Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wonder Woman: What's up with the bondage?



In this week's What Are You Reading? at Robot 6, I mentioned how much I liked Geoff John's distillation of Wonder Woman's mission into something easily applicable to any time or place. In her Golden Age origin, Wonder Woman comes to Man's World to fight Nazis, but when DC rebooted their universe in Crisis on Infinite Earths, that wasn't an appropriate motivation anymore. Johns restates it this way: "This place is filled with so many wonderful things, but there is also a darkness that lurks here too. One I’m going to fight. That’s what I’m here for. That’s why I’m staying. To fight."

Replace Nazis with Anything Evil and you've got a strong reason for her being here. One that makes a lot more sense than what I've always thought of as the post-Crisis mission of an Amazon warrior's being an ambassador of peace. That paradox never worked for me, so in my ignorance, I assumed it was something that George Perez came up with when he rebooted the series. It wasn't until last week that I read the latest post in Noah Berlatsky's series about Wonder Woman on the Hooded Utilitarian. In it, Berlatsky connects the warrior/peace paradox not to Perez, but to Wonder Woman's creators, William Moulton Marston and Harry G Peter:
Together Moulton and Peter created a comic that had self-conscious ideological and aesthetic content. They set out, quite deliberately, to reconcile and explore binaries involving fetish and feminism, submission and strength, peace and violence, masculinity and femininity.
It was the "peace and violence" duality that caught my attention, because I've thought about it a lot, but the others are fascinating too. And since my reaction to the Warrior of Peace paradox has been to dismiss it as stupid, I became very interested in what reconciliation Berlatsky's discovered in Marston and Peter's comics. So I'm reading his other posts on Wonder Woman in search of the answer.

I'm not far along in my search, but so far I've found this statement in his first post: "You can't show everyone how strong you are unless you are tied up and break free and dominate others." That statement raises more questions than it answers, but it's a start at bringing the ideas of strength and weakness together. This post of mine is just to introduce my study of Berlatsky's research, but my hope is that in reading the rest of what he has to say (and there's a lot of it), I'll be able to not only incorporate a problematic group of ideas into my understanding of what makes Wonder Woman tick, but also learn something about the nature of cognitive dissonance in general.
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