Hello fellow bloggers and welcome! I am excited to journey through this quest of questions and hope you will join me in dissecting and discovering the intricate facets of American culture. Does media influence our identities? Has advertising played a major role in determining the status of women in our culture?
I don’t know, let’s find out.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Up! Up! And...Nowhere!

Presenting the amazing, the spectacular, the one and only...Non-Existent Woman!!!

You don’t see her in blockbuster movies; she’s absent on T.V.; no sight of her in comic books (or graphic novels). Yes people, we most definitely have a superbly Non-Existent Woman!

I watch cartoons. A lot. I’m not embarrassed. I think they're awesome and from a sociological standpoint, extremely revealing as to what is going on in society at the time it was produced. For serious amazingness I turn to Batman, Spiderman and Superman (cliche, right? I’ll get to that later). For ultimate cheesy deliciousness I look to Birdman! Plastic Man! And, Aquaman!

And then I started to think. Man man man man man man. Seriously? Have I been watching cartoons all my life without even noticing that these superheroes I cherish are all men?

No, it isn’t terrible, but it means something.

One morning I was eating breakfast and what compliments cereal better than cartoons? Nothing. So I turned on the tube and went to a favored channel, Boomerang (for all its classic wonder) and was excited to see the next show to play starred a woman.
The Perils of Penelope Pitstop
I didn’t think of the title (which should have sent up a red flag) but focused on Penelope. Yay! Finally, a superheroine.

Penelope Pitstop is not a superheroine (or super villian) but a southern damsel in distress whose makeup madness and need of rescuing outweigh the positive qualities she possesses (and she does possess some).
After just the introductory theme song I knew what I was in for, but it was still painful.

The show was cancelled after one season (surprise!) and her character forgotten except when used for a cheap commodity.

Why was Penelope a flop? The answer lies in Batman, Spiderman and Superman: These men were given a history, a strongly founded background that underlies their magnificence. None of their stories are a joke- they are serious and deep with family histories, traumas and love- which is why they last. We can relate, sympathize, admire, love or hate but they are capable of evoking strong emotions from us because they are not two-dimensional in personality as they are on screen or print.

This can’t be said for Penelope. This can’t be said for the flops Catwoman and Elektra. Is it only coincidence that the two blockbusters that were recently produced starring women flopped terribly? Both are considered some of the worst movies ever. And why? Because these women have never been taken seriously.
There is a new version of Batman and Superman being produced continually but what about Batgirl, SuperGirl and Wonder Woman? Where is Wonder Woman's individual Saturday morning cartoon? (there are straight-to-video movies coming out based on her and possibly a feature film in 2011- we'll have to wait and see if it's a good or bad thing).

All this leads me to question how this affects people in society. Sure, this isn’t an advertisement for a specific product, but in a sense it is an advertisement for how women should perceive themselves in terms of power...

First, let's attempt to look anatomically perfect, then after 20 hours at the gym (and cosmetic surgery) let's be a villainous femme fatal since that's sexy. Let's be in distress and need saving. Let's be cunningly deceitful...but fickle.

Most importantly, let us be a small part to the real superheros. The Lois Lanes, the Mary Jane Watson's or one of the Bat's romances.

Do I now renounce cartoons and comic books forever? No. They are still rich in story and meaning. We don’t live in female-only world. A man's perspective is a wonderful and necessary thing.
But when are we going to see more of the wonderful and necessary woman's perspective outside of talk shows and chick flicks? I want to turn on the tellie with a grand bowl of sugary goodness and watch a woman put on a costume that is useful and not meant to show off her assets. I want to hear her story and admire her for her strength and diligence. My heart will skip a beat when she meets her nemesis, (one who isn’t a gag but a real threat). When she fails, I will worry, when she triumphs I will cheer.
So, what is my Utopian dream? I want gender to stop getting in the way of being a hero. Ultimately it isn’t the costumes and superpowers we admire about our super men;

It’s their strength of character. And we are all capable of that.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Cris. Good topic, but you need to go back and fix the last couple of paragraphs. They're too tiny to read! I used the ctrl+scroll to zoom in, but you can't see it otherwise.

    Anyway, I think you definitely have a valid point...to a point. Penelope Pitstop is I'm guessing from the old Hannah-Barbara cartoons of the 1960s. This is really around the time feminism was starting to become a major societal phenomenon, so you can't judge all cartoons and comics (comics are graphic novels are basically synonymous now) by that 'toon.

    There have been some massive leaps forward in the portrayal of female characters in cartoons and comics in the last...30 or so years, I'd say.

    The easiest example is the X-Men. Sure, they're called men, but easily half the team are women. Not only that, they're some of the most powerful and important characters in the series, spanning comics, cartoons, and movies. You have Jean Grey/Phoenix, Emma Frost/White Queen, Storm, Rogue, Psylock, etc. They can all stand toe-to-toe with their male counterparts and aren't portrayed as simple sexual objects or damsels in distress.

    Then there's shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sure, it's not an actual comic or cartoon, but it's deeply rooted in that style of story telling, and the creator Joss Whedon has been asked to write several female comic book characters such as Wonder Woman because he knows how to write female characters that are empowered and funny and not inept damsels in distress. I think his new show the Doll's House is another attempt to write stories about kick-ass girls, so you might want to check it out!

    And hey, if you're looking for cheesy Saturday morning cartoons starring tough girls, there's always one of my favorites, the Powerpuff Girls. Or even shows like Kim Possible. I never watched it, but I got the understanding that she was able to handle herself, and ended up saving her man most of the time. Then there's another favorite of mine, Avatar: The Last Airbender from Nickelodeon. Not only is it already a wonderful show, but again, some of the most powerful and well developed characters are girls! (sadly though, when the show began producing action figures, the company completely ignored the female cast, expecting boys to not want to play with figures of girls, much to many people's disappointment)

    What I'm basically getting at is that you don't have to look very hard now to find strong, capable female characters in cartoons and comics. But sadly, if you focus on 'toons on Boomerang, you'll be getting plenty of nostalgia, but a heavy dose of chauvinistic attitudes to go with it.

    That's a lot of words.