Essay from Jaylan Salah

How Lexi Howard’s Cassie/Hallie was actually Arthur Miller’s Marilyn/Maggie

Dangerous, Messy Blondes from “After the Fall” to “This is Life”
If Marilyn Monroe was alive in our times, everybody would have hated her.

What a ditzy blonde, obsessed with her sexuality, why can’t she get a grip? She should use her privilege to lift other women up, not fall all the way down the stairs? 

Feminists would have been the first to attack her. Want proof? Here’s what happened to another sexy bombshell, Megan Fox, another beauty icon who instead of garnering sympathy and worldwide attention was thwarting attacks coming at her with the same frenzy of all the toxic men who wrote petitions accusing her of being a snob, a diva, and what for? She was young, inexperienced, and lacked the Old Hollywood glamour.

It’s so easy to hate Cassie Howard from Euphoria.
It’s so easy to collectively spite a young, blonde, flawless-looking -or so they are described- woman whose public humiliation and downfall alludes to the rise and fall of starlets like Marilyn Monroe, Nicole Richie, Britney Spears. These beautiful and haunted women give our societies so much pleasure in masturbating to their beautiful faces and delicate bodies. But as something that is so out of reach for us, we also enjoy crushing them, breaking them, watching them get raped or hurt onscreen, watching them lose it or publicly humiliate themselves, that’s when we can safely call it quits and roll the word on our tongues like caramel Mckintosh…yes, we got ourselves a big, bad, whore.

A whore. That’s what Cassie Howard became for everybody. A sensational, privileged, white-ass, pouty-lip whore. Everybody started hating her and creating memes about her. Cassie became the manifestation of the Britneys, the Marilyns, the Nicoles, and the Pamelas that we buried, long forgotten as they caved under constant critique. Despite being the byproduct of the industry and the culture from which they so rightfully emerged, these women were doused in hatred gasoline, lit and left to burn, only for a whole world of hungry onlookers masturbating to the slithering flames. 

So Cassie Howard, if not patient zero, but she was the pinnacle, the head on the stick for every defamed, shamed, young sexual woman out there, who was not born with a catalogue as to how to navigate the modern world without being constantly abused by men, relatives, friends, and family.

Cassie might have been a fictional character, but to a lot of close inspectors, she was the manifestation of their worst nightmares. Women who were not yet enamored by the GRRRL Power anthems and the -somewhat hypocritical- inclusion themes of sisterhood and feminine friendships on basis of a so-called sophisticated form of white feminism. Would women accept Cassie in their all-feminist club? Maybe. But if that so, why wasn’t Megan Fox accepted? Was it because she was taller than everybody, hotter than everybody, sexy and unabashed about it, outspoken and vocal about her likes and dislikes, about how men treated her in a mute Hollywood, pre #MeToo era? If Megan Fox saw that treatment, then Cassie Howard would be no different.

It's hard to accept Cassie in a world where female celebrities who are cheered on their sexuality and sexual appeal to all sexes are constantly screaming independence, acting as if men are the least things on their minds. While some of them are sincere and true, some of them make it hard for a woman to show weakness, let alone admit that at some stage of her life she was obsessed with her looks or how she would look in the eyes of men.

In her book 90s Bitch: Media, Culture, and the Failed Promise of Gender Equality, Allison Yarrow describes the scrutiny a woman faces when she is under the public eye:

“Women touched by scandal, whether they were alleged perpetrators or victims, were hounded by the press. When any woman made the news, she often stayed there for days, weeks, months, and, in some cases, years. Meanwhile, news consumers blamed women for their own unceasing visibility, as if they had narcissistically engineered unflattering coverage of themselves for personal gain.”

Rings a bell? All that applies to Cassie, even though Cassie was the byproduct of an upbringing where she became well aware of her sexuality early on in her life, with two parents quarreling and getting at each other, the “father” her favorite who became her first letdown and her biggest heartbreak, and the mother who idolized her beauty to the degree of worship, creating a raft between Cassie and her sister Lexi, whose years were spent watching Cassie being idealized, catered after, and polished like the virgins who are raised and beautified only to be eaten by the dragon at the end.

