No Wonder in Wonder Woman

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Wonder Woman was the last Justice Leaguer I met when I was a kid. I spent most of my afternoons watching TVO, Fox Kids, and YTV: the latter of which featured debuts and reruns of the iconic DCAU Batman and Superman series. Between the stellar superheroines (even antiheroines) in X-Men and Spider-Man, I wasn’t exactly thinking too hard about the absence of women when it came to action and adventure; but I also wasn’t keen on the difference between DC and Marvel, the latter of which seems to have an endless erection for Wolverine despite its notoriously vast and diverse galleries of narratives.

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I met Wonder Woman in the early 00s when the Justice League animated series came out, and became more acquainted with her through cult coverage in documentaries or comic conventions. She seemed like a powerful character: a literal Amazon whose allies and nemeses were themed through Greek mythology, which appealed to me since I liked to read those classics in middle school. Her star-spangled costume with its trademark tripartite of red, white, and blue iconized her in the vein of Captain America: appealing to Americana and fashioning the heroism ascribed to the Allies whom ultimately won WWII whilst championing the USA. She was also strong and intent. Despite the chauvinism that marks faculty and fandom that surround a lot of canon, compared to her male cohorts, Diana was ironically less flushed or furious than forthright. What struck me about her story was how I felt it could parallel the X-Men [my favourite series tbh]. Her narrative was driven less by justice than discovery. Sure, she fought for ‘justice,’ but she was driven by a sense of urgency and reckoning that was yielded from an irresolute identity and past. She left Themyscira to war past and despite a realm of reservation, forged friendships, cultivated mortal enemies, and discovered the dynamics of being beyond duty.

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I’m sure there would’ve been an abundance of insight into that development and likely legendary enemies or allies added to her roster had she’d been picked up with her own DCAU series—but she wasn’t. Neither were a bunch of my beloved favourites, even if they did manage to earn the odd DCAU movie special or motion comic. Which is why the recent Wonder Woman movie was so ground breaking. Not only did it grant Diana her deserved debut to the big screen, it also reaffirmed the revelatory ethos she stood for and dignified her as a feminist icon: a beacon of light and strength amidst the otherwise all-male Justice League and spotlighted narratives. Wonder Woman was never a feminist idol of mine, although I did think she was a feminist and likewise represented feminism. I was keener to Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Zatanna when it came to DC; while Storm, Rogue, Jean Grey, Black Cat, and Calypso were my faves for Marvel. Wonder Woman was great, but I felt a bit conservative in how she emblematized Americana and idealism whereas my picks were pronounced through power, prowess, and prerogative.

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That doesn’t make Wonder Woman a ‘bad’ feminist or superheroine by comparison. It just means that I hold respect and space for Diana in a different way. Admittedly, I looked at her with new respect when the Injustice games came out. She not only mobilized the misguided Amazon army to rise above an autocratic regime against her evil twin, but she inclined people to discern between independence and interpersonality as well as pride. Her feminism was explicit rather than just implied according to her prior incarnates. She spoke directly of how men can convolute women: how misogyny drove the adoption the autocracy of Superman, and how any allegiance to him was self-destructive as well as superficial against the ethos and hubris of real warriors. And, she did actually say this stuff. Not word for word or quite as abstract, but there’s a portion where she declares these principles during the story mode. It was then my heart took a dive as she proceeded to emphasize ideas the clank of her sword against her shield, then knocked her evil twin out cold, and led the charge of her warrior sisters against Aquaman’s army. This Diana got me thinking. I could get into this side of Wonder Woman.

