Thursday, June 8, 2017

James Comey vs. Wonder Woman

I live in the desert to lessen human noise, but sometimes that noise is focused on everyone in a way that breaks down my barriers and forces me to listen. Former FBI Director James Comey's recent testimony produced such noise.  I would have given-in and listened ad nauseum but I'm frustrated by the public assumption, abetted by the media, that the hearings and any subsequent investigation might result in President Trump's downfall.  You don't have to be a telepath to know that no downfall is coming, that the hearings will be forgotten at the first national emergency and obscured ever after.

One way to escape "news"-induced mass obsession is to find other things to think about. For this reason I decided to go to the new Wonder Woman moviecharacterized by some reviewers as a feminist vision to counteract the current male resurgence.  I had planned to see it at the Cinemark 22 in Lancaster, close to home, but my friend Doug called to see if I'd like to go with him to the Edwards Stadium 6 in Calabasas, a white enclave in the rolling hills northwest of the melting pot of the San Fernando Valley.  I was ready for human society and a break from the psychic importunings of my animal friends, so last night I drove 67 miles from Pearblossom to Calabasas.

On the way I abandoned my hesitations and listened to NPR analysis of Comey's testimony- and found the same insidious suggestion that this story might end in something gratifying, but Trump's statements to Comey about dropping charges against Michael Flynn (the "smoking gun") are apparently not recorded.  There is no paper evidence, no other witness. It's Comey's word against Trump's, which means end of story, no downfall.  

In a lame show of freedom from media, I turned off the radio just as I entered the parking lot of the Calabasas Commons, an upscale open-air mall that is quite pleasant though it looks like an Italian village re-dreamed by Disney and has speakers hidden in bushes that exclusively broadcast songs by the Rat Pack.

I parked as close to the theater as I could, which was fairly close because it was Wednesday night and local high schools had a few days before the weekend start of summer break. There was a long line next to the theater where people were waiting for free ice cream at a newly opened Jeni's, and it was there I spotted Doug, waiting in line against his maxim that waiting in line is never worth it.


"I decided to try, 'Good things come to those who wait,'" he explained.  

I waited with him and in fact a good thing came, in the form of creamy, sweet ice cream, albeit on tiny plastic spoons.

"Remind me why we're seeing Wonder Woman," said Doug.

"Because it's a distraction from the Comey waste of time."

Doug nodded resignedly.

We bought tickets and entered the faux-palace, finding plush, reclining seats in the three-fourths filled auditorium.  I held down a button on my armrest and the seat moved horizontally until I was nearly supine.  It was not the most comfortable position for watching the screen, but I felt only the far setting would give me my money's worth.

Wonder Woman comprises a series
 of action scenes punctuated by lingering shots of actress Gal Gadot’s pretty face.  I was struck by the smart casting of this soft and hard looking woman to kick the crap out of many men (to be fair, she kicks the crap out of one woman, the weird Dr. Poison).  Gadot's Israeli identity has given the film a political dimension, and some are scouring it for Zionist meaning.  I looked for something, but unless women are Hebrews and men are Canaanites, or vice versa, I'm not seeing it. 

Gadot was credible in the role and a strong choice, giving some depth to an otherwise ridiculous and lazy film.  It opens with a fantastical CGI city, carved into the mountains of a hidden island, where an all-female society known as the Amazons lives.  There are few biological details, but we get the impression that the women do not reproduce and are immortal.  The exception, and the only child on the island, is eight-year-old Diana (young Wonder Woman), who was created by Zeus back in the day.

A note on Zeus: even though he was a notorious male chauvinist and serial rapist, Zeus was apparently in the Amazons' court, defending them from the evil and ultra-male God of War, Aries, by making the Amazons' island invisible and by fathering the super-warrior Diana. For these signs of support, Zeus' rap sheet is forgotten.

Viewers expecting moral clarity in the movie for depicting women as a force for peace and nurture, and men as a force for brutality and war, may be confused by the Amazon culture, in which women continually train for battle against a hypothetical male army that will arise when Aries wakes up from an assumed dormancy (Diana learns when she arrives, fully grown, on the French front in World War I, that Aries has been anything but dormant).

Back to the idyllic island: Beautiful women smile and gaze at one another as they perfect man-killing arrows and magic cords that force men to tell the truth.  Everyone is in harmony with nature except, as noted, little Diana, who drives her elders crazy by wanting to practice warfare all the time. Derivative and tedious dialogue reveals that Diana's mother wants to protect her from her warrior fate by not telling her the truth, that Zeus created Diana to be a "god killer" whose destiny is to kill Aries, so that there will be no more war and the Amazons can go back to designing lethal weapons and perhaps quilting.

Symbolism: The only way Diana can kill Aries is with a magic sword designed by Zeus, giving us a story in which a woman must use a phallic symbol to kill a man. I'm not complaining about the symbolism; I'm just asking: What does it mean?  You'd think a true feminist story would entail a heroine killing a man with a symbolic vagina- maybe whacking Aries over the head with one of Judy Chicago's ceramic vulvas.

[Update, 7/27/18: I just watched the much superior Justice League, in which Wonder Woman (again Gadot) and a group of male superheroes join forces. There is little of the gender bullshit of Wonder Woman.  The enemy in Justice League is not generic men, but a particular male, about ten feet tall with a goat's head and an itch to burn up the entire universe. He is the opposite of nurturing.  Wonder Woman stays nurturing (to the hunks on her team at least, and stray Russian peasants) while she kicks Nihilism Man's butt to Uranus!  Wonder Woman, you rock!]

On the drive home I absently turned on the radio and got an unpleasant dose of Comey- commentary.  I punched channel buttons furiously and found the Pretenders' My city was gone.  Listening to the soothing mantra, I thought about the similarity between the Comey hearings and Wonder Woman.  Like the moviethe hearings do not answer the questions they are supposed to answer.  

In the case of the hearings, there is one big unanswered question: What do they have to do with getting rid of Trump?  The Watergate era, when there were countervailing forces from federal branches other than the executive, is over, at least for this president. He need only wait for the first distracting national emergency to get off scot-free. 

What of Wonder Woman and feminism?  The biological sciences will soon give us the ability to turn both femininity and masculinity into anything we want them to be. If we're going to make educated decisions about that, we should look more realistically at what it means to be male and female. Hopefully we won't be burdened with too much Hollywood schlock on the subject.