Songs for the Struggling Artist

The Inspiring Solidarity of The Cable Girls

If we’ve talked about TV in the last few weeks (and we MAY have talked about TV a lot in these virus times,) I’ve surely mentioned Cable Girls to you. I’ve become a bit obsessed. It’s a Spanish TV show about switchboard operators in the early 20th century. It is stylish and sexy and most impressively, about women’s solidarity.

There is nothing the women in this show won’t do for their friends. And I mean nothing. They will tank their relationships, start a strike, even stage a prison break. They are a group of friends who show up for each other in some really extraordinarily ways.

There are many things about this show stretch the bounds of credulity. It is very much like a telenovela in terms of its plot twists. Amnesia? Check. Love triangle? Check. Sudden appearance of an identical twin? Check. It is not a realistic show. But the bonds of these friends always seem absolutely credible. While I don’t necessarily believe the prison break, I do believe that they would do it to help one of their own.

Watching these women choose each other over and over makes me realize how rare it is to see women together like this. So often, on screen, women are portrayed as competitors, as spatting rivals, not colleagues. The women in Cable Girls (Las Chicas del Cable) begin as colleagues and grow into collaborators and friends and even accomplices and comrades in multiple heists and schemes.

Watching a team of friends pull off a heist is, I suppose, a fairly common dramatic structure. But it is rarely a team of women and almost definitely not a team of women whose difficulties arise from outside of the group, rather than within it.

It gives me enormous solace to watch a group of women friends take on the indignities of sexism or encroaching capitalism or the sexist structures around them and do it together. When the main character chose her friends over her lover and clearly articulated that that was what she was doing, this TV show showed me something I had never seen before. This show has these women continuously choose each other, over and over. No one can come between them. Everyone who knows these “girls” knows that if one of them is in trouble, the others have to go.

It’s powerful to watch a group of women take on impossible situations. It feels like what’s been happening on an international scale for the last few years. Groups of women are coming together, like the Cable Girls, and facing what seem like impossible situations and sometimes winning.

Is the show silly? Yes. Very. (Heist. Twins. Amnesia. It’s silly.) Is it soapy? So very much. But it’s, like, stylish soap. Sexy period soap? With pearls and cloche hats. I cannot get enough. Also, the Spanish is incredibly musical. I don’t speak enough Spanish to be able to identify what’s happening – but it seems like there might be a sort of stylized theatrical quality to the speech? I sometimes feel like I could sing it after watching an episode. Turn off the dubbing and turn on the subtitles for the optimal feminine solidarity experience. I wish I could also turn off the weird contemporary music in English that I’m guessing Netflix has added to appeal to us Americans but alas there is no music adjustment setting.

It might be just the right show for the moment – or just the wrong one. For me, in these times when I miss my own friends so profoundly, it is a comfort to watch a group of women support each other. In the absence of hugs from my community, I get some visceral joy from the group hugs that the Cable Girls have fairly often. For someone else, the absence of such comforts in our current situation of social distancing might make it hard to watch. But there are some robberies to make up for it, though, so maybe it’s just the ticket!

Anyway – I’m just a few episodes from the end of the final season, which I’m finding not QUITE as light and airy as previous seasons. Unfortunately, since it’s based on history, I sort of know how this Spanish Civil War situation goes and it’s not a happy story. It’s particularly not a happy development that may have opened the door for subsequent fascism around Europe so I’m not quite sure how the usual feel good Cable Girls are going to get through the end of this season in their formerly uplifting way. (Don’t tell me if you’ve already seen it.) But, see, if they do manage it – if they do find some way through that brutal fascistic experience, I think I might take some comfort in that. I think I might need that kind of inspiration.

It is a silly kind of revolutionary show of togetherness but maybe that’s just what we need to have modeled right now. Or what I needed to have modeled right now. If you’re my friend, I just want to let you know, I will help you with your bank heist if you need to escape your abusive husband. Just know that I will. (Unless you’re the police, in which case, I know nothing about that bank heist. What bank heist? I won’t snitch on my girls.)

photo by Fred Romero of Las Chicas del Cable in Madrid via wikicommons

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