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Then, some years later, Wonder Woman was announced. Knowing that it was going to be run and adjunct to the lackluster series of films which comprise the latest DC hero franchise, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. For me, the recent movies—Man of Steel and Batman v Superman—bastardized any original character or canon which kind of undercut the source material. Not to mention we saw Superman and Batman on the big screen many times. Given the span of time, the frequency and continuance of their reboots was becoming more of a nuisance than a running gag; a lot like Wolverine. So, a Wonder Woman narrative which shared a similar budget and campaign was refreshing, if not surprising. It wasn’t just going to be great to see an alternate take; it was going to be epic because it hadn’t been done before. Yet, I still found myself mildly unimpressed with the promos and previews—and eventually, the actual movie. Diana was reduced to romance and rebellion rather than strength, urgency, and undertaking. Themyscira read like an afterthought to her fascination with the outside world. She embarks to eviscerate not because she can, but because of clumsy attraction. This Wonder Woman was nothing like the champions I’d read into or watched onscreen over the years, and she was the polar opposite of the star Injustice had made me fall in love with. I still don’t have the spoons to do a film review, but all I can say is that she was like a caricature: a witless warrior whose quest wasn’t to innovate or liberate, but to become one of the guys.

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Which is accentuated by Gal Gadot. She was briefly scandalized for being a Zionist, but people could’ve cared less once Wonder Woman broke. The movie captivated critics and was acclaimed by audiences as revolutionary. Folks fancied that it was a text which transmuted the mainstreamed misogyny and signal boosted ‘feminism’ as a matter of representation. Little girls and teens could now assumedly identify with this genre because it had afforded them a leading woman. As if Wonder Woman’s regalia hadn’t already afforded them that before this film. As if everything would’ve been undermined had it featured another actress.

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Consequently, Gadot was iconized akin to Wonder Woman by fans whom thereupon imposed their ideologies. She became an avatar of ‘girl power’ in light of her casting, and further assumed the role when she refused to work with Brett Ratner whose sexual harassment was exposed in the wake of callouts which followed Harvey Weinstein. I honestly don’t think much of celebrities when it comes to activism or advocacy, especially the declaredly ‘feminist’ ones whose social justice is operant upon their social capital. For me, Gadot’s Zionism and cult of celebrity discredited any likeness to Wonder Woman and feminism as I knew it. Because, the personal is political. Politics inform and reflect our worldviews, and their principles signify encoded values we abide and legitimate. Zionism is not merely problematic nor can it be divorced from someone’s personality; and given historical horrors and current events, I don’t think it should be taken lightly, especially when its assumed by a prominent celebrity who is cast as some symbol of feminism or revolution. I also just don’t think it’s wise or realistic to levy that much likeness upon one person or one text. The personae of Wonder Woman and similar heroines related as feminist are vast in and of themselves. Gadot and Wonder Woman are simply singular instances, however informed they purport to be by the whole.

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Which is why when this story broke, I was unmoved by the shock and outrage it has elicited from Wonder Woman and Gadot fans. Regardless of the script, Gadot’s correlation to Zionism spoke to a degree of amorality and antipathy which was evident in her deliverance of the role. I could also note that she seldom spoke of feminism or politics beyond that in real-time—which made all these assumptions of her feminist fervor all the more ludicrous, if not unfounded.

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When it comes to the hype of Hollywood and celebrity, prospects aren’t so much limited as they are sustained. If something is made, it’s bought. Its dislike doesn’t discount its dollars. Which is why Wonder Woman and others like her can be commodified and commercialized through any means. If their stories are ever dignified, they’re applauded. Their mere existence is seen as radical even if there is nothing particularly innovative in how they are delivered or conceived, even in considering their constituents or market objectives. I don’t know if Wonder Woman will ever get the diverse, continued cinematic treatment equivalent to her comic counterparts. What I do know is that I’m not the only one displeased by this one as it stands; nor am I the only one who discerns between the face of the character onscreen and whom or what that face belongs to IRL. Diana might not have had the profound, perspective feature film I’d hoped for; but she has had a good run and I won’t let Gadot or any other casting discredit that.

Hi, Society

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Back in 2007, I was bouncing from coasts between high schools for what was left of my sophomore year. Guitar Hero, synth-pop, leggings in lieu of pants, along with the prominence (and pervasion) of forums were all the craze. Haute was being subverted through kitsch avant-garde that was nonchalant and nihilistic, somewhat nostalgic of Warhol and the dystopian edge of the eighties.

