12 September 2018 20615 Views

We need to talk about SHE-RA! Something is amiss with the latest take on the Princess of Power..

by James Murphy


Don’t like the look of the new SHE-RA? Maybe you just favour the older animation style? Nope. You are just WRONG! OFF MESSAGE! You have an AGENDA!. Ok, they don’t QUITE put it like that. Except ‘they’  (being those who hold the keys to trending media topics in many cases) kind of..do. Stirring conflict /controversy in the absence of genuine hype. Well, NERDIST do, anyway. They’re not reviewing or even PRE-Viewing the new Netflix version of 80s cartoon icon, She-Ra. Instead, they provide advance apology for /defence of the show’s aesthetic and moral politics. Presented by someone who is..blonde, beautiful and kinda like the old school..She-Ra. How progressive? Ironic, more like. Vexing. Your own nostalgia is being weaponised against you: less rose tinted as tainted goggles being imposed upon your eyes, only to to be stripped with darkly divisive method.


But be fair to NERDIST. They are just symptomatic of a wider trend in media politics. They call out bad behaviour online; which is important. But not all criticism /comment is trolling? And not every first observation of a product is some ingrained resistance to change. Take STAR WARS, of late. There was a disgusting trend of vile, racist, criminally written assaults; launched, in a concerted and repellent fashion, against the adorable Kelly Marie Tran, after THE LAST JEDI opened to a controversial reception among the fans.

The poor girl had to close some of her social media accounts because she felt so under attack. That cannot be allowed to pass in a supposedly free society. Yes we must be allowed to voice criticism. NO: We should NOT be permitted, even once, to troll an artist’s personal accounts and bombard them with racial / body shaming abuse. To me, such offences are criminal. Pure and simple. The winners from the trend of nasty online comment..are the merchants of mediocrity at the heart of corporate Hollywood. The very people, ironically enough, against whom the trolls would claim to rebel? It is a more benign villainy of course but villainy it is, nonetheless. Two sides of a spectrum, with the casually discerning fan trapped in the crossfire. Notice that the term ‘social justice warriors’ crept into our language of late.

EVERY time you cited ‘SJW STAR WARS!’ and the like, it equipped studio marketing teams with a new weapon to repel legit criticism. ‘Aw it’s just fans that do not like progress’. Perpetual stalemate, feeding corporate monopoly, protected by a shield of perceived moral superiority. Back to SHE-RA. How does it all connect? I do not like the new version, or rather, what I have seen of it so far.

To be fair, I’ve only digested a trailer. So, quite rightly and fairly, the online defence systems would say ‘YOU CANNOT JUDGE SOMETHING YOU HAVE NOT YET WATCHED!’. I would agree. Absolutely. Except these are the very same ‘types’ that are also citing, quoting and USING the existing online criticism AS a marketing tool. ‘Don’t like She-Ra/ Well you are A GROWN MAN! Isn’t it WEIRD to think about a CARTOON?’ Judge not, lest ye be judged. Don’t dismiss the new show you have not watched; but you should not be watching it anyway so ending your platform for comment. Very clever. NOWHERE to hide. I shall just retreat to my bunker of 1980s worldviews, shall I?

But it is perfectly possible and indeed, NORMAL, to be able to LOOK, in passing, at She-Ra of the 1980s and her counterpart today and think ‘hmmm: she was lovelier in the previous iteration’. As in: I think the animation, drawing, aesthetic and the underlying morality were simpler, cooler and just BETTER , before. Fine: enjoy your newer version. Feel free to relish the fact that it is now a strangely featureless, sexless, quasi sketch like, anime derivative caricature.

Good for you that ‘She-Ra in the 80s wore a short skirt: now you can clearly see she wears SHORTS’. Go ahead and and call critics ‘creepy’ or ‘weird’ if they, by contrast, think it is fine for a girl in a family cartoon to wear a skirt..yet perhaps think the truly ‘creepy or weird’ thing is to have to FLAG UP the choice of under-garment in a supposedly sexless, modern yet oddly lifeless looking, eerily anime style counterpart?

The Victorians were just like that. All enlightened and Puritanical on the surface; going so far as to cover up chair legs on pianos lest someone’s mind veer towards S-E-X. They also sported child labour up chimneys: a darkly double standard.

