Thursday, January 26, 2012

Caught Btween Racial Identity & Female Identity As Relates To A Cartoon

This stuff came up via conversations with some friends, well, vents more accurately put, about G.I.Joe: Renegades. It's an animated show, that combines G.I.Joe themes, with a bit of an A-Team plot and story hook. And after laughing my head off, having caught it randomly on channel and then watching two episodes and being intrigued, I hunted down some on demand sources and started watching from the beginning. And then, then I got hit in the face with some crap; squirm inducing, wincing, upset, wanting to fast forward through, crap. And so far it hasn't really been about race - so far it's all been gender.

In case you hadn't guessed? Here be spoilers....




Scarlett, is an emotional, obsessed woman, who when put in leadership positions manages continually to bring everyone into the utmost trouble or who somehow fails in some other way. When, however, she's in a support position; supporting one of the male character's decisions etc... then, she's right, solid, and good backup. On her own? Obsessed. And so far, the few times she's been right, haven't matched up to all the times she just plain... FAILS.

So here I am, all full of wee at the MALE PoC representation on the show. But feeling kicked in the stomach over how women are shown when Scarlett, Lady Jaye and the Baroness are the models.

The Baroness is obviously the underling of Cobra Commander and is shown quite knowledgeable in knowing her place . When a 'Firm Hand' is used to get her back in line, or reprimanded, it's by Cobra Commander himself, directly by him. She is HIS personal underling. So, a position of authority that is dependent upon a man.

Lady Jaye is initially shown as the military superior of quite a few men, who take her seriously. And that had me all a-squee, until things progressed and her role became a dual supporting role to two men. She's Flint's right hand in chasing down the 'Renegades'. And she's Duke's right hand in undermining Flint as needed. Sure she's sassy and all that, but she went in the space of the first two episodes, from superior officer to helpmate. And it does not help that Flint, who's her superior on the task force, makes comments about Duke being her boyfriend. It sets a certain tone; about who she is, how he sees her; as a woman, and a teammate and what her purpose is supposed to be.

Scarlett... Scarlett is the reason the Renegades are in trouble in the first place. She's so gunho about proving herself right, proving that Cobra is evil, that she plays fast and loose with regulations, orders, and other people's careers. The first episode is Scarlett being a flaming EVE to four ADAMS. And for me, it was painful. And I'm someone who's all reverent about BATMAN, who IS a vigilante! But of course, Batman, doesn't do vigilante things while wearing a military uniform and using military authority for his own ends and he is, as a character, usually shown to be very careful about involving others in his dangerous plans.

So here's Scarlett, a woman obsessed. And things happen, and go to shit. And I can't even admire her being right, or her being unphased about the outcome of things, because her focus is so narrow it comes across as dangerous. Worse, there's this undercurrent about her leadership ALSO being for shit. When she's in charge, THINGS HIT THE FAN. Almost always. When she's supporting another, a male, character's decisions, THEN she's right. And IN THE RIGHT. But on her own? It's wild and dangerous.

The thing is, if Scarlett were Scar, the character would still be dangerous. But it'd have a lot less baggage about women's leadership abilities. Scarlett is all intuition 'I just know!' / 'Trust me!'. And everything else flies out the window. Worse, I end up feeling like the only reason she's even survived as long as she has, is because she has Snake Eyes around to watch her back and clean up her messes for her (and considering, that despite what has been said, I think gaijin could apply as much to someone biracial as purely Caucasian so that's a MoC, running around looking after 'Miss Scarlett' and getting her out of her messes. And that goads. So. damn. much).

The other 'major' female character I've seen so far, has been Kimi/Jinx, Snake Eyes' student and part of his backstory. And she gets treated by one male as a trophy to be won or stolen back to suit his needs. Yes, she's a fighter. But her emotions are played and played and played again. And it could be her youth as much as anything, but with all the rest of the writing for female characters, I end up just shaking my head. Kimi/Jinx for all her spunk, is a damsel in distress. Agency is talked about around her, but she hasn't owned her own, and from what I've read up on, whatever she ends up having in the future is given to her.

Meanwhile, out of the PoC Males, there's a laid back, rock near heavy metal listening big, broad black dude, a Chinese-American Brooklynite, (Lady Jaye also looks Asian American to me btw, mentioned here before I forget), and a nickname giving somewhat daredevil black dude. And I like their portrayals. I so really, really do. If Snake Eyes is 'Hapa' (I think that's the applicable term) then he might be less 'white ninja' and that'll soothe and all that'll irk me is his lack of knowing any kind of sign language after how many years w/o a voice. It's a little upsetting to have a white woman interpreting what he says (on top of anyone else interpreting what someone with a disability really means or really needs).

But here I am, stuck, because wow, those male characters. And then damn on the women. At one point, in what I've watched so far, Scarlett can't find success and access she wants while pretending to be a lawyer or pretending to be a federal agent (I was left to ponder her opinion of small town people). But, playing a particular type of woman? Somewhat Jerry Springeresque? In short shorts and loose blouse and bra strap showing and pregnant - there she finds some success. And I winced. I just winced. Savvy disguise? Maybe. But of the three, the one that worked? It's the one that relied on 'feelings' / hers and the people she's trying to get past, vs any other sort of preparation; It's the one that relies on her presenting as female, presenting as female in a very biological way? Wince wince wince.

