Monthly Archives: July 2011

Change our minds, change the world

Season 3 of the 1970s TV show starring Lynda Carter – part 3 of my Wonder Woman musings

By mid season two, watching had become a chore for research. I wasn’t too excited to begin season 3. The first episode set up the expectation of further struggle to continue as well as disappointment. As pointed out by an internet site, it seemed to be targeting teenage and child audiences with its characters and themes – juveniles into skateboarding, amusement arcades, teenage music idols. There’s nothing to refer to who Wonder Woman is or where she’s from, no more poetic philosophical speeches, but just regurgitated plots about mind control and identity stealing – and even the guest actors are recycled.

It seems that Wonder Woman wanted in on everyone else’s show. Female agents were doing well: Diana Prince becomes one. Humanised robots and computers were popular: a Metal Mickey and K9 (with Roadrunner noises) are introduced. Space features regularly to be a Star Wars/Trek/Buck Rogers rival. In the penultimate episode, it seemed they were trying to copy Arnold from Different Strokes, Cheetah from Tarzan and decided that LA had more appeal than Washington.

Lynda’s long ponytail and the over zealous blusher gradually return. They rarely bother with glasses now for Diana – which are still huge – but it’s assumed no-one will make the connection between her and Wonder Woman, so there’s no need to disguise her. But that takes half the fun away!

There’s an attempt to have others in the IADC office – a short-lived woman named Bobby – but IRAC and Rover return and have more character. I was cross that like in life, computers take the jobs of people, but I became quite fond of IRAC and even found his bruised electronic ego, his raspberries and competitive board games amusing. Steve’s often kept in the office – though he’s eventually allowed out a bit more than last season – and Diana is marooned in the concrete tower of a Washington government office, without even shots of her apartment, let alone her real home.

But then I found myself enjoying it again. That is partly about Diana. If she is appealing to me, the show works. By that, I don’t mean whether she is personally attractive to me, but whether she’s attractive as a character. The warmth and naiveté of season 1 disappeared. I liken her to Evie in The House of Eliot, the BBC drama about two sisters setting up a fashion house. Evie, played by Louise Lombard, was an utterly charming 18 yr old at the start. Naturally, the character grew up and the actress did too. But what we got was not a mature version of lovably Evie, but a hard person reflected in her image change. By the end, I’d gone off Evie and that alienated me from the show. At least there were two sisters and I felt warmth toward the other. In Wonder Woman, she is the only main character and so losing connection to her meant alienation from the whole show.

The paling foundation and harsh blusher seems to change for the better, as did the shaping of Lynda’s eyebrows. The lipgloss I so wanted to blot – was. She’s naturally tanned again.  But what of her character? She’s become patronising and even predatory to kids and other young women. She’s become hard spy lady that everyone drools over but no-one was going to get.

The feminists on the DVD features said she’s sexy but not threatening to other women. But she’s too thin – and Lynda lamented on the commentary to episode one that her bones no longer shew as they did 30 years ago. She ought to be glad about that. Comic books and the actress who played her says ‘no stomachs’ to women; no cellulite, no large limbs. It’s cool to see your bones, it’s cool to be sticky.

There were flashes of warmth – such as to her friends in the skateboard episode. But the way Diana treats a child in the leprechaun episode was not her usual charm. As a child, I’d have run from this strange woman who was irresponsible in her advances towards young Lisa, not thinking how a child might be frightened. Lynda says she played the child relations as a yearning in Diana for children she doesn’t have. I didn’t see anything maternal about the way she spoke to the girl then – she was snaky and pushy, not explaining who she was, but rather sounding threatening: ‘if you want to help your friend, you’d better talk to me’.

So I changed my mind twice: from liking it more than I expected, to disappointment, back to liking it and then a ultimately a bit disappointed, perhaps in the way the show closed.

There was a little sadness when the last episode ended and there was no more TV Wonder Woman to see.

As the show was cancelled, there is no ending, as Lynda Carter laments on the commentary. She wishes there was chance to say goodbye to the character she’d played for 60 episodes and I have watched for two months.