In the interests of balanced debate? I concede that yes, I DO have some lovely memories of the original (and better) SHE-RA of the 1980s. I was a boy back then and HE-MAN was my go-to cartoon so I loved the idea of a spin off. It never occurred to me to be sexist or homophobic or to see anything vaguely dodgy about the fact that Princess Adora and Prince Adam were VERY close for a brother and sister; that She-Ra looked a LOT like the equally lovely Teela/Sorceress; or that ‘THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN THE UNIVERSE‘ looked to be walking around in toight loin cloth and perma -tan, backed by a nice friend with big, butch moustache and all the while chased, incessantly, by a consciously camp skeleton man.

ALL PERFECTLY INNOCENT. IN NO WAY A ‘FIFTY SHADES OF GREYSKULL’ kinky subtext? Seriously, though: in retrospect, it was kinda hilarious what they got away with; though I maintain it was unintentional and what we ‘see’ we do so in an unconscious, retrospective, nod and wink panto way. 😉

Today? The more obsessed we are becoming by the avoidance of anything ‘inappropriate’: the more, inversely /conversely, that viewers are robbed of BOTH fun AND innocence: kids and adults, alike.

We (as children or now, as their parents/carers/teachers, entrusted with pastoral care?) can no doubt nowadays be greeted by entire lectures on how those 1980s social politics in cartoons back then are WRONG and INAPPROPRIATE. Probably before any of our classes even attempted to cover more basic, less contentious and always essential reading /writing / doing up shoe-laces/colouring in! And yes. They now do ‘adult colouring books’; sold at inexplicably extortionate rates imho. We’d then sit down and watch..a NEW version of..yep..SHE-RA! Everything has changed and yet..nothing changes.

DR WHO has a similar paradigm / paradox.  ALL the promotional shots of the new show are seemingly evangelising some sort of edgy aesthetic; think chip shops and council flats and smashing old symbols. Perhaps they are playing TO certain fans’ disquiet about the lead character switching gender? Our new Doc LITERALLY shatters a glass ceiling. How I wish that were a jokey piece of fake news.

The real world is far more darkly comic and both beneath and beyond satire, at once. And yet, for all their right on, well hard PC bravado, the Dr Who brand team also announce, with breathtaking naivete /gaucheness, that we should all watch the show on Sunday nights when we have ‘done our homework’ and are readied for Monday. They forget that the brand relaunched without such fanfare stunts, over 13 years ago.

Russell T Davies was a visionary; managing to resurrect old school family viewing, without 2018’s counterpart posturing from Chris Chibnall’s didactic social branding. Dr Who being a girl is fine! Making that change a necessarily contentious ‘thing’ in its marketing and baiting the critics, whilst simultaneously playing to a bygone Britain vision of  faux cozy teatime family life? Not ok and a deeply manipulative, passive aggressive brand of marketing.

Marvel movies also model some double standards, of late. Much made of ‘CAPTAIN MARVEL! SHE IS A WOMAN SUPER-HERO!’ So what? The film remains dependent on the mostly male iconography of the previous 200+ or however many comic book movies of the last year and plays directly on its key symbols.

So She-Ra is not alone but a fairly typical case study. Trade off the ‘new’ and ‘edgy’ and throw out yet somehow benefit FROM old, elitist iconography and prejudice with it. Same brands; new agenda. WATCH THAT SHOW! BUY THOSE TOYS! For kids, ostensibly, but born from conversations among adults that really ought to know better.



Now, if I ever DID fancy the animated She-Ra of old (and that’s not an admission): so what?

She’s a beautiful, feminine, powerful woman. Like an animated counterpart to the best girlfriends you ever had.  That kind of finger-wagging, head tilting, omni-competent, alluring citizen that just happens to be glam and blonde, too, with perfect figure to match and a sexy outfit, riding in to your rescue via a catchy theme tune. If anything? That is to be lauded, encouraged, even.

Adora /She-Ra, to me, was and indeed always WILL be the kind of ‘Hitchcock Blonde’ that happens to be in a softer, family friendly, cartoon form but would fare equally well on film with someone like Grace Kelly /Nicole Kidman /Naomi Watts/Gwynnie/whoever. Heck: Kylie Minogue once DID play She-Ra, albeit as a sketch? 



‘My’ She-Ra was all about giving a girl the POWER: whilst still inspiring team ups with male, equal, counterparts (He-Man AND She-Ra take on Skeletor /Hordak etc). Emancipation without total emasculation. A skilled, determined, heroic individual but within a community. THAT is the TRUE key to her timeless appeal and behind a brand that was indeed ripe for resurrection but NOT in this new format. But hey..I’m not going to be watching..let alone wasting time commenting on the matter. Right? Oh.. 😉





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