Cassie had her share of toxic, manipulative, insecure men, who were so confused and helpless in the face of her sexuality. Her boyfriend McKay loved her, but as an insecure American teenager, held under the toxic masculinity grip from the neck, he doubted his love for her every second. He was unable to accept her for who she was; small, quivering, insecure, addicted to feeling loved and ogled over. Every step Cassie took was a mistake. She went from man to the other, most of them only there for that temple on which they would bow at first, then try to break at the end of the day, gaping viciously and aroused at the ruins.

Even to her sister, a compassionate female bystander, Cassie was nothing but the image of the mess she makes. She was the icon of failures and disrespect. She was a feminine woman reminiscent of the 1950s/1960s, she was a joke, a bad replica of someone who wanted to audition for the drama club rendition of Oklahoma. And to her sister, she was what Marilyn Monroe was to Arthur Miller; a Maggie, an archetype. 

In his play After the Fall, Arthur Miller brutally dissects Maggie, calls her a joke, a beautiful piece trying to take herself seriously.
Lexi describes herself as an informed, smart, hardworking, and curious woman, while reducing her sister to the size of her tits. In a sort of meta/deux e machina theatrical interpretation of her life, Lexi savagely tears her sister apart, displaying all her embarrassing, pathetic, vulnerable moments. Lexi became a badass, a hero, a triumphant of all the side characters in real life. Essays were written about how Lexi was relatable since everybody felt sidelined in their lives, so Lexi’s revenge seemed, a work of art, but Cassie’s public meltdown seemed “pathetic, uncontrollable, shameful, and what Arthur Miller would use to describe his Maggie, “a tart”.

In Lexi’s After the Fall, Cassie was called Hallie, the resemblance between both Hallie and Maggie is undeniably brutal and scary. These two blonde, sexually attractive women who were mainly “known for their bodies” were put under the microscope, so that audiences at stare at their tiniest action and analyze their reactions, like a mirror that both women use respectively to discern the size of their pores during a night beauty routine. Intead of creating a safer narrative for women to grow without being judged, both Arthur Miller and Lexi have given viewers the opportunity to ridicule and make fun of these women.

Still with Allison Yarrow describing the ideal woman on TV in the 80s/90s:

“Television’s ideal woman in the late 80s and early 90s was “beautiful, dependent, helpless, passive, concerned with interpersonal relations, warm and valued for her appearance more than for her capabilities and competencies,”

So when Cassie emerged like a phantom from 90s TV grave, everyone was horrified. Why was she there to remind people of the things they need to forget. Female TV characters nowadays are strong, cold-blooded, vicious, uninterested in seeking romantic conquests, and they definitely…definitely, were not interested in finding the right man. So when Cassie; a drunk, gurgling mess, standing with her skimpy blue dress, her boobs showing during a lengthy scene, or being dressed like a Nabokovian Lolita by her abusive lover/her BFFs on-and-off boyfriend while the camera glazes over her soft skin and her long, well-coiffed blonde hair, people couldn’t help it but glare. They couldn’t help but reduce her to a joke, a meme, a funny incarnation of a woman. Cassie, to them, was a dark mirror in which they saw shadows of self-destructive women that they obsess over but insanely want to ignore, gaslight, or interpret as creatures unworthy of their time.

But in the end Cassie is not the victim nor the perpetrator. She’s neither a hardcore feminist nor a brainwashed Southern girl, she’s a woman who has not been handed a catalogue on how to live life like a free soul, regardless of her gender, her sexuality, or sexual desires. She was not being told any compliment beyond her looks, to the extent of craving them, and when she is denied that pleasure, she sits there like a broken China doll, wilting in shame, regurgitating all her moments of public humiliation, accenuated by her sister’s satirical portrayal of a Cassie-like blonde figure, masturbating in front of the eyes of a hungry audience, reducing her to a mad woman lashing out at those who harm her, wanting them to stop. Britney Spears of the 00s anybody?

At the end, I will quote Allison Yarrow’s book again, just to highlight some points in the Cassie argument:

“…let’s reexamine the stories that are told and sold about women—that we tell and sell ourselves. Probing the failed promise of gender equality for truth and meaning is the first, essential step in confronting the sexism that suffuses women’s lives today—and to prevent it from suffusing the lives of our daughters and sons in decades to come.”