Monday, June 27, 2011

The World is Ready for You

Many of you have asked what I thought about the failed effort to bring Wonder Woman back to television. Well, some of you asked. Okay, one person mentioned it in passing. Still, given that I shamelessly stole this beloved character to be my on-line avatar, I have some thoughts.

For those of you who don’t slavishly follow the Amazon Princess, NBC recently rejected a pilot for a new Wonder Woman t.v. series. Produced and written by David E. Kelley, many people (including Lynda Carter) fully expected that it would be a slam dunk. Certainly the actor chosen for the role was plausible. The few details that have emerged about the script, though, suggest that it was a bit of a trainwreck. Making a new Wonder Woman show should not have been that hard, really. This country is currently obsessed with the superhero genre. It’s true that Diana isn’t the only one who has been screwed over (Poor Green Lantern! I can smell the suck from here.), but she sure doesn’t get much respect. Shortly following NBC’s rejection, DC comics announced that it planned to reboot the Wonder Woman comic yet again. Ol’ Superheroine-Number-One can’t catch a break these days. For reasons that remain a total mystery to me, neither DC comics nor Warner Brothers ever solicits my opinion about how to promote and protect their most important female hero. I have some ideas:

    1. Wonder Woman is a Feminist:

    For either comic book writers or television executives, the “f” word continues to make their brows sweat. This probably explains why Warner Brothers tapped the creator of Ally “Feminism is Dead” McBeal as producer for their most recent t.v. venture. Gee, who would have guessed that would fail?

    It’s fundamentally dishonest to develop a Wonder Woman project without feminism being a driving point of the story. Doing so would be like creating a t.v. show about the Tea Party without the crazy. When William Moulton Marston created the character in the 1940s, he included the radical notion that women were more than the intellectual equals of men. He feared that young girls were unfairly kept from realizing their true potentials and lacked the types of role models that abounded for boys in comics. True, he also had a bad habit of essentializing gender roles and some fairly bizarre notions that bondage could be a path to liberation (Paging Dr. Foucault, stat!). Still, for the middle of the twentieth century, any pop culture venue that showed women as both physically powerful and scientifically minded was a breakthrough.

    Since that time, most of Wonder Woman’s (male) writers have had a hard time trying to figure out what to do with the feminist bits. Either they forced her into traditionally subservient roles (e.g. they made her secretary for the Justice Society despite her being the most powerful member) or they made her into a psycho man-hater who played into the media’s favorite image of feminists as unreasonable and bitter. Needless to say that neither of these is acceptable.

    I can’t help but think that the fight for women’s equality has taken some huge steps backward over the past decade and a half. Personally, I put at least partial blame on the drivel created by David E. Kelley. The time is right for Wonder Woman to speak candidly about actual feminist goals.

    2. Everybody Wants Wonder Woman to Wear Her Original Costume

    Okay, I know the Playboy-bunny costume is sexist, absurd, and as practical as a wooden fire escape (See Number One Above). One doesn’t know if you should salute her or give her your drink order.

    The efforts at changing her costume, however, have not really solved the biggest complaints about the original. Slapping on some skin-tight trousers while keeping her in a cleavage popping bustier is a lame attempt to appease critics. It should have been a forgone conclusion, too, that her costume would not be made out of plastic. The costume designer from the failed pilot was an idiot:

    If Wonder Woman is going to inevitably be about T&A, then I say just own it and try to at least give her some dignity.

    Also, keep the eagle and ditch the stupid WW. If you have doubts that the eagle is cool, consider that DC comics could sue the Washington Capitals for copyright infringement. If a WW eagle is tough enough for a hockey team, then it certainly can do the job for Wonder Woman.

    3. Wonder Woman should never say the following lines of dialogue:

      “If you liked it, you shoulda put a ring on it.”

      “Capitalism sure seems like a fair and equitable economic system.”

      “I want a baby so badly that I see one dancing in my room at night.”

      "I just need to lose five more pounds."

      “Why are all the best men married or gay?”

      "I'm not a feminist, but . . ." (See Number One Above)
      “I can haz cheeseburger.”

      "The unrestrained mergers of banks, airlines, media, and telecommunications corporations has served consumers well."

      “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.”

      "The heterosexual nuclear family sure seems like a fair and equitable building block for society."

      “Follow me on Twitter.”

      “Cheesecake makes everything better.”

      "What do you think of my costume?"

      “The meek shall inherit the earth.”

      “Math is hard!”

      “Christianity sure seems like a fair and equitable religious system.”

    4. Wonder Woman Does Not Believe in Capital Punishment

    Wonder Woman might have some flaws in that she often solves violence with violence. Still, when push comes to shove (literally!), she will never kill anybody (except maybe Max Lord, but, hey, she had no choice). Given that the United States currently imagines its prison system as massive holding tanks and has no problem sending people to death, how radical would it seem for Wonder Woman to advocate that every person can be redeemed? Diana would likely imagine the current prison system as a symptom of a deeply flawed patriarchal society (See Number One Above). Instead, let's see a return of Reform Island!