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Social media was also taking on a new life and meaning. Platforms like Blogger, Myspace, and MSN faded out against Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; the latter of which offered more immediacy and interconnectivity with clicked connections that enabled prompt, personalized content as opposed to tailored templates. Despite their more multiplex and expedient advances, these new sites and services were as accessible and user-friendly as their predecessors; but they were also as frenzied. The individualism was indulgent and immoderate, because there was—and still is—no oversight of this mass connectivity. People connected easily and swiftly, but not necessarily nicely.

The late 2000’s cultivated countercultures through cyberspace which were amenable to activists, but conversely bred toxic trenders and trolls; and unlike the live moderators or some semblance of staffers (however arrogant) of the ‘old days,’ amoral algorithms and unresponsive personnel then supplanted management or moderation. Which is why Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram operate as walled gardens whose fruitful objectives are more quantified than qualified. They’re bigger, better playgrounds, but there’s nothing or no one to prevent somebody—or if you’re targeted, legions—from dunking your head in the sand or cracking your teeth off the monkey bars.

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But, I could’ve honestly cared less back then. I was a sophomore, soon-to-be junior, then senior who was absorbed in aces and university applications. Social media didn’t really appeal to me either since I wasn’t keen on being social. I didn’t have many friends. Between relocations, burying myself in school and work, and what would become clinical anxiety: I couldn’t. I also just wasn’t into what was trending. Around that time, most folks in my generation (and some before) were swooning over sparkly, stalker vampires whose concept of romance was obsession—and that yielded an even creepier offshoot which nauseated me, and still affirms an apocalypse or the inevitable extinction [via self-destruction] of our species. These trends, however tripe, dignified the somewhat conspiratorial theories posed by the anti-tech crowds. The internet had bred the means and ends to not simply imposing insights and ideologies, but indoctrinating them. People became content creators who could—and did—cultivate and capitalize upon followings whose interests were not merely interconnected, but intertextual.

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Positively, this fractured the gatekeepers. Esteems earned through some establishment were no longer the exclusive determinants of merit or success. The con was pure, unadulterated populism. Free press risked the reverence and redistribution of rubbish. Catharsis could be captured, then consumed through clickbait. Our concept of that surplus, simulated connectivity bled into our concept of real life in very real ways. Society itself is social; but when media mitigates that, the social can wholeheartedly supplant rather than strengthen or subvert the personal and political. Everything becomes a spectacle: a matter of subscribers, shares, likes, hashtags, and filters in which an audience is amassed and applauds. Practice, pleasure, and personality become more performative because it isn’t about catharsis; it’s about a curtain call.

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The prospects and power of social media are well-known today, many of which have produced some notable celebrities; but it was only the tip of the iceberg when I was in high school. Social media could create social moments. Folks were eager and excited to navigate their news feeds and create their own headlines. The ludicrous albeit lucrative trends had entertained and inspired people to share, sell, and sympathize; because trends are temporal and definitive. And, these new [social] networks enabled some superfluous signs of the times.

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Maybe that was why Gossip Girl was such a hit. The series was created in the same vein as its producers’ prior hit, The O.C. which I was probably too young to get into when it first came out. It was based off a bestselling young-adult series of books, but moulded in the interests of teen angst which meant crucial, liberal departures for the sake of television. Families were drastically scaled down from their literary extensions as were the more marginalized identities of sexuality and gender fluidity, which made for a relatively tame cast of pretentious personalities. What made Gossip Girl distinct were its subtexts of classism, nepotism, elitism, and oligarchy. Most of the characters were woefully wealthy and wicked, whereas the poorer people were craven for acceptance. Everyone was envious, enchanted, and entitled to each other. Everyone had a story that simultaneously anguished and admired avarice and artifice—which was the tragic irony of it all.

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The eponymous ‘Gossip Girl’ was an online persona who ran a notorious blog devoted to narrating and knocking the lives of the main cast, for richer or poorer. Its surrealism is marked by its presence as operant as opposed to just existent. The blog was frequented and functional. It incorporated tips from onlookers which were substantiated by pictures, texts, or other messages, some benign and others malicious. Gossip Girl was effected as an equalizer who humbled its loathsome, lavish subjects amongst pessimistic peasants whom came to climb and rival their ranks. It provided a fictional, but resonant account of how real lives are affected by the ‘reality’ of social media; even if that ‘reality’ isn’t real.

