April 6, 2011

this is when we talk about rayanne graff. (spoiler alerts for the entire series! don't say i didn't warn you!)

I was in middle school when I first tried watching My So-Called Life and I quickly lost interest, still in that period of time where you know some things are over your head and that you're not supposed to identify with them and that you'll revisit later. That's the great thing about teenage-centric pop culture, though -- as fewer things around you make sense, the more a series like MSCL does. And so I restarted it with the beginning of my freshman year and finished it over spring break a couple weeks ago. It only lasted a season but is so chock full of stuff happening that it feels like a journey, you know? I marveled at the uncanny resemblances between Angela Chase, the 15 year-old protagonist going to a public high school in the suburbs, and myself. When Angela was upset with her parents, I had the same beef with my own. When Angela danced in her room to the Violent Femmes after getting over Jordan Catalano, I did, as well. I too was familiar with a Brian Krakow, the kind of person you were family friends as third graders and who finds your desire to grow and change blasphemous. And red hair! Angela Chase and I both had shades of Crimson Glow! A lot of these parallels are typical, but too bad. At this age I think most people are extremely dependent on drawing those parallels, on finding something to latch on to and call one's own, so just let me be delusional for a second.

Though most of us know a Catalano and a Krakow, the most universally familiar aspect of Angela's life, at least among teenage girls, might be her narrations. They're wise words spaced out with "likes" and "reallys," and, when the show was still on the air, were sometimes regarded by critics as too intelligent for a teenage girl. Many people have also found them overly cheesy or deep, but that's how some of us teenage girls think! All these experiences are new and sometimes we think of something that sounds really poetic and perfect and think we are brilliant because of it! These thoughts often fall into cliches, but cliches can also be uniting experiences, with girls like Angela acting as mediator! So shut up!

Angela shares nice bonding moments with even the most irritating of characters throughout the series, but forget the mother-daughter fashion show, or the exchange between Angela and Jordan about the shapes of his cuticles. The only person who I think really saw what made Angela so truly special, who could see that she had secrets and thoughts that went beyond even the profound narrations the rest of us got to hear, was her best friend, Rayanne Graff.

Rayanne is what Harold Weir might call a bad banana. She has a bit of a drinking problem, definitely earned her place on the sophomore list as "most slut potential," and never developed a filtering system when it came to polite conversation. Rayanne takes Angela under her wing at the beginning of the school year and helps her to blossom -- encourages her to go for Catalano, is responsible for the red hair, and introduces her to a few new dangerous settings. Around the middle of the series, Angela's face is noticeably meaner; a little wicked, a little more fire in that head of Crimson Glow. She delivers her retorts to her parents with more confidence, and learns a thing or two about the boiler room.

In the first episode of the series, Angela's old friend, Sharon, interrogates her concerning this new friendship, making sure she knows that Rayanne Graff drops friends as quickly as she gains them. It sounds like sour grapes from a reject, but we soon learn that Sharon was right. People like Angela are Rayanne's source of normalcy; she lives vicariously through her plain-faced friend to experience the cliches viewers like myself identify with. But Rayanne, no matter how many bad habits she has, is almost maternal in how she nurtures lives like Angela's, simpler and so-called. Of course there's selfishness there, but Angela isn't just Rayanne's little project, or the Tai to her Cher. Rayanne really appreciates and admires her. And when Rayanne recognizes the beauty and truth to Angela's simple thoughtfulness, any viewer like myself who identified with it might felt valued, too.

Unfortunately, we also felt almost just as betrayed when Rayanne slept with Jordan in the third to last episode. Rayanne's recklessness that was once the source of her and Angela's friendship's excitement also becomes the reason for its bitter end, and the circumstances are too awful for them to find each other again by the season finale.

