But goddamn, the girls on Step by Step were hot.
Like every other sitcom, it was the show’s depictions of burgeoning teenage sexuality that kept the teenybopper core watching, and these scenarios were invariably conveyed with the same perverse air of forgery and hypocrisy as the pharisaic morals that accompanied the titillation. The end result always left a bad taste in your mouth, an empty void in your soul as meaningless as the hollow, canned laughter.
Case in point:
Fig. A: simple joys made grotesque
In Step by Step’s All-American world where premarital sex and tattoos will ruin your life but step-incest and twelve year old tits are dressed up as fun for the whole family, Dana Foster was the voice of reason. The oldest daughter in the family, she was the a liberal feminist stock character who always expressed her dissenting opinions in the snarkiest, most pompous manner possible -- and rightfully so, considering the crap that went on in her world every Friday evening.
Oh, and she was a knockout!
Fig B: RIP: 1991-1997
Dana was the babe meant to appeal to the atypically critical viewer. She was a rare flower in the desert of American idiocracy, a beautiful, insubordinate bitch...
But then something horrible happened.
Fig. C: a snuff film
Behold, the soul-crushing video that suddenly made me realize that I actually care about a character on Step by Step. Watch it and shiver in horror. Yes, the jokes are excruciatingly unfunny and the writing flows like the birth of siamese twins, but let’s ignore all that for a moment; there is a much graver crime on display.
What we are looking at here is a murder. Dana, the desert rose, has been trampled into the sand, assimilated into the fornicating collective of churls. She has been bound and defeated by some contrived screwball comedy plot device, this meet cute “opposites attract” Preston Sturges wannabe bullshit. I mean, it wouldn’t have been that hard to set Dana up with a sensitive, deep poet boyfriend or something. After all, the only trope more prevalent than the opposites attract rule is the trope of the clones in love. Think of the Chipmunks and their genetically engineered girlfriends, the Chipettes. That would have been the expected route to take.
Instead, the writers purposely contrived this scenario knowing that it would warm Middle America's flag-wavin' heart to see such a majestic, untamed cunt dominated and wrangled up by one of the good ol' boys, a red-blooded American anti-intellectual role model who would rather be shooting hoops than reading Shakespeare. Are we really supposed to believe that an academic like Dana is willing to overlook the flaws of Rich “nachos rule” Halke because she’s impressed that he can use the word “inhumanity” in a sentence?
Yes, that is the problem with sitcoms: we are supposed to believe.
All this time I’ve spoken of Dana Foster as if she were a real person. However, if we are come to a sensible conclusion, we must eventually acknowledge the obvious: Dana is a fictional construct, one ideology's superficial caricature of another. She isn’t really an intelligent independent thinker, she is what ignorant agents of consumer culture consider an intelligent independent thinker to be. In short, Dana was born from the same decayed values that she appears to rise above. She is not really an oasis in the desert, but rather a mirage. She is a feminist straw man, and this moment of moral immolation in the embrace Rich Halke is what she was created for.
And yet, even though she was shaped from the same corrupt clay as the rest of the show, I feel as if something of actual value was lost.
There was once an episode of Batman: the Animated Series titled “Growing Pains.” In the episode, Robin develops feelings for a girl named Annie, who turns out to be a lost part Clayface, the evil shape-shifting blob of mud. As Robin finds out in the episode’s heart-wrenching climax, part of Clayface’s body had broken off and taken on the shape of a young girl, which eventually forgot its origins and came to fancy itself a real girl: Annie. At the end of the episode, Clayface tracks her down with the intention of reabsorbing her into his body. Robin vows to save her, but Annie, upon learning the truth, replies, “Save what? I’m not real.”
Fig D: Annie's fate compels us to reexamine our views on Dana
Still, when Clayface finally does reabsorb her, Robin grieves Annie’s “death” and grumbles that Commissioner Gordon ought to add murder to Clayface’s list of charges. Who are we to say whether or not his feelings are justified?
Similarly, Dana Foster was not the hero in this tale, but rather an unwitting illusion serving as part of a much larger villain. And like Annie, although she was never real, to see her assimilated back into the muck from whence she came breaks my heart. The moment at which she was robbed of her illusory volition and made to succumb to Rich’s “charms,” she was, in fact, murdered.-- H.A. Farber