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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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DVD extras

 I love to watch these. Having them must enhance DVD saleability. If you are not interested, you don’t have to see them and rarely pay more for them, unless it is a deluxe edition. But it means that for those wanting to learn more about the film, that there is something in the DVD that is not to be had in the cinematic experience. A DVD without extras is, to paraphrase the musical Annie, a night without a star. It is not something I will buy or even borrow.

I often find these extras disappointing and frustrating. I wish I could feed this back to film distributors so I am writing it here.

I guess that like other viewers, I watch extras right after I’ve seen the film, or perhaps the next day. When you’ve seen a film you are then in the mood to hear more. Perhaps you have to take it back to a video shop or library soon. I’m not going to load up a DVD to see a few minutes of a featurette on its own, especially as getting the DVD player warmed up and sitting through the pre menu screen adverts takes 5 mins. Having sat through trailers at the cinema, I do not expect to do so again at home – it’s what a DVD (as opposed to watching it broadcast on television) is about. These actually serve to annoy audiences into not watching DVDs. Although this is not a personal admission of it, I wonder if this fuels piracy, where presumably adverts and trailers are absent.

So why do DVD extras have so much of the film in and why do they share so much of the same material? This is not the synoptic problem of the gospels – we are not hypothesising about the existence of Q source here. I’m simply asking, why bother your audience with extended sequences that they have just seen, and have three featurettes using the same quotes and clips? It assumes we’ve forgotten the film or the previous featurette and it assumes we must watch them over an interval of time, which is unlikely.

Perhaps most viewers have not been on a film set, but we have all seen these action behind the scene shots of people rushing round with cameras and fluffy booms. We also know that this is not a real fly on the wall insight into how a film is made or what working on that particular set was like. Such images take up valuable space and time and add nothing to our understanding of the film or TV series. What I like to see is a coherent explanation of the film’s genesis. Featurettes are often jumbled, not really explaining where the idea came from. I am interested in the historical research behind films and why choices have been made to depict in that way.

I’ve listened to many commentaries and been impressed by few, often giving up. There seems two kinds of commentary. The first is a group of cast and crew being silly together, talking over each other and praising each other. There is little value in these. Then there is the solo commentary. But this has the danger of being a monotone. Lectures and speeches are usually shorter than a feature, and the speaker on DVD extras often aren’t gifted at engaging us with a monologue. Often it’s the director giving the one person commentary, and there’s often self indulgence there which is chief reason I’ve heard that people switch off. Directors often say inaccurate statements – eg the King’s Speech’s Tom Hooper speaks of a major location being in a Georgian building, which for anyone who knows about architecture, is blatantly not. We come to what is the function of a commentary, and there may be at least two answers. Perhaps there needs to be two on a DVD: the anecdotal or technical one, and one which is more a commentary in the scriptural or literary sense. I want to know what’s really going on in the scene – what’s the subtext I missed? How does all the elements of the scene (known as mis en scene) help build up an image or message? Like a good cryptic crossword nothing should be wasted and the choices of clothes, framing, music and set design will all enhance the mood, character, emphasis and perhaps even plot. Partly, I want to make sure I don’t miss anything, and also I like to fully appreciate the work of all the departments.

 In film, too much is made of the director. Producers are very keen to appear in DVD extras as their role is less recognised to the audience. It feels they are desperate to come to the camera and make their efforts known. Harshly, I don’t often share that, especially as they take screen time away from other departments. Film is collaboration and it is what each person brings that has made that film what it is. I like it when each team or head of department can introduce themselves and their vision. But it would be better to have documentaries broken down into chapters, or just have shorter ones. I hate starting a featurette, unsure if this is six minutes or an hour, and having no idea what it will cover. The most important person of the crew is the one that most gets overlooked. The King’s Speech is an example of how the writer was featured so little that I couldn’t work out his accent. It’s the script that attracts the talent and money to make a film. Although the final product will be down to all those contributing and ultimately overseen by the director, the script is the basis of all they do. It is also likely to be the part that has taken the longest, being written rewritten and developed long before the preproduction starts, having been fought to be made perhaps over many years, and then rewritten again, even to the last minute. And yet the scriptwriter is not the name attached to the film we as an audience will know.

So I would like:

no trailers at the start

clear timings of each extra and what it includes, breaking long ones down; no clips unless it illustrates a point

no footage of filming unless it clearly shows something particular and informative to allow all departments to speak, especially the writer

Commentaries with different purposes, and an awareness that silly repartee has little interest to those outside

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