Harriet the Afterschool Special

As far as the 1996 movie went in making Harriet the Spy acceptable to mainstream audiences, it still retained, as the Entertainment Weekly reviewer noted, some semblance of a relationship to the book. The same could not be said of the 2010 television movie. In this version, Harriet is no longer 11 but seemingly about 13. It is bizarre that she still has a nanny, as the characters themselves seem to realize. The plot, such as it is, revolves around Harriet’s attempt to become the class blogger. She begins by using entries from her diary to seed the blog, but finds they are not of interest to anyone else. Therefore she decides to use her father’s position as the producer of a movie starring the latest teen heart-throb to find juicier material for the blog. Gradually she infiltrates the movie, getting pictures and stories for the blog, which go viral, blowing her cover but giving her great cachet with the gang at school. The heart-throb threatens to quit the movie, causing a business disaster for Harriet’s father. Harriet apologizes, but her father refuses to allow her to agree to stop writing her blog, recognizing her as an artist who needs her medium of expression. Only when it becomes clear that the blog scoops have enhanced, rather than ruined, the heart-throb’s career, does he agree to continue and all is well.

It is not just in plot, but in its understanding of the meaning of the story that the television special is different from the book. Ole Golly is no longer a central force, showing Harriet the route towards self-love and compassion, and supporting her as an artist. Instead, she is a beautiful, young woman filling a big-sister type of role. At one point she grabs Harriet’s notebook to read from it: in the book, Ole Golly understood the notebook as a private medium of self-expression, not as a teen diary to be snickered at. Sex roles are made more rigid in the television show: girls discuss movie stars, while the boys play basketball. In the book, Sport cooks and cleans while Harriet has adventures. Perhaps most importantly, the role of writing in the television show is not developed in a way that is congruous with Fitzhugh’s vision. In the book, it is Harriet’s interesting observations in the school newspaper which begin to allow her re-entry into the life of the class. They are still mad, but they respect her ability to tell a story. Writing and close observation are what save Harriet: but in the movie, it is her decision to pander to the most mainstream desires of her audience that gives her clout. The same could probably be said of the show itself.

Sources:

“Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars.” 9 Story Entertainment/Disney Channel, 2010.

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