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Which is why the recent #MeToo hashtag assumed a life of its own in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s cancellation and comeuppance as a pig who weaponized his industrial interests and insights to extort sexual favours and rape with impunity. #MeToo went viral shortly thereafter to signal the solidarity of women whom had predominantly been victimized, antagonized, and otherwise objectified sexually by men whom had nonetheless prospered. Celebrities applied the hashtag to their own experiences in Hollywood, whereas others used it upon reflection of their overall assaults and ensuing traumas which were enabled by rape culture: a rape culture that social media has not only exacerbated, but aided in its venues which range from chauvinistic forums to crash dumps of revenge porn; all with faulty algorithms that discern offenders are somehow not in violation of Community Standards. Gossip Girl explored this briefly in some of its seasonal arcs, where the titular blogger is privy to sexts, sex tapes, and sexual histories of women whom are subsequently scorned or [slut-]shamed.

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I only watched Gossip Girl for Chuck Bass. He was suave, seductive, and surrealistically shrewd amongst the other moneyed misfits and hated the have-nots. He was also a rapist. The first season saw him as a misogynistic misanthrope whose toxicity is haphazardly implied to be justified by his unresolved Mommy and Daddy issues. After trying to force himself onto another character, he attempts to rape a freshman some episodes later—which is pretty much glossed over after he’s consequently punched and he somehow manages to become a redemptive, definitive personality of the overall series.

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Chuck was someone I related to family-wise and in the sense of how I internalized. I disliked people; and I was actively aware—sometimes, in awe—of how they could be airy and artificial on instinct, even to their detriment. My cynicism prevented any suspension of disbelief which was a requisite for imagination or immersion. I was more avoidant than escapist, but I preferred to take more than I gave. The difference is that I didn’t just take; and I exercised empathy in that I likewise felt wasn’t not entitled to anyone’s time or energy, because I knew (or at least, liked to think) nobody was entitled to mine. Chuck never quite got that. Maybe money, masculinity, misogyny, and misanthropy prevented him from making that leap. For all of the paltry politics and pretenses, he saw society and social media as walled gardens—and believed any- and everything were simply a means to sow his own oats. The more I watched him, the more I hoped he would change with each passing season.

But, he didn’t.

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Chuck’s progression was defined by his own permissions and parameters which would caustically, characteristically violate those of others’. The series stretched on for years and I started hating him, because his privileged, profound, and profane prerogative nullified literally any redeeming aspect. There would be glimpses of reflection, realization, along with some erratic, but earnest effort to be accountable—and it would be completely disingenuous.

Which now kind of correlates to the actor who brought him to life: Ed Westwick.

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Westwick was flying pretty high during Gossip Girl’s run, and lived relatively privately despite that while his cast mates were more in the public eye via their relationships or scandals. The only mention of him people really got were his rooming with co-star, Chance Crawford (Nate Archibald), and relationship to his co-star Jessica Szohr (Vanessa Abrams)—which only made waves since fans were annoyed he wasn’t dating his onscreen love interest, Leighton Meester (Blair Waldorf). Some other tidbits about his hobbies also surfaced. I vaguely remember folks mentioning him being a musician and theatre buff?  After Gossip Girl [colossally unsatisfactorily] ended, I think he just gradually faded out. There wasn’t any mention of his colleagues, co-stars, or confidantes in following projects; and the rest of the Gossip Girl cast had moved on with their lives in a comparably similar obscurity.

Now, Westwick has gone viral in real life akin to Weinstein and other Hollywood personnel whom have been divulged as predators.

And, I really can’t say I’m not surprised. Not because I link Ed to Chuck, but because this is a story I’ve heard before, one that I will likely always hear; one that I have myself told. Bad people can be those you’d least expect; those with an abundance of assets which are underlain with some fundamental flaw; and those you would expect given the premise of their positionality that prompts them to simply pluck or pain whom they choose. Westwick may be of either likeness in his own way; and I quite frankly find it unnerving that his response to such a grave accusation is a mere note—which oddly coincides with the concept of social media as a delineative, distributive, destructive, and sardonically disconnected force reality must reckon with, if not resolve.