Other representations of women? Well, while I'm here, I am aware of the trope of, meek male, needs his 'woman' to be in true distress and then he'll 'man up' and do what needs done, and win the girl? The episode revolving around that, was also painful, not just because of the damsel in distress theme. But because that one act, to my mind, could not dissolve or undo the destruction caused by months/years of meekness. Finding his courage, fine. But did he have to get a prize for it? And that prize be a woman? A woman who, I'd hope in a more real life circumstance would consider the fact that her being in danger in the first place, imminently and then more broadly before the crisis point, had all been due to him NOT finding that courage? The message there, was that for one singular act that may or may not stick in his character he needed to be rewarded with herself? That's a message for kids? That's sick.

And speaking of acceptable feelings, rewards, prizes and gender bias - Scarlett haring off on her own intuition? BIG ARSE DUST UP. Duke on the other hand? Going it alone? His concern getting the better of him? He turns out to be right. He turns out to end up in the right place at the right time. He and the other males of the group, also turn out to feel more than Scarlett in general, about innocents that is. She's 'big picture' focused, obsessed. They want to stop and help the little guys.

Again I'm struck by if Scarlett were Scar; the character would be just as dangerous, just as obsessed, just as driven and focused, single minded, determined and having been right about Cobra's true face. But the baggage, of them not caring about others etc, would be very, very, different. Am I shocked at a female character who doesn't want to help general innocents? Or 'nurse', for various values of nurse (and that word is used deliberately) communities back to health? Maybe. Maybe I am. I'm influenced by the world as much as anyone. But the thing I pinpoint on, is that if Scarlett hates Cobra for taking advantage of people, for working at cross purposes to peace, unity and a peaceful Usian way - then, shouldn't she hate all manipulative bullies? Or at least consider the possibility that putting these bullies away means less possible future employees for Cobra?

Then again, I haven't watched enough to have seen if there's a specific reason she has it in for Cobra - though, maybe even then I'd expect some measure of empathy.--

-- And - Oh heaven. Oh crap. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, let Scarlett's lack of empathy not be some sort of underhanded lesson about what happens to a woman without a 'woman's natural empathies' to direct her. Please let this obsession with Cobra and all her risky behavior not be meant as a quiet understatement about what happens to women in leadership roles and all that associated bullshit. Let the writers just be clueless, privileged assholes. That's MUCH more preferable than a deliberate message to the younger generation.

And I know, know someone's going to wish they could comment to tell me that DUKE WAS ALWAYS THE LEADER. And uhm, I have watched a couple of G.I.Joe cartoons in my youth, ok? I felt a cold shiver down my spine when I heard about this century's live action movie (which I did not watch). I too thought Scarlett in the live action movieverse promos looked like nothing but cheesecake. And growing up? The bulk of the people I knew who liked G.I Joe? WERE GIRLS. G.I Joe slumber party. G.I.Joe birthday parties or just birthday cake, with Scarlett or Lady Jaye on the cover (and their action figures too). Running around the school yard playing G.I. Joe? Thinking up names and themes for themselves? Girls. I remember waiting with excitement for the G.I Joe movie (VHS) FOR that slumber party.

When the first episode of Renegades came on and I heard COBRA say "And knowing is half the battle" my heart leapt up in my chest and I thought 'OMG, that's TWISTED AWESOME!'.

So there, my itty bitty 'creds' as not a completely clueless female. WTFever. Cause 'creds' don't fucking matter, really, when it comes to what's going on in the here and now. Just like there's a generation who'll look at you one day and go 'Nick Fury was White??!!'. There's a generation now, that will know that Scarlett was introduced and often mentions the fact that she's Duke's superior officer. And yes, yes yes, she doesn't have his field experience. It's been mentioned. But field experience does not equal common sense (or rather her lack of it, or rather her complete obsession excluding all else including it).

So here I am. I want to know more about Tunnel Rat and Roadblock in this iteration. Hell Wikipedia says Nicky Lee is meant to be TRINIDADIAN CHINESE (or was). You think I don't want to be all up in that? And that it doesn't make me ponder hunting down the comic books? But how am I supposed to balance that squee, with the kick in the chest on how the female characters are treated? The same way I often end up walking away from things that have fine white female characters and PoC? WoC? Who's them? And until I know for sure about Lady Jaye, Renegades doesn't seem to HAVE, WoC, which earns serious cut eye.

I wrote out my thoughts to try and figure out things, to put my frustration down on 'paper', because it's been eating and eating away at me. And when I vent this much to people who care about me, they do tend to ask me why I'm still watching. Especially since they know I will walk away from media and people to spare myself/my life grief. This choice, however, or rather the phrasing of this choice (woman, or poc) is new. I haven't had to make this variation of the choice before / had to walk away from this variation of the choice before.

And it's really, really hard. Cause it'd be so easy, so easy to say 'Meh, Scarlett's just a stupid white woman'.