Tag Archives: Lynda Carter

Princess Dianas

When I changed my viewing and research from the British Royals to Wonder Woman, I was expecting a complete change. But Wonder Woman is also a Princess Diana, and politics as well as changing roles for women are key to both subjects.

 

Although one is blonde, one is dark; one is real, one is fiction; one is immortal, one died young, these women do have certain qualities in common.

 

Compassion

empathy

immediate and genuine rapport

beauty but not an object

commands respect

beauty from within as much as pleasantly aligned features

tall – being both about 6ft (though Lynda Carter needed 3 inch heels to be that height)

national representative

 

an outsider

One was an English born aristocrat who became the wife and mother of heirs to the throne of the same country, and one was born on a secret island and took on America as her adopted country. But both had to get to learn the ways of a new world.

 

But Diana, Princess of Wales was more complicated and with conflicting qualities. Even those who were fond of her don’t deny a darker side. She said that her own suffering enabled and fuelled her to reach out to others.

 

In the TV series, Diana Prince has no emotional breakdowns and her problems do not seem very menacing or last long; but contractions have existed in all manifestations of Wonder Woman since her invention 70 years ago, and these are used more in comic story lines. But Lynda Carter said that she played Wonder Woman with a vulnerability, and that’s what made her  – and the other Diana – so appealing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Change our Minds, Wonder Woman

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 gradually blusher return. They rarely bother with glasses now for Diana – which are still huge – but it’s assumed no-one will make the connection 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 orphaned 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 woman. 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 Superman movies made a very clear link between the Christmas story and their film being released at that time, the Messianic parallel works better with Diana than Kal-el, 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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Woman of the Hour?

No, about 46 minutes per episode – 36 of them so far…

I have already shared my thoughts from the first series of the 1970s TV show and a little research into the comics – my first and very pleasing forray into the world of  Wonder Woman. Now I have completed watching season 2 and my feelings are different.

Wonder Woman has changed TV network and also time period. The season premiere begins by being incredibly similar to the original pilot – the crashed plane, the women on Paradise Island, the bullets and bracelets competition to win the mission of returning with the craft to America. Steve junior’s in a suit, no longer a uniform, and has grown up to look just like his Dad from the first season. Etta Candy and Colonel Blankenship are gone, and in their place at the office are a talking computer and robot, a short lived boss called Joe, an unseen voice, and later, Eve, one of the series’ several black characters (there were none in Season 1). Steve spends more time on the end of a phone and less joining Diana on escapades. Paradise Island soon ceases to feature.

Diana is now a star in her own right; she becomes a famous agent of the Inter-Agency Defense Command. In the first season, Diana wasn’t considered pretty enough to enter a beauty competition and she is picked as Yeoman due to her lack of glamour. Early in the second season, Joe isn’t sure she’s got the right wardrobe to go undercover as a ‘swinger’. Now, in every episode, her looks are commented on admiringly. Like the series itself, Diana undergoes a change halfway through. Diana’s style becomes what she’d call ‘slinky’ in the first season. Her hair and make up change and she doesn’t seem as beautiful and appealing. Comic book artist Phil Jimenez states he admires Lynda Carter’s portrayal for its grace, regality, femininity, dignity and style. Diana was naive, but never dippy. Some of that has gone by the close of this season and that has a huge bearing on my appreciation of the show.

The Wonder Woman costume has a subtle make over, making the PE pants highlegged, and the cleavage more prominent. The stunts are bigger and it seems a little more violent. There’s also greater sexism. Wonder Woman’s first girl fight left her and the other woman with ripped clothing. Later, Diana happens to rip her pants (in the US sense) in a parachute jump, at the knee; so she cuts her trousers off at the groin to make them hotpants. (Steve also falls with her but doesn’t suffer any rents to his clothes). Yet, even in a swimming costume, Ms Carter never shows her actual legs – the satin tights remain.

That line in the lyrics does, but much of the theme tune’s other words are changed and an irritating sound that like a kid who can’t play the recorder is added. The Nazis are phased out, and now Wonder Woman fights ‘on the side of right’ rather than for hers. No more stopping wars with love, no more metamorphosing doves… she’s woman of the hour and her chance to fight evil is not denied… almost as if she wants to kick ass. One comic artist on the DVD extra said that Wonder Woman wants to spread her message of love – she’s not looking for fights. Yet these lyrics suggest the reverse.