A weakness of Wonder Woman was its lack of continuing plot and its lack of excitement. Other series drawing to a close would make us all tune in, impatient to see how it’ll all tie up.

I could think of a scenario that would make that last episode exciting. We know Wonder Woman will round off her time on earth as we’ve known her – but how? Will she marry Steve? Will she take up Andros’ offer? Will there be a pull back to her island? I would present the possibility of all three. If Wonder Woman is heterosexual, might she have to chose between her man and her people on all female paradise island? Or could this be an opportunity to change that ancient race? That would be interesting in itself.

Lynda’s suggestions of why her character could end the show were all about  love and families. I am now convinced she does mean what I feared as she has talked about this so much – the idea that Wonder Woman is lacking without husband and family (and by extension, I read, so are we). I think in that sense, Lynda doesn’t fully get her character. Wonder Woman is a goddess. There’s an issue straight away with reproducing with humans, and perhaps even questions about goddesses and physical intimacy. Like Queen Elizabeth I of England, it seems Diana has chosen a mission and her people over what we term as personal happiness.

However, often people with families say the reverse of what Lynda implies – that it takes away their identity as it subsumes them, not that they become more fulfilled and complete. How can Wonder Woman be a feminist if she retires to be a mother and wife? On the extras, various American women writers assemble to say what they love about her. They state that Wonder Woman has been an example of the dual role of women. But Lynda’s Wonder Woman would give up being Wonder Woman. To lead by example, Diana would need to continue being Wonder Woman and do her family role.

I couldn’t see in Wonder Woman what these women in the documentary could. I wonder if Wonder Woman is too American to be an icon for outsiders: it has created a sense of other in me, when at first I was inclined to the reverse. Perhaps it’s because Diana becomes naturalised to America that I stop being able to identify with her. She stops any critique of America; now it’s expected that her loyalty to her ‘new friends’ – i.e. a government intelligence service – comes before her own people. Her Mother, Queen Hippolyte, vanishes into the mirror of episode 3, season 2 and forever out of the series – never again is the island mentioned, or that Wonder Woman comes from somewhere else.

Reading an introduction by Mercedes Lackey to a 2008 comic ‘Circle’, I am reminded that in the comic book world, Diana is definitely other. Her stories feature ancient gods. She is divine, not human. She is begotten not created – yes I did borrow that line from O Come All Ye Faithful. Like Superman, she is sent to our world from elsewhere, to live as one of us. But although the 1978 Superman movie made a very clear link between the Christmas story and the film being released at that time, the Messianic parallel works better with Diana than Kal-el. It is she who is divinely progenitored from earthly materials. Diana chose her mission at a time of need – she wasn’t sent into the world as an unconsenting baby. Her mother yet lives, not as a prerecorded hologram of deceased mortal commoners, like Superman’s parents, but as an eternal wise Queen.

The DVD extras of season 3 comment on how that Wonder Woman is a change from the usual father/son relationship of hero stories, sent by and communing with her mother and sister. As the pilot bravely said: “Sisterhood is stronger than anything…” There is little of that kind of statement now. Feminism is assumed and demonstrated through ass kicking, literally. Wonder Woman now hits out before she is hit – she even headbuts in one episode (23). That goes against the peace loving message that Wonder Woman is all about. That the thoughtfulness of the start was never returned to made this a harder blow, and a missed opportunity to have used entertainment for positive world changing, as Wonder Woman was conceived to do.

 

 

 

 

 

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Anne Boleyn at the Globe

I am having a summer of Tudors. I have had many such summers as I have studied these over a period of 11 years, but I even when I spent a year studying their popular depictions, I have never seen so many plays on Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn in a few months.

I have just seen the production at the neo-Elizabethan Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London, on its opening weekend – a new play which sold out last year, as was the performance to which I went.

