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February 28, 2000 e-mail e-mail to a friend in need

Keeping Up With Bridget Jones

In England, "truck" is "lorry," "apartment" is "flat," and "Ally Mc Beal" is "Bridget Jones." Except for the part where people are pretty much over Ally.

Bridget first found her breathless voice as the fictional author (real one: Helen Fielding) of a phenomenally popular column in London's Independent newspaper, which morphed into the UK -- and in 1998, US -- bestseller, Bridget Jones' Diary. In a tale loosely based on on Pride and Prejudice, Bridget -- coining perma-terms such as Singletons, and their arch enemies, Smug Marrieds -- obsessively chronicled her dizzy careening through a life of unhealthy habits, romantic, professional, chemical, and otherwise.

And now she's back, in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Good/same old Bridget: "Friday, 31 January. 130 lbs., alcohol units 6 (2) [figures in parentheses denote data given to fitness assessor], calories 4,284 (1,500), lies told to fitness assessor (14)."

But the fact that she's even at the gym ("not merely to buy sandwich") suggests that this time, things will be different. Right? Bridget writes: "Hurrah! The wilderness years are over. For four weeks and five days now have been in functional relationship with adult male, thereby proving am not love pariah as previously feared." Ah! Perhaps her earlier resolve -- oft-echoed by BG -- has held: "Develop inner poise and authority and sense of self as woman of substance, complete without boyfriend, as best way to obtain boyfriend." Or perhaps not. If you know Bridget, you know her "love pariah" status will return (no doubt in some sort of embarassing outfit with a snug "foundation garment" riding ever higher).

Sure enough, Bridget bellyflops not, as in the first diary, into the glossy-aggressive feel-bad world of women's magazines, but rather into the gotta-getta-gimmick genre of self-help (on her shelf: "How To Find the Love You Want Without Seeking It" and "How To Find You Want the Love You Didn't Seek"). Not that that self-helps much, either, as Bridget muses: "Am assured, receptive, responsive woman of substance. My sense of self comes not from other people but from … from … myself? That can't be right."

Why does BG think BJ is so "blurry brilliant?"

First, because Bridget represents Singletondom both at its most mortifying ("humiliatingly spending Christmas Eve alone in my parents' house in a single bed") and its most defiant. Here's her galpal Jude's bridal toast, jointly written by the three best friends: "I promise never to suggest that Singletondom is a mistake, or that because someone is a Singleton there is anything wrong with them. For, as we all know, Singletondom is a normal state in the modern world, all of us are single at different times in our lives and the state is every bit as worthy as Holy Wedlock…I promise also to keep in constant contact with my best friends, Bridget and Sharon, who are living proof that the Urban Singleton Family is just as strong and supportive, just as there for you, as anyone's blood family."

Second, because of what that toast -- and the rest of the book -- also says about the (call me corny) paramount importance of friendships. Anyone routinely blowing off friends to partner-seek -- or shag -- should listen up. It's Jude and Sharon ("Shazzer") -- not "Mars and Venus" -- who lift our heroine up from her most precipitous pratfalls. They ring or rush over at a moment's notice; together, these babes coin the terms -- such as an entire mini-lexicon derived from the word "pashmina" * -- that make their world make sense. And -- notable bonus -- it's at the big post-toast Friendship Moment that their boyfriends beam at them most warmly.

Third: message, schmessage -- it's just funny. Snicker-on-the-subway funny. Yeah, I've heard all the anti-Ally-esque boos about Bridget: she's "pathetic," "self-absorbed," "neurotic," blah blah. If she's not your style, fine. But what's often between -- or, verily -- in the lines here is: "…and therefore she is Bad For Women." Oh, whatever. No one ever said: "The Tony Danza Show: is it Good for Men?" This is not a documentary (nor self-help). Hi, it's a parody -- a rather highbrow one at that -- and actually, one that does an remarkably good job at being funny about the things it's so bloomin' easy to be unfunny about. Like oh, bikini stress. Old joke, new flava: "Have spent all day in changing rooms of Oxford Street trying to squeeze my breasts into bikini tops designed for people with breasts either arranged one on top of the other in the center of their chests or one under each arm, with the harsh downlighting making me look like River Café frittata." This, ladies and blokes, is no Cathy "Ack!"

So let's quit being paranoid and patronizing; let's try and take humor a little less seriously. What's Good for Women -- and the people who love them? Wit.

* e.g. "Pashmarried. A friend who you used to go out with and is now married with children who likes having you around as memory of old life but makes you feel like mad barren pod-womb imagining vicar is in love with self."



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