Early on in the season, there were links with the first series and the opportunity for some thoughtful questions posed. But by the end of the first disc, there’s no more just war discussion, no critiquing or even assertion of what makes America good. The side of right and America’s government are unquestionably synonymous – and Wonder Woman fights for us  – even against her own people on Paradise Island. That episode, “Trouble in the Bermuda Triangle”, speaks of aiding the American arms supremacy. The writer has misunderstood all that Wonder Woman stands for – she is for peace and justice, and would hate nuclear weaponry. I wonder if Wonder Woman had stayed in the US till the end of the war, whether Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have happened.

Episode 3 attempts to deal with how Japanese people were treated by America during the war, although the above atrocities are not talked about. Was this episode on relocation camps to abate bad feeling from Japan or to encourage fellow Americans to lose their old prejudices? It ends with the shocking line: ‘That’s why pencils have erasers’ regarding the mistakes made by America to Japan. I would be interested to know how that episode was received by Japanese viewers, as it can come across as clumsy and even propagandist; but the storyline seems at least like an attempt to deal with issues. These essays peter out shortly after.

The Nazis were appropriate adversaries with far more potential than those of the seasons set in the 1970s. Sometimes these new villains have special powers – the Japanese psychokinetic, the boy with psychic gifts – but these are appropriated by military intelligence. Villains rarely have much of a reason for being evil now. The overlooked country’s royalty trying to use the olympics to win recognition was an interesting idea – but it got lost in camp evil laughs and silent massaging twins. The writer of the Outer Space episodes with Andros returns – but this feature length episode was far poorer than the one in the first season. The aliens are now after minds, not moral judgments; and apart from a swipe at all bureaucracy, there’s little food for thought this time.

The laughs are less; since the comic books titles go, there’s no more invisible planes or voice mimicry; and only the yogic travel into outer space amused me.

It felt by the end that I was watching a different show, far different from the one I had found so inspiring and surprisingly thoughtful as well as entertaining.

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Get us out from under, Wonder Woman

When I switched my viewing and research from the British Royals to Wonder Woman, I was expecting a complete change. But Wonder Woman is also a Princess Diana, and I’ve found quite a few parallels, as I’ll explain in a future post…

The Wonder Woman Lynda Carter TV show might have cult status, but it isn’t something most people would expect to quote from literature and philosophy, or discourse on ethics and society, or teach us how to live.

Yet it does all those.

In season 1 (on which this is based), there are quotes from Socrates in ancient Greek; the behavioural psychologist, Pavlov; Dr Johnson on patriotism; economics, and scientific equations. It makes witty social critiques of bureaucracy whilst trying to address international relations. But most of all, it is a vehicle for feminism.

Wonder Woman was a war baby, created in 1941 by a controversial psychologist. William Moulton Marston (pen named Charles Moulton) wanted to right the gender balance amongst superheroes. He believed that women are the future and are natural leaders. He believed – like proponents of single sex schooling – that women thrive when away from the influence of men, and are capable of equal or better physical and mental feats. He set his heroine as being part of a Greco-Roman myth, the mighty all female race, the Amazons, living in highly civilised peace. As he wrote, women’s roles and perceptions were altering, paving the way for feminism.

By 1975 when the TV pilot was aired, feminism had happened and was on its second wave. Theologian Mary Daly had publicly left the Catholic church because of its oppressive patriarchy to live on an all women island, and allegedly communicated with men only through an interpreter. The TV show seeks to sympathise with the sentiment but to step back from that extreme and show both men and women as good and bad, capable of living together harmoniously.

The slave-like bullet proof bracelets that Wonder Woman wears were created by Moulton to remind that if women let them, they are in servitude to men. The bracelets’ secret substance gave rise to the episode title The Feminum Mystique, refracting the famous Betty Friedan text. Hindus too have seen a feminine mystique, a force called Shakti. For Moulton, this is symbolised in Wonder Woman’s lasso which compels its captive to tell the truth. Much is made of the connection between this device and that Moulton partly invented the lie detector test, but this immoral and inaccurate contraption actually does an inverse task: it spots lies, not finds out truth. Moulton claims that all women have this power to disarm and bring out honesty through charm.

