Periodically, Pop Culture Has AIDS will check in on the latest dead celebrities and determine what impact they had on our lives. Why? Because it’s important to remember the dead, and even more important to self-indulgently examine the inane pop cultural arcana from our own lives. This time around…Dixie Carter.
Holy living fuck, did I hate Designing Women. Julia Sugarbaker, Annie Potts, Charlene, the fat one, Anthony — I hated every single one of them, and I hated every minute they were on my TV screen because my mother and sister liked the show.
I hated the South, I hated interior design, and maybe I even hated women. I’m not sure whether I hated those things first, and they caused me to hate the show, or vice versa. The important thing is that Designing Women gave me hives. I held it in the same esteem as Murder, She Wrote.
Then, something funny happened: as the show aged, and Steffi from Newhart and Jan Hooks were added to the cast, and the fat one got so fat that the scripts needed to address it, I grew nostalgic for the way the show used to be. I missed the simpler times when the four main characters would sit around and talk about their bad dates and ex-husbands, and Julia would go on unprovoked political tirades.
This was one of my first glimpses into the power and danger of nostalgia. Although I didn’t understand why at the time, I was saddened solely because a TV show I despised was not the same as it used to be. Like Max on Kicking and Screaming, I’m nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday, but shouldn’t I only be nostalgic for things I enjoyed or that held some meaning for me?
I have a complicated relationship with nostalgia now: I’m too prone to feeling it, I understand the falseness it can represent, but I also think the entire concept gets a bad rap sometimes. There are times when nostalgia is called for, when it’s needed, when its comfort can be the only thing you have. But nostalgia for the early seasons of Designing Women is not one of those times.
I’ve come to realize that Designing Women was never that bad, that my own prejudices and immaturity kept me from appreciating a pretty solid sitcom. So, rest in peace, Dixie Carter. Your death has led me to take a solipsistic look at my childhood and inner emotional life. I’m sure it would be one of your proudest accomplishments.