Welcome to the fourth Here’s Looking at You podcast. In this podcast I talk about Wonder Woman with Dr Rayna Denison, senior lecturer in Film at University of East Anglia and editor of the Eisner award-nominated Super Heroes on World Screens and Melanie Adams, pin-up artist at Madams Pin-Ups and Wonder Woman expert.
We discuss Wonder Woman’s various iterations over the years, her feminist roots, the politics of her costuming, how she’s marketed in different national contexts and what we liked and disliked about the recently released origin story, directed by Patty Jenkins.
Now the world is ready for you… ?
First we discussed Wonder Woman as a recuring, and changing, cultural figure and how she reflects and reacts to the times. While there are many male adaptive, archetypal characters, Wonder Woman is one of the few female characters who has been taken up in different eras, media, cultures and contexts. Here we ask what it was that made the time right for the emergence of Wonder Woman in the 1940s, in the ’70s, and whether the time is right now, in the 2010s. See a slideshow of Wonder Woman as cover girl through the decades here, please do comment on what you think they say about their era, I’d love to hear which version is your Wonder Woman, and why.
Wonder Woman in Hollywood (and ‘in her satin tights’…)
Moving on to the current big screen incarnation of the character, we discuss casting, costume, and the media circulation of the current film. Controversy over Gal Gadot’s casting as a former member of the Israeli Military supplant the usual claims that superhero films are too American; a charge which has been balanced by the Wonder Woman film’s internationalism in the supporting cast of her ‘merry men’ and in background characters. Also, we discuss how charges that the DCEU films are too dark and take themselves too seriously are countered by Lucy Davis’ casting as Etta Candy, which brings much needed humor to the film, alongside the sardonic reveals in editing which, cut men’s instructions into Diana’s ignoring of them – a humourous internet meme which Rayna mentions in our informal, behind-the-scenes Easter egg.
Further discussion of the internet circulation and promotion of the film includes more sexualised elements of the character, which we find at times both laughable and problematic. Framed by the historic role of spanking (Dr Poison’s original punishment for her crimes) in the series, discourse has revolved around the realness or Gadot’s body as Wonder Woman (and as a real amalgam of soldier and beauty queen), in the celebration of the ‘thigh jiggle‘ , to disquiet over the amount of underwear on show (Rayna discusses this and discusses it in relation to the notion of ‘Fan Service’ in the next section) to whether Amazons would bother to wax in ‘armpitgate‘.
Stop a War With Love…
Rayna discusses the circulation of the Wonder Woman character in Japan, from inverted rip-off versions of the character as The Amazoness in an 80s TV Spiderman adaptation, to recent controversies over the decision to cut the Japanese trailer to foreground a romance narrative in a trailer overdubbed by the voice of Sailor Moon, Kotono Mitsuishi.
This, as Rayna observes, places Wonder Woman in a tradition of Japanese ‘Battling Beauties’ rather than a superhuman action hero role, girling Wonder Woman and emphasising her ‘innocent abroad’ role as naïve or witless, rather than unschooled in and indifferent to the ways of patriarchy. Here is the Japan Today website article on the softened, romanticised promotion of Wonder Woman which we mention in the podcast.
While Melanie discusses the understanding of Wonder Woman as a pin-up from the Second World War onwards; her roots in suffrage imagery are also discussed. We discuss the interdependence of Wonder Woman’s power and knowingness with beauty and sexuality, and the need to be subject to a gaze if one is to act as a role model, ‘weaponising’ her sexuality. Melanie argues that the models in her own work are sexually self aware, and so agent in a manner akin to Busek’s notion of ‘awarishness’, but then troubles this by acknowledging a variety of gazes and their possible aberrant readings, of both her own work, and of Wonder Woman. However, as she argues, the rise of female superheroes in popular mass media, promoting agent sexual women in pin-up and in their lives, inspire and normalise generations of strong and self determined women. I’m inclined to agree.
Get us out from under, Wonder Woman!
Melanie’s 100 days project, mentioned in the podcast, can be found using the hashtag #100daysofwomenheroes
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Music in the podcast is by kind permission of The Shannon Reilly Trio. The full version of the song Trouble can be found along with it’s video here, and purchased on the Shannon Reilly Band album also called Trouble.
Marguerite Bennett and Marguerite Sauvage DC Bombshells Vol.1 DC Comics, 2016
Maria Elena Buszek Pin-Up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture, Duke University Press 2006
Rayna Denison ‘Global Markets for Japanese Film: Transforming Miyazaki Hayao’s Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi into Spirited Away’ in Japanese Cinema: Texts & Contexts Routledge, 2007
Rayna Denison Anime: A Critical Introduction, Bloomsbury Press 2015
Rayna Denison and Rachel Mizsei-Ward Superheroes on World Screens, University Press of Mississippi 2016
Les Daniels and Chip Kidd Wonder Woman: The Life and Times of the Amazon Princess, the Complete History Titan Books 2000
Jill Lepore The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Scribe, 2015
Ann Matsuuchi ‘Wonder Woman Wears Pants: Wonder Woman, Feminism and the 1972 “Women’s Lib” Issue‘ in Colloquy: text, theory, critique #24 December 2012
Ruth Mayer Serial Fu Manchu Temple University Press, 2013
Ruth Mayer ‘Storytelling Engines: Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu and the World’ paper given at To Be Continued… Serials Series and Sequential Viewing conference at UEA 2014
Dennis O’Neil Diana Prince: Wonder Woman, Vol. 1 DC Comics, 2008 (collects the issues in which Wonder Woman first renounces her powers and becomes a mortal woman)
Dennis O’Neil & Samuel R. Delany Diana Prince: Wonder Woman, Vol. 4 DC Comics, 2009 (collects the last of the ‘Pants Suit’ era including the ‘Women’s Lib issue #203)
Roger Sabin Adult Comics: an introduction, Routledge 1993
Roger Sabin Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels: a History of Comic Art, Phaidon 2001
Yvonne Tasker Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre, and the Action Cinema, Routledge 1993