The "Little Girls" who heard these negative statements and watched this movie were also witnessing a generational shift. When the movie appeared in 1982, although second wave feminism was changing things for women, the daughters of feminists were only now seeing the change it could shower on them. Baby on-board signs had just begun to appear in car windows (Howe 14), while the onslaught of horror movies about children like Rosemary's Baby were on the decline (Howe 63, 66). Although birth rates were on the rise again, the children watching the movie were from the less popularly received generation born during the time between the boomers and the Millennial babies. The child actors in Annie and as well as much of its audience were members of this in between group, now named Generation X, 50% of whom by the age of 16 did not live with both birth parents (Howe 61), and many for whom the term latchkey children applied. Additionally, anorexia was a barely noticeable disease until a resurgence in the 1970s, so children at this time were growing up with a "new" illness whose primary target was young girls (Vandereycken 248). Girls could identify with Annie, an orphan, as they hoped for a way to find a caring home or at least a more accepting society for kids and specifically girls.
To see how children of the 1980s remembered this movie I decided to do some ethnographic research following the path of Janice Radway in Reading the Romance. I sent out an e-mail to a list of men and women in their twenties asking for Annie memories that I would use in my thesis. I received 28 responses from both men and women. I acknowledge the importance of who e-mailed me, and this group is admittedly limited because all respondents were at least college educated and grew up in the United States although they now live in such diverse locations as Boulder, Colorado and Beijing, China. Still, I hope that the acknowledgement of those limits can be used to add to the analysis rather detract from it.
In my findings, while most women used words like "I loved Annie," or even the present tense and often stressed with capitalization, "I LOVE Annie," men of the same age group used much less extreme words like "it didn't do a whole lot for me," "I remember thinking Annie/Annie was pretty cool, but I don't think I ever really got in it," "My Annie memories...generally pleasant." This seems to have to do with a general lack of connection to the movie, as well as a sense of embarrassment when I did perceive a connection with statements like, "Although I would never admit this in public, as a childhood memory, I like the music." These male reactions are in line with D.A. Miller's idea that society perceives musical as "a somehow gay genre" (16, italics his) and "[I]n the admittedly monstrous case that he isn't gay, the aficionado of the Broadway musical must resign himself to being thought so, or work as hard as Frank Rich to establish his improbable but true sexual orientation" (16). Even with a more enthusiastic tie the embarrassment remains. "I had the lunchbox, I had the 'My Annie Diary,' maybe I even had the doll. Maybe...it's just not the most masculine set of toys ever, So it's a bit embarrassing. But if you promise not to try to videotape me playing with the doll or anything, I'd be glad to share my memories with you...I promised myself I wouldn't tell anyone about this." The men registered embarrassment when acknowledging any connection to Annie, while the women told me how eager they were to respond on this topic.
Men who e-mailed responses seemed to connect, or acknowledge their connection by mentioning their male gaze, "Annie was my first crush," one twenty-something admitted. Another stated, "the film came out just about the time I was beginning to notice girls and she was more interesting than the ones I played kiss tag with." Only one male expressed interest without embarrassment, "I was a huge annie fan growing up." Still this e-mail contained the only other statement I heard from more than one male, and from no females, the mention of the Jay-Z version of "Hard-Knock Life"-a rap song that samples the original song. This inclusion seems to me to again be a masculinization of their answers. Annie could be discussed if rap, a more traditionally masculine type of music countered the feminization and homosexualizing threat of the musical.
Woman, as I have stated, expressed extreme attachment to the movie often using diction and syntax that reminded me of an adult who suddenly acts childlike when she bumps into an elementary school teacher. The women seemed to slip easily back into the emotions they had when first confronted with this musical. Often it was the first musical these women ever saw, and importantly one that they still recall quite vividly.
I, too, can slip back into my childhood experiences of Annie. As I have said, the reason that I attached myself to Annie was because it was a story in which little girls sang, which is why I was later fascinated by little Collette singing "Castle in the Sky" in Les Miserables. I sang with my Annie recording over and over again and then recorded my recordings. The tape I made, my own variety show that included songs from Annie, didn't reach the light of day in the marketing world, but that didn't matter to me. I could play it back as often as I wanted, and I felt the power of being recorded. I remember trying to be professional, hosting my own show. I sat in silence as the songs played. Still, I could hear the untrained and untamed, with the single, muted "Maybe" I allowed to slip out in unison with the recording. I remember trying to hold onto my silence, but thinking I would just burst if I didn't let at least one word slip out because I, too, wanted to be part of the song. I wanted my voice to blend in with that of Annie, a girl who could take center stage. I wanted my voice to be accepted and heard. Around the time that I found Annie I auditioned for my first solo in the school chorus and I started my first voice lessons. Annie seems to gain her power through her voice, and particularly through her singing voice, so I followed suit.
