Nobody’s going to die….

I was planning this morning to blog about the BP oil spill, and my reaction to it.

But you know what? It is a lovely day here in Northern California (albeit with a promise of serious heat later) and blogging about something that causes me such pain on a personal level would be a waste of a perfectly good mood that I seem to have woken up with.

So… fluff. Or maybe not, depending upon how seriously you take your television.

My current favorite show is, bar none, Criminal Minds. In spite of the occasionally graphic violence, it has a humanistic view of people that fits very well with my own. There are few monsters, and even many of the UNSUBs (the “unknown subjects,” i.e. serial killers) are shown to be human, albeit damaged and very dangerous humans. The death of prostitutes, junkies and homeless people is treated as being as worthy of the same consideration as that of blond teenagers. The main characters are human, themselves occasionally capable of horrendous acts, which the writers do not excuse even as they show how people can be driven to do them.

And it has strong, strong women characters. It routinely passes the Bechdel Test.* (And yes, I am extremely unhappy at the network decision to jettison one of those strong women characters and reduce the screen time of the other.) The women are treated as being equivalent to their male counterparts.

Except the technical analyst Penelope Garcia. She is head and shoulders above the other characters, and is probably the main reason I keep watching the show.**

Garcia is probably the first character I have ever seen on television that caused me to say — “Wait, I know her!”*** Not someone exactly like her, of course, but she is an amalgamation of a number of women I know in technical fields: uber-competent, unique, and utterly secure in their own abilities. Unafraid women, for whom a major annoyance is the failure of those around them to take them seriously.

Every time I see Garcia on CM, I think of my friend, the fabulous Sarah Huffman.

Sarah is not exactly like Garcia — they dress differently, for one thing. But I can see in Garcia some of the attitude I came to love about Sarah.

I first really got to know Sarah on a trip to Spain. She was a sysadmin for a NASA project which my husband was running, having been hired as a last minute replacement two days before she left for Madrid. With nothing but the most general knowledge of the project. She was hired based on an interview done via Internet while she was on a Greenpeace ship off the shore of Alaska. She was able to conduct said interview by virtue of swiping wireless from various fishing villages with the help of an antenna made from, if I recall correctly, coat hangers. [Edited to add: Sarah has corrected me on this. She did in fact use an actual antenna — hanging off a broomstick.]

When we got to Spain, chaos ensued. The scientist responsible for seeing that all the equipment got to Spain had decided, against all advice to the contrary, to go with the government shipping office rather than FedEx. With the probably foreseeable result (at least by most people) that said computer and telecommunications equipment was sitting gathering dust in California rather than in the offices of the Spanish branch of the European Space Agency in Madrid. There was panic. The project looked doomed! doomed I tell you!

And then Sarah entered the picture. She figuratively bitch-slapped people into the next week, handing out what would become a mantra for that trip for everyone: “Nobody’s going to die, Nobody’s going to jail.” (I think we should have had t-shirts made.)

Sarah later explained to me that that philosophy had come about from working with Greenpeace, where people dying — or certainly going to jail — was an actual possibility. That people went out on actions with the name and number of the local legal representative written in Sharpie marker on their forearms, so that they would have someone to call when they were arrested.

After injecting a sense of reason into the proceedings, Sarah then proceeded to save their collective asses. Trips to the Corte Inglese (a large shopping center type place) and the local Ikea (yes, they have Ikeas in Spain — except for the language spoken, they are identical to any Ikea I have been to in the States) resulted in enough equipment for her to cobble together an impromptu communications system that allowed the project to head to the field. (The government equipment later arrived, and was integrated, but it was Sarah’s system that saved the day.)

The end result was that a many-hundred thousand dollar NASA project was saved from complete collapse. And there was much rejoicing.

This is a woman who is capable of cobbling together computer systems, replacing sparkplugs on malfunctioning ATVs and cooking a mean salmon with blueberry sauce. Who once went to the Canadian Arctic as a joint sysadmin and cook (not your usual combination of job responsibilities).

Sarah has moved to Arizona now, and I miss her. I am very bad at keeping in touch with people. But I think of her every Wednesday evening, when I watch Criminal Minds, and see one of her fictional counterparts shining on the screen.

It’s not the same, but it’s something.

*The Bechdel test requires that there be at least two women, who have a conversation, which does not revolve around a love interest. CM passes this in spades.

**Although the high proportion of handsome men does not hurt: Thomas Gibson, Shemar More and Matthew Gray Gubler are eye candy, and Joe Mantegna’s voice has a tendency to make me go a little weak at the knees.

*** I have yet to see a character in either television or film that reminds me of me, unless you want to count Princess Fiona (after dark) from Shrek. Which is not exactly acccurate either, because I do not have …. red hair.

This entry was posted in Culture (popular and otherwise), Feminism, Personal Relationships and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Nobody’s going to die….

  1. DataGoddess says:

    She's cute when she blushes, too 🙂

    I had that blueberry sauce with some venison, and I agree, it's fabulous.

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