Tracy Flick Never Rests

What Women Really Think
May 20 2009 9:02 AM

Tracy Flick Never Rests

The joyful, saccharine, karaoke-inspring Glee , which premiered last night on Fox, got me wondering: What did we do before Tracy Flick ? She first appeared, embodied by Reese Witherspoon, in 1999's Election , a previously unidentified personality type, the driven, ruthless, terrifyingly ambitious striver who micromanages her inevitable rise to power in relentlessly cheerful tones. In the decade since Election , Flick has been transformed from a fresh, new character into an archetype, found frequently in both nature and fiction. Hillary Clinton , as Slate pointed out during the election, is a Tracy Flick. Kristen Gillibrand is the " Tracy Flick of New York politics ." Amanda Lorber, of MTV's reality series about high school newspaper The Paper is " The Tracy Flick of Journalism ." Amy Poehler's character in Parks and Recreation is a " dorkier version of Tracy Flick ." And that's just the beginning. Tracy Flick is like the prostate-not so long ago, we didn't know she existed. Now you can scan to find her.

I bring this up because one of Glee 's main characters, Rachel Berry, is a total Flick. She's a frighteningly focused performer who won her first dance contest when she was 3 months old. She gives compliments like, "You're really talented. I know because I'm really talented too." (Flick isn't the only character from Election to appear in Glee : the dumb hunk played by Chris Klein has been reimagined as a dumb hunk who sings. "My dad got killed in Iraq the first time we went over there to fight Osama Bin Laden," he narrates.) Given all these Flicks-and there are surely more to come- it seems logical that there must have been Flicks around before we got into the habit of identifying them as such. (Was Margaret Thatcher a Flick?) What did we call these women before there was a shorthand that simultaneously captured their drive and core unlikableness? Were they better off before they could be so easily labeled?

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.