OPINION: Icons that fell short: Analyzing Donna from “That 70’s Show”

Nicole Leonard

Television shows generate iconic men and women that inspire and polarize audiences of all walks of life. Rachel Green from “Friends,” Lucy Ricardo from “I Love Lucy,” Homer Simpson from “The Simpsons” and Tony Soprano from “The Sopranos” are all characters that penetrated the bubble of transient television trends and established fan bases beyond the longevity of the show.

This is all to say television characters can create a lasting impact on viewers if they are portrayed properly. While there is no perfect formula for the creation of these characters, it is understood that two simple factors must seamlessly work hand in hand to conceive such a massive feat. The first of these is an actor or actress that rightly embodies the personality and expression of the aforementioned character. Second, the show’s writers have to shrewdly formulate a persona worthy of an audience’s lasting attention.

As many characters thrive and obtain the clout of an icon, others fall short. Donna Pinciotti of the 1998 to 2006 sitcom “That 70s Show” falls into the latter category.

Although her character exists during a time wherein a strong feminist movement is barely gathering its foothold in the mainstream, she parades herself around with the spunk of an independent woman decades ahead of her time.

This is the defining quality of Donna, but her words and her actions are in constant contradiction with one another. She is verbally critical of her mother’s ignorance toward the injustices of perpetual female codependence to men in romantic relationships, yet the largest portion of her character’s plots throughout the show revolve around the shallow issues of her relationship with Eric Forman.

Donna’s character development throughout the series is disappointing at best. She uses feminism as a mechanism to disguise her selfish tendencies of entitlement. Because much of her role in the show is reliant upon her romantic relationship as opposed to a variety of interests and meaningful personal pursuits, the traits that prevailed in early seasons such as acuity and ambition outside of a small-town housewife are lost.

Instead, she becomes the scorned girlfriend stuck in the mundane lifestyle she formerly detested.

This all culminates during the promise ring and wedding episodes. Both of these concepts represent a transition in progress that occurs as young lovers grow together—except in this case, they don’t. Eric’s promise ring gift is regarded by Donna as an embarrassment and a tool intended to trap her in a relationship that will be inevitably boring in comparison to the dreams she presently seeks. The day before the wedding, Eric skips town out of fear that Donna has given up her future to be with him.

Donna Pinciotti had all the potential to represent the women of the 1970s who defiantly rejected the roles of complacent romantic partnership. Her character development falls flat as a result of the show’s writers’ incompetent portrayal of strength in an independent woman within and outside of a romantic relationship. She becomes one of the women she had been so critical of as her ambition is replaced by empty displays of contentment.