In his introduction to his script, playwright Howard Brenton quotes the views of historians David Starkey and Antonia Fraser, reflecting the likely opinion of the public. He does not mention Prof Eric Ives and Joanna Denny whose prominent books depict a very much more positive Anne. Joanna especially – as does Karen Lindsey – writes of the systematic demonisation of Anne’s character. All three remind that our few historical contemporary sources are chiefly Anne’s enemies, none of whom featured in Brenton’s play. Books – both novels and academic – have been ahead by 30 years in showing Anne as a national heroine, but stage and screen still cast Anne as the ambitious, hard siren. Philippa Gregory’s 2002 novel and ensuing films have done much to reverse this positive literary view, which has become in vogue again with most recent publications.

Brenton’s 2010 play promised a view closer to the one I adopted: the Reformist queen, as Joanna Denny calls her: ‘Esther not Jezebel’ – a title I borrowed for my 2006 dissertation. American author Robin Maxwell had Queen Elizabeth reading her mother’s words in her novel The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn; Howard Brenton has King Authorised Bible James reading Anne’s annotated Christian book and realising his connection to the fallen queen of two generations ago who suffered the same fate as his mother. (I never use the phrase that the blurb does – his debt. As you’ll see from my Justice in Banking blog on this site, I have strong views against debt culture). Note too that being executed does not denote failure, but rather a brutal signal of mission accomplished.

I was interested that a play was picking up the religious theme, as often theology is seen as too heavy and dull for entertainment, particularly when we are a multi and often no faith society. But the themes of tolerance and violence and faith recur, and spirituality is again popular though not always in established, orthodox ways. And this 16/7th C period is a seminal one in our history in which the burgeoning of new beliefs is central.

I was drawn to the play because it was written by a man who evidently could see Anne’s merits, significant as I felt anne appealed most to women. But it was Eric Ives in 1986 who said that Anne was an appropriate vehicle for feminism – though few have picked up that gauntlet – and it’s women who have written many of the works which fuel popular imagination that recast her as Jezebel.

It may seem obvious given its performance setting, but I didn’t expect Howard’s play to feel so Shakespearean, in the rowdy audience, bawdy and earthy kind of way. The experience of the Globe merits a few lines – booking fees, standing without umbrella or stick for £5 or, of if you pay £15-37 for a seat, there’s charges for cushions (and the wooden seats have lips which I think are designed to make you need one – but I managed without);- and a foreign group behind me who whispered throughout (translating to a child who was too young to be there) and put their feet on the seats. The atmosphere was closer to comedy than serious theatre, though there were both elements in the play. King James romps in a dress with ‘interesting stains’ with a male courtier whom he kisses; the ghost of Anne brings her severed head out in a bag; and it ends with an all cast jig.

James (Garnon/Stuart) perhaps was the most charismatic character on the stage, his strong Scots accent mixed with a tick, his camp manner helped by his shoes and beard. While we’re on accents – I am infuriated that the country folk once again got that generic West Country which is insulting and ignorant. There are many Eastern and southern counties accents, all quite distinct, and they sounded no more convincing than the Worzel’s Combine Harvester song, which was at least meant to be comedic. It’s like getting all North American or Celtic accents muddled. Actors and dialect coaches, take note!

I was not pleased at Anne’s physical appearance. She is famous for being dark, though Joanna Denny believes this is part of the demonisaton programme as ‘swarthy’ skin was seen as a sign of diabolism – appalling as that notion is. Denny believes that Anne was dark auburn, as per the most likely genuine contemporary portrait of Anne – but nowhere have I heard of her as blonde. Couldn’t Miranda Raison have dyed her hair or worn a wig? And couldn’t Henry be red haired? And why did Cardinal Wolsey have a beard?

I did not like the gore lust of the opening but I did like that Anne begins by assuming the knowledge of her death – which we never see – and by establishing a rapport with the audience. I liked the originality and pertinence of linking her and King James and the amount of material covered in an engaging way. Anthony Howell made a positive King Henry, kind instead of raging over the birth of a girl; but the man who had so many butchered in his name is relieved of too much of his violent, cruel and inhuman side. My favourite Henry remains Ray Winstone, whose complex depiction was the first to show me a man whom I could weep for as well as despise. Sometimes in Howard’s version, earthy comments – such as what Henry really wishes to say in his letters to Anne – mar the real point – the vulnerability of Henry’s enduring, consuming passion which must extend further than his tights to have raged so long and moved so much to be with her.

