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.

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.