UPDATE: Westwick now faces another survivor’s narrative. 

If It Isn’t Love

 

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I’m seeing an old clip of Joseline Hernandez and Stevie J going off on Benzino and Althea at the season three reunion of Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta (LHHATL) resurge and go viral on Twitter. But, I find myself kind of numb rather than sharing the collective keke that echoed across the Internet.

I don’t know what other people were watching that season, but all I saw was trash.

For one, I never forgot this. Everything made sense afterward. Dee was never “overprotective” or comical. She’s one of those toxic mothers with internalized misogynoir whom coddle their sons’ rather than hold them accountable. I mention her because she “apologized” on Scrappy’s behalf; and proceeded to gently walk him through why men shouldn’t beat up on women, tit for tat, even though he had prior knowledge of Erica’s survivorship within other abusive relationships.

The cycle then extends to Bambi—who later went on to order an attack on Erica in a nightclub—whose instinct was to drag Erica regardless; as if expression of condolences was disrespectful, as if she’s responsible for Scrappy’s suspected indiscretions, as if she’s delusional and her attraction was unfounded, as if he did nothing.

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Then, there was Mimi Faust—whose sex tape with her then-boyfriend, Nikko Smith [London]—was leaked. Even though the slut shaming she received from her fellow castmates was atrocious, what hit me hardest were her ‘friends’ whom were less inclined to be supportive than sanctimonious. Which is innately contradictory to the emphatic declarations of “girl power” and “womanhood” the women in these series so earnestly and evidently, superficially cite. The condemnation and condescension she fared against from her ‘friends’ as if she were to blame for her violation; as if any resultant discrimination or abuse aren’t yielded from chauvinism and rape culture within society at large. Moreover, there’s the fact that if your friend does have a sex tape leaked, you don’t have to watch it. Nobody does. In fact, if it was leaked without their consent, your viewing is violatory. For me, there was little consolation in the fact that the video was ultimately staged. If anything, that fact just made me think of the more chilling prospects had it been real; how utterly unsupported and undermined a woman would be by her very ‘friends’ whom would rather condemn her as culpable in her victimization.

It all made me think of how and why I’ve always hated LHHATL the most: because, it’s got the ashiest characters whom reinforce the ashiest stereotypes. I know Love & Hip-Hop is already chalk full of slut shaming, internalized misogynoir, amidst the beckies and chads (and anybody else) whom blackfaced; but there’s something about LHHATL that I just can’t shake, and I feel nauseated whenever it comes on.

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It’s like a caricature of every toxic trope in a trash song: the serial cheaters; the fools who take them back time and time again; the other women or “side pieces” whom are dragged or demonized for the whole thing; the ignoramuses fighting over ain’t shit mates; and the kids who get caught in the middle, often sadly and naively encouraging their adulterous parents to reconcile. LHHATL has that on loop, and there’s no semblance of anybody remotely evolving.

I just think season three was particularly trash; between Scrappy putting hands on Erica, Mimi being slut- and body shamed for her leaked sex tape, likewise with Althea, and Kayo Redd’s suicide—all of which were glossed over, save for when they were gassed up for kekes or feels at the reunion. It makes me think of how much “reality tv” is divorced from reality, yet isn’t.

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These personas lead arrogant and airbrushed lives because folks tune in to see trainwrecks; and yet, their behaviours on meaningful issues reflect exactly what we’d expect from peers only we’re not as indulged or infantilized. We don’t have heaps of money to throw at our problems; and I have to wonder if anybody is truly as inclined to forgive and forget, as if materialism and exhibitionism can supplant intimacy in the wake of infidelity.

In the realm of performativity, are people just innately prompted to pretend when they’re being watched? Or, is it a defense mechanism wherein ignorance insulates us from painful reality? Moreover, what’s to be said about the truths translated by the lies: the simplicity that is irrevocably inconsistent and inapplicable to the reality, the enormity of life.