Amoeblog

Pop Cultural Feminist Icons and Why I Really Don't Like Wonder Woman

Posted by Charles Reece, September 2, 2012 11:48pm | Post a Comment

My interest in Wonder Woman has always been lukewarm, with a back issue collection ranging somewhere between Dazzler and She-Hulk. This essay was the result of an invite from Noah Berlatsky over at the Hooded Utilitarian who's currently working on a book devoted to William Marston and Harry Peter's Golden Age run on Wonder Woman (they created the character). Noah had blogged his way through every issue of the comic, and was celebrating with a roundtable on the final issue (#28). Since it was clear that I pretty much loathed Marston's ideas, Noah figured it would be fun to get a negative take, and the following was what I delivered. At one time, the bondage theme had led me to try a volume from the DC Archive editions, but the mind-numbing repetition of  “oh, you’ve bound my bracelets” and “now, I have you tied up with my lasso” only proved what I thought impossible: how meek and boring sadomasochism could be. I imagine what Suehiro Maruo might do with the character -- questionable as feminism, true, but free of tedium. This is a roundabout way of saying I prefer my feminist icons with teeth. And Marston wasn’t interested in artistic ambiguity, but propaganda:

[That w]omen are exciting for this one reason — it is the secret of women’s allure — women enjoy submission, being bound [was] the only truly great contribution of my Wonder Woman strip to the moral education of the young. The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound. … Only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society. [quote from p. 210, Jones]

Submission as an essential quality of womanhood might sound dubiously feminist, too, if not for Marston’s insistence that what is woman’s by nature should be a virtue for man to follow. There was no Sadean intent for us perverts. Submission was Marston’s end to violence, not a subset. When moralizing critics of his day objected to the overtly fetishistic nature of Wonder Woman, Marston’s response was that bondage is a painless way of showing the hero under duress. Unfortunately, he was correct: his and Peter’s depiction is about as troublingly kinky as the traps laid for Batman in his sixties TV show. As issue 28 indicates, even the villains use physical force only to subdue the heroines, never for torture: When Princess Diana and her mom are bound by burning chains, Eviless makes it clear that the flames don’t actually burn. [p. 20] As fetish or drama, this is about as flaccid as it gets.

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THE LEGEND OF BAGGE'S RAND

Posted by Charles Reece, November 15, 2009 11:56pm | Post a Comment
Novelist, scenarist, actress, "objectivist" and basic propagandist for rapacious capitalism Ayn Rand is someone I've always tended to steer clear of. My aversion is due more to her muddy and hypocritical thinking, as well as a writing style that's about as accomplished as a cheap 1930s sci-fi magazine, than any sort of challenge one encounters reading Leo Strauss and other conservative thinkers. But the ironically named Reason Magazine tends to talk about her, and their chief cartoonist, Peter Bagge (of Hate fame) has a new strip about what the mention of her name elicits in the circles he frequents (over-caffeinated Seattleites, I guess). To any of my pals who might have an opinion on her, she's considered something like what American Idol winners are to music, namely for people who don't like philosophy. You know, Alan Greenspan. Since I can't speak for Bagge's choice of friends, I'm only going to take issue with his final (and I note hysterically rendered) panel:


 

...And, this being a movie blog, in particular how it's contradicted by Rand's role in the Hollywood Red-baiting of the late 40s and 50s. In 1944, to combat communist infiltration in Hollywood, Walt Disney and some other conservatives formed The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. Some of its most prominent members were John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Ward Bond and Leo McCarey. The organization's statement of principles can be read here. Another associate was Rand, who wrote a manifesto for the group in 1950 titled "Screen Guide for Americans," which was a program for weeding out Red influence from the pictures with enumerated commandments: "Don't smear the free enterprise system," "don't smear industrialists," "don't smear wealth," "don't smear the profit motive," "don't smear success," etc. Her supposed probity against the use of "physical force to impose her ideas" can be read in the document's conclusion:


The principle of free speech requires that we do not use police force to forbid the Communists the expression of their ideas -- which means that we do not pass laws forbidding them to speak. But the principle of free speech does not require that we furnish the Communists with the means to preach their ideas, and does not imply that we owe them jobs and support to advocate our own destruction at our own expense.