    5. Wonder Woman is a Scientist First, a Warrior Second

    Diana first saved Steve Trevor’s life through her immense knowledge of science and medicine. Then she kinda got stuck saving his life all the time. Whatever the case, Wonder Woman is a thinker. Among the many quirky ideas held by Marston was the one that the Amazons attained their physical power through successfully tapping into their hidden intellectual gifts.

    Young women in this country are still not encouraged to pursue science related careers. Playing up this aspect of her character would go a long way to inspiring women to change this (See Number One Above).

    6. Wonder Woman Would Not Participate in, Much Less Profit from, the Subjugation of Other Women

    One of the most puzzling details about the failed Kelley pilot was that Wonder Woman was supposed to have run a cosmetic company. Maybe this came from a desire to do a product placement with the recent MAC line featuring the iconic hero? Other than that, I can’t think why anybody who knows anything about Wonder Woman would think that would make sense (See Number One Above). I mean, okay, she did once run a dress shop, but that was from a comic storyline that is best forgotten. We can debate on whether makeup is about liberation or repression for women (Heck, I am undecided), but it seems unlikely that somebody devoted to gender equality (See Number One Above) would be interested in taking money from women so that they could attract a man.

    Wonder Woman would be devoted to public service. First, she didn’t leave the comforts of her island, where she was a goddamn princess, just so that she could work for some faceless corporation. She left the island so that she could help patriarch’s world become better. Second, she would want a job that kept her informed about dangerous villains or international plots. It seems unlikely that such things would emerge during boardroom discussions about whether a new brand of lip gloss should be called "Cherry High."

    7. Bring Back the Greek Gods

    It might be sacrilege to some, but I was never a fan of George PĂ©rez’s stint on Wonder Woman. No Diana Prince alter-ego just seems sad to me. Still, I will give him credit for drawing the Greek gods back into the mix. If Diana is almost indestructible in patriarch’s world, then she has to have somebody who can keep her on her toes. A god or two could do the trick. In the 1940s, it was a wager between Aries and Aphrodite that sent Wonder Woman into man’s world after all. Aphrodite argued that love could triumph over war (See Number One Above).

    8. Doctor Psycho is a Plausible Villain

    Some people argue that Wonder Woman lacks a decent rogues gallery. This just isn’t so. Why is Cheetah somehow lame, but Catwoman cool? They are basically the same character.

    Regardless, the most interesting villain (aside from maybe Orana or Artemis) has to be Doctor Psycho. In lots of ways, he is the total opposite of Diana: insecure, cruel, and misogynistic (See Number One Above). His telepathic abilities make him a dangerous foe for somebody as powerful as Wonder Woman (I’m told one of the hardest parts of writing in the superhero genre is figuring out how to keep the threat real). The ideological divide between the two characters would make their battles all the more compelling. Who will win in the final throw down between the feminist (See Number One Above) or the misogynist?

    9. Wonder Woman is a Fish Out of Water

    Wonder Woman first achieved popularity, I think, because she offered an inverted mirror through which the U.S. could view itself. A smart writer would play up those aspects. That same writer would point out the foibles of our society as seen through a foreigner’s eyes.

    The most immediate difference is that Diana never interacted with a patriarchal society (See Number One Above). Actually, she literally never interacted with a patriarch at all given that she had no father (She was formed out of clay by her mother, for those whose comic history is a little rusty). Her responses to the pervasive problems of our society could range from bemusement to impatience. Then, of course, there is the story line of her grappling with her feelings for Steve Trevor. This would be difficult for her because. . .

    10. Wonder Woman was Raised by Lesbians!

    Alright, there has never been anything to make this canonical. Still, wouldn’t that be a great story line that makes some sense? She is part of a society of women who had little use for the company of men. They lived quite happily for two thousand years until some guy showed up. How confused would the rest of the island be by the princess’s sexual interest in a man? Indeed, wouldn’t a few of them think of it as a bit perverted? Think of the immortal words of Queen Hippolyta, “I named this island ‘Paradise’ for an excellent reason. There are no men on it.” Suffering Sappho! I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.


pacalaga said...

I know squat about the canon, but I like the blue plastic pants. Prolly for the reason you hate them. I would follow Wonder Woman on Twitter. And makeup is oppressive. How else do you explain that such wonderful things as feathered eyelashes and teal glitter eyeshadow exist, and yet I do not have the guts to wear them at my job at ConservaCompany?

Mel said...

Amen, amen, and amen.

Historiann said...

GayProf, this is brilliant. I think you're right in all respects. I'll just add that one of the things that made the Lynda Carter series viable is that it was originally set in the U.S. during WWII. When they moved it to the present day, the show foundered as I recall.

One of the important things that setting the show in the recent past did was to permit greater feminist commentary, perhaps because viewers perceived critiques of the 1940s as less threatening than critiques of the 1970s (or 2010s). Had the David E. Kelly vehicle gone for the WWII setting rather than the present (makeup company? Srsly? OMGWTF?) it would also have drawn in the WWII buffs, but I suppose it costs a lot of money to do a period show.

But, as you note, David E. Kelly's point in Ally McBeal was to embody postfeminism, not to make feminist arguments, so I'm sure the present was just the right time period for that version. (Sadly!)

And you're totally right about the costume. Very little Superhero gear appears to be selected for its function instead of its form. It's not like tights and briefs are exactly practical crimefighting gear.