The Mutant Generation: Shaping Stronger and Wiser Superheroines
An Introduction by Emily Pohl-Weary
I have a super power. Itís the ability to morph from indie press activist to pop culture junkie in the blink of an eye. After being dormant for decades, my skill manifested three years ago. I blame that skinny blonde vampire slayer. With super-strength on her side, she pranced through dark streets and graveyards, snuffing demons who came after her in the shape of football players, fraternity boys, scientist zombies, her momís boyfriend and even the townís mayor. In short, she won my heart.
The creators of Buffy-and the rest of pop cultureís range of superwomen-understand that at some point in our lives, we all wish for the ability to fly past traffic jams or will our bosses to do our bidding. Deep down, we covet absolute power so that everything can be done our way: no arguments or negotiations necessary. Think how easy life would be!
In reality, however, itís more useful to take public transit or quit our jobs; itís better to change the frustrating dynamics with our lovers than it is to fantasize about killing them. But sometimes weíre stuck in crappy situations and our only option is to escape into fantasy. Thereís absolutely nothing wrong with taking a couple hours off from reality. Itíll be there when we get back.
Consider this: I used to be allergic to all forms of corporate media. For about five years, I only watched art films and independent videos. I was the type of person who cringed self-righteously when friends referenced the Simpsons. I loathed the daily papers filled with so-called objective news written by strangers who were accountable to no one except their employers. One day, I realized that every time I read the paper in the morning, I started the day in a foul mood. So I quit cold turkey. The quest for alternative media became my obsession. I started making zines and proselytizing the wonders of local media.
Fundamentally, Iím still the same person today-pick any article in the front section of a daily and thereís a 50-50 chance it will make me want to riot. I still only read the arts section on a regular basis (I know, Iím such a girl) because a single glimpse of whatever warís splashed across the front page will profoundly disturb me. But when it comes to cultural consumption, everything has changed.
Buffy Summers and her loyal Scooby Gang were definitely my undoing. I watched her stake a vampire for the first time only because a friend pestered me relentlessly. But when I finally sat still long enough to let an episode sink in, I was mesmerized. The privileged, preppy girls in Buffyís world looked just like the ones who had gone to my high school. They were tidy, self-absorbed and white. They, too, flirted with each otherís boyfriends and were capable of murder if they thought it would make them popular.
Meanwhile, in the centre of it all, there was broody, troubled (pretty) little Buffy sneaking out at night to stake vamps in the graveyard. She led a double life, like me! In high school, I was pretty and vapid, wore pink miniskirts, teased my curled bangs and dated the football quarterback. After school, I went to anti-war demos with Mom, read Germaine Greerís The Female Eunuch, and cared for my whip-smart, bitchy, second-gen (at least) feminist grandmother. Donít all teenage girls face some kind of similar dichotomy?
I get it. I know the politics. Most television shows are simply vessels that deliver audiences to advertisers. Powerful corporations spend billions to package girl power in the form of popular culture and its attendant merchandise. They sell our dreams back to us. Queen of the freaks Courtney Love summed up the state of affairs back in 1998, when she belted out lyrics about how cultural producers incorporate and sell out little girls on her Celebrity Skin album. And millions of teens bought that album. It becomes hard to distinguish whatís genuine and what isnít when that much moneyís changing hands.
None of that stops me from getting excited because a new episode of Angel (the Buffy spin-off featuring her guilt-ridden, blood-sucking boyfriend) is on tonight or the most recent Charlieís Angels installment has hit the cinemas. Iím one of those weird people who actually reads episode spoilers! (You know, summaries for plot twists that havenít yet aired.) I troll the recesses of websites like Spoilersluts.com and wake up in the morning, excited about spending three hours in front of the boob tube between 7 and 10 pm. Last year, I even made my friends reschedule my own birthday party because there was a new episode of Buffy on TV that night. Yeesh. Iíve turned into my own worst nightmare. How pathetic is that?
How could this happen? My parents didnít raise me to love television. Not even close. As a child, I was only allowed to watch a half hour of educational television per day-no guns, no nasty stereotypes and no ads disguised as childrenís programming-so that I wouldnít become desensitized to the real horrors that were happening everyday in this world. Cable was forbidden fruit I indulged in secretly at friendsí houses. Like candy, I craved pop culture as fiercely a package of cherry and lime Lik-M-Aid (ooh, dyed sugar!).
Once in a blue moon, I managed to sneak in an early Saturday-morning binge of crappy cartoons with a sprinkling of interesting female characters. I would curl up in the living room, pull my favourite red blankie around me, turn on the TV really quietly (so as not to wake the parents) and flip through the channels to find She-ra the Princess of Power-essentially He-Man with tits and Farrah Fawcett-worthy blonde flips-or an episode of Rocket Robin Hood in which Maid Marian made an appearance. Sometimes Wonder Woman would exhibit derring-do on the long-running Super Friends, which paired up two ordinary teenagers with DC Comicsí Justice League of America, but really it was Supermanís show. Marvelís retort, Spider Man and His Friends, had Firestar, a composite of a couple characters from the printed comics. And there was the bizarre glam-rock band/superhero team called Jem and the Holograms: a great concept that ultimately fizzled.
But, sadly, the gender dynamic on most shows was closer to the wise-cracking Smurfs, that watery late-70s childhood staple with one lonely smurfette and hundreds of guy smurfs. Sure she was the sensible one, but she didnít bother to show her face in every episode. She was probably too tired tending to the needs of all those chipper, Machiavellian blue guys. READ THE SECOND HALF...