When Annie sang everybody had to pay attention. Even the President had to stop and take notice, but listening to the song now, I notice that when Annie sings "Tomorrow," the President and not Annie is the one who starts the supradiegetic music-the music that holds a magical place between the diegetic music (music in a scene that everyone hears, is part of the story) and the non-diegtic music (music that is clearly unheard by the characters like the background movie score). Until FDR speaks up, Annie is singing completely a cappella. She is a lone girl singing in a big room, FDR voice gives her accompaniment. FDR has the power to make orchestras play. This realization was startling to me because in this scene FDR completely dominates by making both his wife and Daddy Warbucks sing, and then announcing solos for himself. The scene is performed in a lighthearted manner, but Annie is the creator of this scene, and the power of her song is repossessed. An adult male ends up with the credit for a girl's creation.
This critical realization hardly stops girls all across the country from belting the songs in their bedrooms, for parents, or on actual stages. E-mail after e-mail restated what I, too, had experienced, "it inspired me to sing in public (aka: my parents)" or "we would run around with our little brother singing it (this was in the happy days when he was too young to object!) and trying to do ariel cartwheels like they do in the movie." Yes, even through FDR takes over Annie's power position through the superdiegetic music, young girls took the power back as they turned family gatherings and playtime into a realm where they felt they deserved attention and praise. As Pecora and Mazzarella stated, "Despite the obstacles [girls] face, the act of making music provides them with a form of personal resistance and a wealth of 'pleasure and self-confidence'-a voice" (p 6), and these girls were discovering this theory for themselves.
The primary way that girls identified with Annie was through their own performances. Girls sang, danced, acted, and dressed in imitation. Many owned the red wig and dress signifiers of Annie that, too, could make them Annie. Still, the separation between character and actress was constantly noted the difference between "being" and "playing," "I DESPERATELY wanted to play Annie on stage. Any stage. Backstage, even" or more clearly in this clarification, "I wanted to be Annie. I wanted to have red hair and be an orphan and have a dog. Or at least I wanted to be Annie in a play-with a red-haired wig and all my orphan friends and someone else's dog," but it was one woman who loved the movie but comment about "never relating to anyone in the cast (loving them, but never imagining being in their place of wanting to be in their place, which is strange for me, because I am a terribly active dreamer)" that pushed me in the direction of Judith Butler. Butler talks about drag's performance of gender as a way of demonstrating the performativity and social construction of gender (Butler x). Could eight year old girls be aware of their performance of gender?
One woman stated, "Annie was my hero-in a world of Barbie and Gem (remember the "truly outrageous" rocker on Sat morning cartoons), she was a tomboy like me. She was tough, she was cool, and everybody loved her. I have never gotten over the desire for red hair..." She had rejected the more feminine gender models displayed by Barbie and Gem and chose the image of the tomboy instead, thinking that she could more closely resemble this image with red hair.
Annie, too, masquerades by demonstrating signifiers of exactly what Grace wants--humor and intelligence-when she hears that Grace can get her out of the orphanage. "The masquerade's resistance to patriarchal positioning would therefore lie in its denial of the production of femininity as closeness, as presence-to-itself, as, precisely, imagistic" (Doane 81, 82). Annie performs, the girls who take on the roles at home perform, and then the national search for the actress to play Annie adds another level of separation. This hunt was the biggest search since the quest for Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (Smith 111, 112). Girls knew about this search, and in one case was even part of it. She, like the others, wanted to play the part not be the girl. "I'm still glad I'm not an orphan even though annie eventually became a multi millionaire..." Girls acted the roles without necessarily wanting to take on the actual person of Annie. They used Annie as a way to try on gender roles as roles without feeling that these roles were inseparable from themselves.
Even as girls found power through Annie, it wasn't completely uncomplicated. "The only thing I found difficult," one woman stated, "[was] I could never play Annie because a little Chinese girl could never convincingly wear a red wig as Annie." The role of Annie had a definitive look more stringent than most. The movie, as well as each stage production, reduced Annie to the cartoon image of Annie in red curly hair and the trademark red dress with the white belt. Not only did Annie seem to require a Caucasian actress, but a pale Caucasian removing many little girls from the possibility of playing the role.
It is this image of Annie versus the songs of Annie that I would again like to stress. The idea of the integrated musical is that the songs further the storyline, but even as the songs seem to continue the plot they often are a place for subversion. While D.A. Miller discusses this subversion of the music from a male homosexual point of view, in this context the disempowered young girl holds a similar role.
What he consequently sought in the Broadway musical was the very thing that those who despised it also found there: not the integration of drama and music found on the thematic surface, but a so much deeper formal discontinuity between the two that no makeshift for reconciling them could ever manage to make the transition from one to the other less abrupt, or more plausible. (3)
Young girls were looking for their place in the song. Young girls tried to separate the image of the white girl who becomes possessed from their songs about having their own worlds of power. Few girls mentioned a desire to be with Daddy Warbucks, after all. Most mentioned the desire to be an orphan-most wanted a community of other girls where they could sing away the reality of the plot.