It seems, like Indian women, that there is a dichotomy and contradiction between the venerable female ultimate force and a sexualised submissive domesticity. Moulton said that women’s qualities are wrongly seen as weak, but he sees their attributes as including meekness and submission. In the 1970s TV series, women’s qualities are cited as strength and compassion. Wonder Woman is the first superhero to fight with love, not for just truth and justice. The theme tune lyrics reflect this, but also the ambivalence of the show: Wonder Woman fights for democracy, love and honesty; the world is ready for her peace and women’s lib message. But she does it in satin tights. She’s conventionally attractive and slim – beauty queen Lynda Carter dieted for the role. She wears very little, despite the dress conventions and climate of her adopted home. Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, managed to scale a ladder in heels and a floaty dress in Rear Window, but Princess Diana of the Amazons must swap her native diaphanous groin skimming dress for a cross between a circus costume and a gym suit to assume her role in the ultimate example of democracy.

But as both lead actress and male commentators in the Season 1 DVD extras say, actually Wonder Woman in the TV show doesn’t feel titillating or objectified. All superheroes have outlandish, skin tight and sometimes revealing costumes – the Hulk, Hawkman and He Man all basically just wear underpants. Lynda Carter’s tights are a step up from having the bare legs of the comic book. Her outfit becomes simply a uniform; and although beautiful, she is never ogled over by the men around her, but accepted as their equal, if not superior. There’s a purity around her that commands awe and adulation, but not objectification.

Lynda Carter often says that it’s sad that Wonder Woman never, like her, has love or children; and that therefore most of us have more than the Amazonian Ambassador. But but I like that an ultimate heroine is complete without these. It makes Wonder Woman an even better feminist icon because it says that reproduction and marriage are not defining aspects of womanhood – indeed, personhood. It is undermining for single non parents to believe they are lesser and missing something; but it is also unhealthy for anyone to think that we need these others to be whole, or that we are defined by our relationships. And Wonder Woman does find love, on many levels: each episode, she finds a new friend, animal and human, of all ages – and is clearly close to her mother and sister. (You’ll never see Shadowlands in the same light after seeing Debra Winger’s debut here!) Carter’s insistence on repeating this idea regarding motherhood and romance is disappointing, and if it is meant how it is taken here, undermines what she brings to the role.

I at first felt the weekly girl fights were also part of degrading Wonder Woman to arousing entertainment. That might be a by-product, but as the first season’s extras imply, it’s more about giving other women key active parts that show their importance in the story. It helps the gender portrayal balance of having female villains as well as a protagonist; and a show down fight between these is normal in the action genre. Often, Wonder Woman is able to reach out to wayward sisters, particularly in Episode 3 of season 1. An unappreciated, endangered Nazi leader is recruited for the Allied forces, ending in a touching moment of bonding.

Wonder Woman also ribs beauty contests (ironically played by a Miss America) and the shallowness that makes Major Steve Trevor unable to see beyond another kind of uniform past the disguise of his bespectacled efficient secretary, Yeoman Diana Prince. Unlike Clark Kent, Diana does not act particularly different to her vigilante counterpart, so the ruse of her secret identity is more about playing to expectations and prejudices.

There’s explicit statements on gender, just war causes, and animal rights. As outsider, Wonder Woman can comment as so many sci-fis do on the fallacies of Earth people. Passionately pro-American, she still opens her adopted country to critique. She delivers a Nazi war criminal alive for a fair trial, unlike recent events in the Middle East.

The show’s makers claim their groundbreaking series opened the way for other strong women roles in television, and that fans wrote in to tell how Wonder Woman had inspired them to try new careers that they thought impossible (though admittedly these were often government and military related).

The Wonder Woman television series  remains brilliantly entertaining, and its old special effects make it all the funnier – I especially love that invisible plane. It – and she – have rightly become an icon for many, regardless of sexuality, gender or country. My hope is that in all the fun, the serious messages and discourses are not lost on viewers, and like the lyrics, it will change our minds and change the world.

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