You have to be serious about silliness. I believe this.
The matter has come up, I guess, in regard to Wonder Woman.
What do I need to explain? Who's reading this? And indeed the subject as I write this is inside my head - certainly the DC Comics handling is so mixed, and periodically odd and catastrophic in some aspects right from the beginning - that I cannot refer to canon to "establish" my points in a truly outside-head way. Let's say that I believe in a Wonder Woman that's worth having in one's head. And there is one, or one can be seen.
The meta-question and Wonder Woman herself has come up in connection to a new TV series by that name. Specifically in regard to a sort of squabble that you wouldn't think would snag me - a squabble, which is not to imply lack of reason for the squabble, about the new Wonder Woman costume.
I need to first put in something to ground this in how I see things. Let us briefly say first who Wonder Woman is. She is a superhero, who (in our own universe) was adopted as a symbol for the women's liberation movement. But our own universe isn't most central: Her name is Diana, and she comes from a magically hidden island of classical Amazons that has cultural continuity back for thousands of years.
She was originally conceived to be a woman with powers equal to Superman's, or certainly of comparable stature. Whether her powers are actually more on a par with Superman or with Batman (her enchanted tools comparable to his technological ones), or somewhere in between, is negotiable and has varied through the portrayals. But she is a big player, a powerful force, a skilled warrior, Amazonian royalty, a woman who gives no pride of precedence to man or special blindnesses to his ways and indeed never needed to be liberated, ... When you think of Diana, she is a serious person, in outlook and in significance. There is nothing funny about the idea of Wonder Woman; if there seems to be, you are misconceiving.
And I will say that her costume does not contradict this. Her costume is consistent with this. This can affect how one imagines her costume, or the particular versions of the costume that one favors out of the many versions that have been depicted.
But I am also going to propose and personally insist on something more radical, or more fundamental, and unique, about the subject of Wonder Woman's costume: what Wonder Woman wears does not demean women by definition. Because it is Wonder Woman.
I mean that. It is not an extraordinary exception. It is an exception that is true.
Now, this will also be a visual discussion, just as much or more, obviously given the mediums. You can pick and choose good and bad and wonderful and comical versions as you wish out of the history (which I think should be viewed in terms of the wow and flutter and distortion of such a figure emerging through decades of traditional and sexist/chauvinist culture - not all images you see in the record need be viewed as equally true to life for this reason, I say conveniently). I'm going to pick two versions of the costume to be representative for my purposes. The first is Lynda Carter's from the 1970s TV series, which follows the center line of the depictions in the comics fairly well. The second I have cherry-picked more or less out of left field, but I have picked it as a good example for a couple of reasons, one of which is that it shows a skirt, which is shown in a small but reasonable minority of versions.
(A word about the star-spangled aspect of the costumes. Most variations of the character and the story - remember, DC, like Marvel, likes to play with alternate universes in addition to its reboots and revamps - include this aspect, and the usual/consensus reason for it is that Diana made that change to her dress in accordance with her adoption of the United States as her new home, and/or made it in accordance with her homeland's ancient custom (obviously long disused, given the lack of emissaries from her magically-hidden isolationist land) under which liaisons with other countries would dress in accordance with the country in question as well as in accordance with the homeland. It makes Wonder Woman strike rare emotional chords indeed as a true-blue American symbol that is foreign-born.)
As I said, the first example there is pretty much on the center line.
The second example I picked is what I would think of as a good variation from the center line, if you wanted to move the costume away from that. The pose amplifies it: the costume is more clearly the garb of a warrior. Certainly you could move the costume even more in this direction without going "wrong" or implausibly. There are a couple of things about this that I'll return to, but for the moment I'll point out the bodice, which has shifted in the direction of being armor; there is now a metal collarpiece that looks toward the function of a breastplate.
That much as moorings. Now, the current controversy.
A few images of the costume (now costumes) from the upcoming new TV series have been released. The first, um, shiny one, shown first below, drew immediate horrified reactions from the online world that cares, and the producers seem to have listened to the reactions, because in the space of just a few days new photos were released showing a different/apparent replacement costume, shown second.
(Second image: I am not really sure what actress Adrianne Palicki is doing with her face, even more darkly in other pictures. Batman would go "grr" - Batman is a walking "grr", deliberately - but I'm not sure Wonder Woman would, and Lynda Carter didn't. And I do hope it's not her "being athletic running" face, because Wonder Woman would barely notice.)
(Also, in passing, on the bust - not quite from the very disapproving line taken by some commenters: I would be equally happy with a Wonder Woman with small breasts, or one with large breasts. But, looking at the second costume, if there's one thing I'm certain of, it's that Diana, princess of Themyscira, could get a good fitting. "Smushed" is not a word I'd associate with Wonder Woman...) *smiles*
What snagged me here was partly this peculiar succession of pictures, and partly the heated discussion of them by the commenters under the various articles. (There is also something else that is kind of beneath contempt, and that I'll leave for last.)
I would not normally have stopped this much - I don't know if I'll watch this new TV series at all, or if I would like it, and I wouldn't even really notice ignoring it - except that there was a peculiar aspect about the way I began to worry that the subject was being treated by the various people with opinions.
