“Joie de vivre” is such a funny, fascinating little phrase.
The not-quite-so-fancy English translation is “joy of living.” But in any language, how strange it is to think of being joyful solely for living – not for lattes or tacos or sleeping late. How especially strange it is to be joyful when life can often seem so awful.
And so when the new Doctor was described as having a “joy for life” by writer Matt Stevens during the San Diego Comic Con panel, my ears pricked up. Naturally I was already enamored with the idea of Jodie Whittaker’s female Doctor, but one with joie de vivre is even more intriguing.
Someone with joie de vivre relishes life’s challenges and delights in the every day. They still get discouraged but like Poppy in the Trolls movie, they “get back up again.” It’s really quite an evolutionary leap from our normal states, I think – a leap that we try to take when we meditate, when we do yoga, when we are mindful and thankful. Goodness knows it’s a challenge, however, so it’s wonderful to think of the first female Doctor also embodying my aspirations.
Not only does she embody that, but apparently she is also an “effervescent kick ass,” as Stevens went on to say. Really, what more could we hope to be? I think I’ll make that my middle name. And Jodie herself described her as “a pillar of hope striving for brightness and inclusivity.”
“We need a pillar of hope in these times,” added new showrunner Chris Chibnall. Don’t we, indeed? And thank goodness they get that, after all, Doctor Who is always about “intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism” (as Craig Ferguson so eloquently explained.)
At the same time, doesn’t it seem preposterous to personify this notion in a time of such greed and such sorrow? Or in any time, considering greed and sorrow are nothing new to this world. Thankfully, our fiction has always helped prepare us for greed and sorrow – sometimes by showing us the moody fighters (looking at you, Harry Potter), but also by showing us those who boldly persevere with a sort of radical joy.
Some of my favorite characters with joie de vivre have also seen some of the worst that vivre has to offer. Matt Smith had plenty of it but his Doctor also saw the Time War and innumerable monsters bent on being bad guys. Kimmy Schmidt is a sunny, strong optimist despite being a kidnapping victim. Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation continually strives to use government to do what is right for people even when those people don’t appreciate it.
Jonathan from Queer Eye is my new favorite for joie de vivre. Who can’t love his whimsy, his style, his wit, his absolute flair for fun? But he and the Fab Five have dealt with plenty of prejudice for their sexuality in their past, and some of the people they help have undergone serious life events as well. In the face of that, his joie de vivre is a deliberate choice, a tool bravely employed to make things better.
Speaking of tools, Phineas of Phineas and Ferb has a zeal for using engineering skills for the betterment of his friends, despite whatever challenges come his way. He’s a great junior joie de vivre for anyone who still appreciates an animated show or two. And of course, the smaller set will always benefit from our the spunky, orphaned red-haired Anne’s of the past century.
Here are my favorite characters with joie de vivre, laid out with some of their best quotes. Hopefully one day like them we can all look at optimism, at delight, at joy, as the brave, bold agents for change that they are. For now, just know that the effervescent kick ass in me honors the effervescent kick ass in you.