Obviously, the series didn't end the way I wanted it to. If it had been up to me, Angela and Rayanne would've made up. They would've spent the summer on a Deadhead bus like Lindsay Weir and Kim Kelly, grown together, and vowed to be BFFS for forever and ever.* But that, too, would feel wrong. Rayanne is, more realistically, the kind of person who leaves someone's life just as quickly as she changes it -- in a flash of color and compassion, and with a little guilt, because she does have enough of a conscience to feel responsible for letting an innocent soul like that of Angela's explore her world. And because, well, she cares about her. In a time of unfaithful Catalanos and misunderstanding parents, none of whom realize how lucky they are to know someone like Angela, Rayanne really knew what was at stake when she lost Angela's friendship, and she felt terrible about it.**

Rayanne didn't change Angela -- she's just one of the only people who let Angela change, and the first who encouraged her to try it. It might've been just a phase. No, it was definitely a phase. And you get the feeling, by the end of the series, that Angela will go through a number more phases before finally feeling comfortable with herself, and before knowing who "herself" is, and all that good stuff. But at the root of all that was Rayanne Graff. That's one of the only parts of Angela Chase that I can't yet identify with, but I think those people enter and leave for a reason and at just the right times, so I'm confident that it'll happen. Until then, Rayanne is inspiration enough.

*I also wanted Danielle and Krakow to get together and move away because they're both so damn annoying, and I wanted Jared Leto to not go on to be responsible for this.
**She also didn't make Krakow write some dopey note for her. GO TO YOUR CORNER, CATALANO.


And now we shall talk about Rayanne's style, duh. It's really perfect for her, mishmashy and piled on and thrown together and semi-ugly at times. Details of the same outfit will change over the course of a day, and she's often adjusting some part of her hair during school. Also these are all from a single night when I capped the whole series and it got tiring so these are not the cutest captures of A.J. Langer's facial expressions. And most importantly, I really really recommend this piece about Rayanne and teenage girl friendships in general that Emma Straub wrote for the Paris Review. I read it before making this post, actually, and reread it frequently for the same reasons I need to convince myself that Angela Chase and I have a lot in common.

PART I: FULL OUTFITS.

Floral (?) leggings and sporty dress.

Fringe, because she's a free spirit n stuff.

YEAH, I HOPE YOU FEEL AS GUILTY AS YOU LOOK. Rayanne matches the color palette of the student activities board.

What's this? Patchwork pants?

YEP, PATCHWORK PANTS.

Chill P.E. uniform, faded longsleeve and printed leggings.




Leopard coat and jean shorts over red tights, obviously.

With the Frozen Embryos.


Ricky, L, deserves a discussion of his own one of these days.

Note the mismatched Converse, and wearing a bunch of stuff that's different prints but all the same colors -- ah, classic Rayanne.

KNEE SOCKS WITH HEARTS ON THEM.

Really good printed floral dress.

Red tights + jean shorts again (A LOT of her clothes/accessories make reappearances, realistically so) and two-toned hoodie.


Grateful Dead tee.


Rayanne wore a lot of open shirts with just a bra underneath.

PART II: DETAILS.


IMPORTANT: rainbow hair bands coordinated with sequins on old lady cape and strand of orange hair.

Pipe cleaner hair.

Madonna earring and CAN I GET A BETTER LOOK AT THEM HAIRS?

Yes.

Casual, beanie and safety pin earring, just one braid, you know, whatevs.


Leopard coat again and hat that kind of sucks. (Okay, all of Rayanne's hats suck. Mostly because they hide her earrings.)





Pipe cleaner necklace.

Frequently reappearing Yin/Yang earring.


Crazy hair for that time she threw a crazy party.

She gets a lil sporty sometimes.

So many Rayanne elements to this one.

Sharing her candy bracelet with Ricky! That's another thing about Rayanne, she has candy with her randomly, like that time she offered the school counselor or whatever a bunch of lollipops.


For the longest time I thought those earrings were bunches of grapes, but after the strenuous process of all this screencapping (I think I can now take an official title as Rayanne Graff Style Biographer or something, the way people study people like Bob Dylan for like, a living) I discovered they are in fact just clusters of green beads. IT'S OKAY EVERYONE, WE KNOW NOW, YOU CAN ALL CALM DOWN.

She wears these weird queen of hearts earrings a lot.







Only time this klassy jacket makes an appearance.

Recurring cap.


Mismatched earrings + plaid bra underneath open shirt.

When she got back from the Grateful Dead concert.


Ring pop!!

GOD THAT TOOK FOREVER. I kind of never want to see Rayanne again after this.