Perhaps it jumped out at me just because of the way I approach things, which I tried to sum up in the first three paragraphs of this entry.
The issue is Wonder Woman's pubis, or whatever you call that region which has in the past been occupied by bottoms or sometimes skirt. There was a swell of indignation, tub-thumping patriotic and slightly paranoid, that was aired by Fox News among others, that the American patriotism had been extirpated from Wonder Woman's costume (one poster that I wish I could find again darkly suggested that it was yet another part of the great conspiratorial plan), because that star-spangled blue field was no longer there on Wonder Woman's pubis. I should say that I like the star-spangled resonance but I think that, if, in this version, Diana had not in fact altered her costume in accordance with her new/liaising country, that would be digestible or within the pale, but that's speaking for myself. In any case, this was all mostly jumping at shadows in the first place because, though it isn't front and center in either photo, there is in fact a row of stars down the outside of either leg in both costume versions.
But, of course, there is no longer a pubis/bathing-suit bottom/skirt at all in this version. There are long pants (superhero long pants, something like rubber in the first costume, something closer to Spandex as God intended in the second). Now, this change wouldn't necessarily stop me cold either, although it wouldn't necessarily please me; in DC's most recent reboot in the comics, Diana grew up in New York as an exile and had to design her own costume, coming up with long jeans. Such things can be.
But what absolutely killed me in the comments were so many people saying that Wonder Woman HAD TO have long pants now.
They were saying that she could not have the former costumes now. They were saying that shorts/bottoms were so 1970s and earlier, so sexist bad old days, so exploitative. Wonder Woman absolutely could not have bare legs, not in today's society.
Today's society? Never mind; you can probably see where I'm going to go, but, anyway, there were a few variations also - one person said that in the '40s in America Wonder Woman's costume might have said something positive, that she was a woman who would go out and be athletic, but later on it just looked like she was fighting in lingerie. The only people who didn't like the long pants were either self-admitted oglers or were called that by the others.
Today's society. In the 40's in America, as opposed to now.
My reaction - in my head loud enough to have spurred all this typing you see now:
Who are you people??? And what has been done to pith your imaginations, or foreshorten them, or ....??
Because there is an essential fallacy here, or fallacy-like thing, something that real imagining spans and that failure to imagine does not comprehend: If Wonder Woman is taken to be real, she is not from here, she is not from this.
She is from the island nation of Themyscira, home of an Amazonian nation which has not changed in culture much, if at all, since Hellenic times, indeed, since Homeric times. There is a basic comparison to make: the Spartans as depicted in Frank Miller's movie 300. To say that the Spartans couldn't be shown half-naked like that these days, or maybe to assume that they were shown like that in the movie in order to please a lot of gay male moviegoers, would be myopic and incuriously self-indulgent. The dress was accurate. If the Amazonian warriors and their arms paralleled Greek society at all, bare legs would be simply a fact. Skirts would be typical and likely; Wonder Woman might have customized a different bare-leg solution when going abroad, or keeping a skirt would be the default. I could see quibbling with the lack of helmet or of shield, which opens the question of how fighting arts might have shifted or developed... but bare legs... really.
You have to think from the truth of the silly imagining, not from the context of the world in which it's a light entertainment! There, not here. Or the imagining is spayed - pithed - stunted - undone. And you don't really see it.
And, again, there's also the intrinsic nature of the character, again assisted by where she comes from, but coming from who she is: what Diana wears does not demean women by definition.
To start from the other end is - how do I say? It is to confuse Wonder Woman with Barbie. With a complete toy of our modern world, formed to please us.
Or - in the discussion of the unthinkability of bare legs today, and the other business of indignation over the display of boobs and cleavage in the pictures - it is to think that dressing Wonder Woman is a matter of how to dress a stripper so that she can be Miss America.
Wonder Woman is not Barbie.* She is not a stripper. She is not Miss America.
She is Diana of Themyscira, formed of clay by her mother Queen Hippolyta, blessed of the gods, free woman, hero of Earth.
She is Wonder Woman.
Why would you want to be crasser than to know that, to have a sense of that? To, in a sense, believe in that?
I believe in a Wonder Woman worth having in one's head. Yes, it's silly, and worthwhile.
That's who I think Wonder Woman is. I should say, at the end here, that this new TV series itself apparently makes changes that may divorce it from my whole line of explanation... and about which I am incredulous, and of which I already disapprove extraordinarily, whatever they manage to make of it.
It seems - I do hope that I am misunderstanding something or uninformed?!? - that this Wonder Woman no longer comes from elsewhere at all. Diana Prince is now the American owner of Themyscira Industries, a large corporation. So she's Bruce Wayne. Rich; vigilante and successful executive and juggling other aspects of her life... (And presumably with at least one-and-a-half times as many screws loose as nutso Bruce Wayne, because that is the only remaining plausible reason why she would go fighting crime in such an outfit!)
In what sense - except for the color scheme as seen from far away - is this Wonder Woman?
Well, we wouldn't want to show anything culturally exterior or unfamiliar or outside-the-social-moment to our viewers. I mean, this is just Barbie, basically. Can she have a cool cell phone?
* There's a Barbie that is dressed as Wonder Woman. Yes. Barbie would want to dress as Wonder Woman. With reason. Whether or not she understood the reason.