The audience was too quick to laugh at anything. The person who called out ‘ah’ in sympathy with broken Cardinal Wolsey was more correct that those who giggled, but either response turned this into a panto rather than the moment of pathos. When an important theological tenet dawns on Henry – that he could be king and head of the church without need of the pope and thus have his new wife – again, there was laugher. But it wasn’t the point; it was the turning point of the play and British history. We spent too much of the play in Caliban mentality rather than the Prospero and Ferdinand.

My gripe had been til this weekend that no-one has explained Anne’s swift demise satisfactorily. Brenton shows something I have not found in my research or other books – I hope to discover where he found it. But if it is true, it does account for the scheme to scaffold that in 3 weeks had the most powerful woman in the kingdom’s head in a basket. If Anne knew that Cromwell was embezzling ex monastic funds meant for charity, she had the key in which to bring about his downfall as Wolsey and More. (No temperate, cuddly Mr Northam here; this [absent] More is a torturer). Cromwell would take his advice to Anne earlier in the play, and strike before struck. The charges of multiple adultery and incest – treason in themselves – seem ridiculous, but perhaps an insecure king who could love and hate in equal measure could be persuaded in a very intense period to sign the death warrant.

But the frustration is that Brenton potentially closes one mystery but leaves something else unsatisfactory. The villain we focus on, particularly after Wolsey leaves, is Thomas Cromwell. The slippery faced multi officed politician always features heavily in Tudor plots, and he is usually credited as being the man who brought Anne’s death about. I have not seen him before portrayed as a fellow in faith, aiding illicit Reformist texts and their author’s passage out of the country. Yet his secret Protestant beliefs clash with his vile practices of threats and spying. They also don’t prevent Cromwell’s clandestine bond with Anne turning sour very suddenly and without enough explanation. One moment, they are sharing a prayer; suddenly he’s arresting her, banning her from speaking to or seeing her husband, and making up charges against her. The play – as with many other stories – does not say that Cromwell is executed during Henry’s reign, rather less efficiently than Anne’s French swordsman.

The jaunty dance at the end ruined the power of the ending. It should have ended with the ghost of Anne taking James’ hand – a quiet, poignant gesture. Instead the 150 minutes is augmented by cheering stamping dances that aren’t even fitting, and those final moments are quickly forgotten in their wake.

Ultimately, I am a little disappointed, but that is because it didn’t show my Anne; but that is good, because it leaves the way open for me to do so myself.

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Policing protesters

Police heavy handedness is all too common a feature of our broadsheets. Today’s Independent and Guardian reported how protesters in the spring at a London department store were held for many hours and had their homes searched under the terrorism act; over 100 people face trial. There is rightly an outcry from many quarters. I am alarmed and angered that the reasoning is wasting of ‘court time and resources’ as one MP put it, or police time. What matters is that the freedom to peacefully protest is being taken away; and that bullying tactics make this not a free country. This is abuse of power, of law, and an assault to liberty.

Protesting againsta company’s tax evasion is nothing to do with terrorism. That should be tightened to a very slim definition of those using death or the threat of death to make a political point – such as bombings, hostage holding, siege by gunpoint. It is not for people camping out in a commercial premises who had no intention of harming anyone. The phrase ‘national security’ needs to be tightened to mean the above or foreign invasion. The MI5’s other remit, of threats to the economy, should be scrubbed as economy is not part of our national security and comes across as being more concerned about finance than liberty of its citizens.

When, like so many other countries, we are faced with insupportable cuts to deal with a so called debt caused by greedy and irresponsible financiers and our own government’s mistakes, we do not want our already heavy taxes being spent on taking away free comfortable livin. It makes one wonder what other  will be eroded. We want the right to speak up against losses to pension, student support, and all the other services that are suffering. And anything else that matters to us. Conflating demonstration with terrorism means the means to speak out is receding. That is not democracy, it is tyranny.

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