Welcome to another edition of Pop Pedestal, a series to honor our favorite characters in pop culture. Today, I'd like to turn your attention to an oft-unsung heroine: Cindy "Mac" Mackenzie of Veronica Mars, the Manic Panic-streaked computer geek of my dreams.
"Mac Attack, what's the haps?" (picture source)
The Pedestal Profile: In the dark world of Neptune—figuratively speaking, because the fictional city's somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego—Mac is a friendly but solitary teenager until she falls in with Veronica and her best friend, Wallace. This friendship leads the electronics expert into three years of helping solve crimes, including high-profile murders.
Admirable qualities: Friends joke about her being the Q to Veronica's James Bond since Mac is incredibly skilled with electronics, especially the computers with which she just happens to share a nickname. She can often be found in the high school lab creating websites, sometimes of a potentially profitable variety. The best part of Mac's nerddom, though, may be that she makes no bones about how she spends her time... or the fact that she is very, very smart.
The only copy I've found of this clip is pretty low quality, but the scene is just so Mac that I have to share it:
(Veronica walks into the computer lab and sees Mac and Pete standing in the middle of the room, arguing heatedly.)
Pete: Wait, how can you even have an opinion on Ubuntu if you haven't tried it? Two six kernel, Live CD... they even had GNOME 2.O the day Warty Warthog came out!
Mac: I'm sorry; I'm perfectly content with OS X! I have all the awk, grep and sed I want without any need for that pitiful font de-uglification.
Pete: But the fonts ARE de-uglified, and it's free! Fine, you know? Live in the dark ages.
Mac: I know what I like! And I like what I know.
Mac's matter-of-factness about her hobbies ties into a larger trait: an ease with being who she is, even though her classmates are hyperaware of others' judgments. She presents herself according to her own style, which is neither conventional nor instinctively rebellious: bright hair streaks, jeans and frequent appearances of plaid and/or flannel. (Yep, the '90s live on.)
Of course, Mac's convictions go deeper than an awesome aesthetic: By the age of sixteen, she is already a vegan and a liberal, despite bemusement from the rest of the "nachos-and-Nascar" Mackenzie household.
In addition to brains and individuality, I admire Mac's strength. She is consistently exposed to crime and danger, yet she always has a smile and witticism for her friends and a persevering attitude. In the first season, Mac meets her biological family for the first time—she wasn't adopted; she was switched at birth, because that's the sort of thing that happens in Neptune—and viewers see how both how vulnerable and determined Mac can be. In Veronica Mars' second season (which is my favorite season of any show, ever), Mac has her first romantic relationship and works through reconciling her sense of self with her emergence as a sexual being. Without spoiling much, the not-as-good third and final season has a bright spot in Mac's increased screen time as she works through a major trauma, strengthens her friendships and explores the new freedoms provided by college. I never stop rooting for her.
Her influence: While Mac is second only to the title character in my VM book, she is all too often forgotten in conversations about the show, and in fact was not added to the opening credits until the third season. Still, devoted fans continue to write fanfiction about Mac, often exploring her unrealized romantic potential with quintessential frat boy Dick Casablancas... or Veronica herself. I can understand: The two have great chemistry. (Full disclosure: I've written fanfiction about them too.)
See also: the first thirty seconds of this clip, in which Veronica asks about a gay-themed chatroom and Mac gives her the look that launched a thousand shippers.
That's not all: Actor Tina Majorino has continued to hone her craft in a number of projects since Veronica Mars was cancelled in 2007. Shades of Mac Mackenzie can be detected in Majorino's character on Big Love, as a secretly attracted friend to Amanda Seyfried (who was also in VM), and her starring role in Pink's stunning video for "Fuckin' Perfect."
Think of her when: you're tempted to make a nerdy joke like "Your wish is my shift-command" to people who may roll their eyes... before you say it anyway. After all, that's what Mac Attack would do.