N.C. Harrison reflects on the sitcom Designing Women, from which he experienced his earliest crushes and also refined his oratorical style.
Daffney, of WCW, TNA and SHIMMER fame, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s geeky, awkward, beautiful friend Willow were the first women on television that I considered my “crushes.” These feelings came hard on the heels of each other, in my sixth and seventh grade years of school, and introduced me both to the idea of romance and the wonderful world of fanfiction. I first noticed a profound and wonderful difference between masculine and feminine when I was much younger, however, while watching episodes of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s wonderful sitcom Designing Women with my mother in the living room of a small yellow trailer.
We liked this show—or she liked it and I have come to like it—primarily for the razor sharp writing and positive depiction of a business set in Atlanta. As natives of Georgia, I honestly have to say that anything that doesn’t depict us all as racist rednecks is going to be very well received. The former Miss Florida Delta Burke, as the former Miss Georgia Suzanne Sugarbaker, is still my ultimate standard by which to judge femininity. Her curvaceous figure, cat-like eyes and slightly wicked smirk would have been difficult for any man to ignore, and most did not even try. I see this character reflected in each one of the young women who have, to this point, been my girlfriends. These include an actress, a model and a former Miss Teen Georgia runner up, each one fiery and wonderful.
The character from this show that has stuck with the in the most meaningful way, however, was Suzanne’s sister, Julia, as portrayed by the incomparably elegant Dixie Carter, who left us much too soon. Suzanne worked on my mind as an early childhood proto-infatuation. Julia, on the other hand, seemed like a superhero. Her rants about truth, justice and the American way could have put Superman or any tumblr social justice activist to crying shame. I memorized them, as a seven year old child, especially the ones about Southerners not eating dirt and “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.” I hoped and prayed, as little as I was, that if I was ever called upon to defend my little sister in such a way that I could do so with that panache.
It did not matter that, as I later found out, Dixie Carter was a staunch Republican and demanded time on the show for her singing in return for delivering these decidedly liberal diatribes. First of all, her singing was the kind of smoky, sensual affair that can give a child a lifelong appreciation for countrypolitan or jazz. Second, and most important, the combination of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s sharp, clear writing and Carter’s rich, powerful voice just seemed so incredibly epic. There was no way you could not believe what she was saying even if the actress herself did not. Alan Alda never sounded half so believable running through Bloodworth-Thomason’s writing on MASH, even though it usually was a true reflection of his own opinions. He always sounded, at least on one level or another, somehow ironic as compared to Carter’s furious, furious earnestness.
These rants have stuck with me and have given me, I hope, some fuel when I am called upon to speak truth to power or stand up for the rights of those who are less fortunate and who cannot for some reason stand up for themselves. I have taken multiple classes in pulpit communication and homiletics of all kinds, but nothing has taught me nearly so much about effective persuasive oratory as a good, old fashioned Julia Sugarbaker rant on any episode of Designing Women, not even watching professional wrestling promos. Some of those are rhetorical gold but these… these were pure diamond, hard and clear.