DoM: March 1, 2020


I started a mini-greenhouse full of seeds on February 27th, 2020–three days ago–and the mustard greens are showing a lot of little sprout tops. I’m having second thoughts about the turnips and how many I planted. Maybe I can snip the extras off as microgreens? I mean, I’ll have to thin them anyway.

WRITING: Thoughts on Fiery Francine (Did You Know Denatured Alcohol is Flammable?)

Despite knowing it’s a problematic show that is part of a more systemic problem, and that it might actively be conditioning young watchers to be cynical and misanthropic, I still have a fondness for “American Dad.” There are parts so shockingly distasteful that I sometimes have to change the channel, but on the whole it’s populated by likable characters and headed by a patriarch that definitely deserves his comeuppance.

There are life lessons to be learned in most every episode. The fact that Stan can’t seem to manage to understand those lessons or that he misinterprets them, that’s a callback to the way he was raised. He was a very gullible child with a negligent mother and a somewhat abusive father that abandoned them when Stan was young. In the “I Ain’t No Holodeck Boy” episode (Season 9, Episode 13) it is shown that Stan looks at the world–and the memory of his childhood most especially–through rose colored glasses.

His childhood was shown to be one of deprivation and horror. He lives in a rundown house with a dad parked in front of the TV drinking beer and offering disparaging comments. The street on which young-Stan lives could have come from a post-apocalyptic nightmare, and was terrible enough that Stan was able to see and poke at his first dead body.

After his father Jack abandons them, Stan and his mother Betty move to an apartment that doesn’t accept pets. Betty spins Stan a story about dog cancer and suffering, culminating in Stan “mercy killing” his beloved dog, Freddy; instilling in him a lifelong aversion to dog ownership (with Steve mentioning the dog the family had in the first season, but Stan glossing over it).

Stan has a lot of problems. I don’t think he’s sanely dealt with any of them, choosing instead to abuse his CIA rank and contacts to make problems disappear. Or in the case of his wife Francine, he has his science buddies tamper with her memory multiple times and has, himself, entered her subconscious and destroyed large sections of her psyche.

Throughout the course of the show, Francine has gone from a cheerfully ditzy yet somewhat responsible mom to something of a wreck. I don’t know if it’s because of the memory erasures or the many times Stan has scrambled the timeline, but Francine has definitely received the bulk of his ineptitude.

Beautiful, intelligent when she focuses, possessing of a powerful ability to survive, and anchored to the cement block that is her enduring love for Stan, Francine Smith nee Ling (born Francine Dawson) is a very interesting character to me.

She was abandoned as a toddler by her rich parents, Nicholas and Cassandra Dawson, when they discovered children weren’t allowed in the First Class section of the plane. Unwilling to give up their vacation, they give up Francine instead. Handing her to the ticket agent, they happily get on the plane and never look back. Francine ended up being raised by nuns in an orphanage until her parents Ma Ma and Bah Bah Ling could save up enough money to adopt her when she was seven.

Born left-handed, the nuns taught Francine that “left-handers are the Devil” and would beat her with a piece of beef, or mackerel on Fridays, whenever she used her left hand. As a result, Francine shows an aversion toward left-handed people in the “Office Spaceman” episode (Season 3, Episode 14) that her children Hayley and Steve misinterpret as racism toward Black people. With their help, she faces her psychological trauma and the episode ends with her sloppily writing with her left hand, happy to be herself.

Francine has a history of drug use and promiscuity, likely because of her youthful days as a band groupie. She had relations with several famous people, and would have had a song written about her by Dexys Midnight Runners if the lyricist had remembered her name correctly (he thought it might have been Eileen). She revealed in the “When a Stan Loves a Woman” episode (Season 2, Episode 16) that she’d planted a rose bush for every man she’d ever slept with, which was later revealed to be the biggest sex garden in North America.

When she was in high school, Francine was trying to be cool and stole one of her sister’s cigarettes, resulting in her accidentally starting a fire in the science lab and burning the building down. Being kind to Francine for perhaps the first and only time ever, Gwen says that she started the fire, thus starting her life of crime, with Francine always covering for Gwen and providing her with money and anything she needs.

Francine has experienced a lot of misplaced guilt in her life. She was shown as a young child having fallen down a well and catching the nation’s attention as “Baby Francine.” She’d lived for decades with the horror of a fireman dying to get her out of that well (he turned out to have been surviving down there for decades and after so long doesn’t want to leave) and feels desperately ashamed that she hasn’t accomplished anything. It’s only when the presumed-dead fireman absolves her of her guilt that she lets go of that burden.

I’m not sure if the Well Incident is from before or after she was adopted, but I think that the guilt from the well and from Gwen taking the blame left an indelible mark on Francine. It both drove her and held her back. She had a great deal of potential but no belief in herself, and has a subconscious need to self-sabotage her every success as she doesn’t think she deserves it.

A loving mother to Hayley and Steve, she is by turns clingy and desperate for a taste of LIFE. She was a real wild woman, but settled for being a housewife and the codependent partner to a madman.

She fascinates me.