Love Is On Wings. It’s a “relationship” void of real commitment, compromise, considering some else’s feelings, physical contact, deep intellectual connection, chemistry, and resolving conflict.

These are all things Kinga is not equipped for.

Felicia plays the part of the dominating yet childish Mad very well. Despite Kinga’s flaws Felicia brings something to her character that makes her, well, loveable! I can’t help but finding a fondness for her (it could be my own childish feelings of redhead solidarity). A defining statement for Kinga was when she tells Max she hates him “not to hurt *his* feelings, but she’s just stating it as a fact.”

Not anyone could make us love Kinga the way Felicia does. She fits right in with the rest of the great Mads of MST3K.

As for me, how do I feel as a female fan? What character do I relate to? How has MST3K influenced me?  I’ve written about this in the past and wanted to stay focused on this conversation as a whole. In some cases, if you are standing over more than the edge of a piece or idea you are simply taking up too much space.

Everyone I’ve encountered because of MST3K have been down to earth, everyday folks. This applies not only to fellow MSTies but the cast and crew as well! There is a comfort to having entertainers and artists you strongly admire that don’t sit upon a high pedestal you’ve constructed in your mind. As a fandom we may always be a little left of center but we continue to always move forward with harmony.

No matter what earthly shape we take.

I’m excited for what Season 12 has for the ladies of MST3K! Until next time fellow MSTies, keep circulating the positivity.

Love and Rockets,

Emma of the Impact

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