Wonder Woman vs. Avatar

September 29, 2017 3 Comments

Achilles mourning the dead Penthesilea. Greek Red-figure Amphora. This outfit is not too dissimilar from Wonder Woman’s nor Xena Warrior Princess (see also below).

I’m just gonna say it. James Cameron isn’t totally wrong.  But it’s complicated. Amazons didn’t dress like Wonder Woman.  They wore tunics and trousers and definitely not high heels.  They had awesome tattoos.  But it is also true that 9 times out of 10, Greek men who went out to fight Amazons in battle, fell in love instead and ran off with the “barbarian” women. You could say they were obsessed, as the Greeks depicted Amazons more than any other subject in their art. We used to dismiss these representations as fantasy in a culture with a hyper-repressed feminine, however, we have found the graves of these ancient warrior women now and the clothing & weaponry match the Greek depictions (see the work of pioneers like Jeanine Davis-Kimball and Adrienne Mayor). In Homer’s Iliad, Achilles famously wept falling in love with Penthesilea after killing her in battle. So Amazons were certainly alluring and drop dead gorgeous. Wonder Woman portrays this in the way the modern eye can understand. Patty Jenkins’ film is groundbreaking on many fronts, but not here. Is it important?

One can make the argument, and Patty Jenkins does, that a female super-hero can have it all and it is, in fact, James Cameron who can’t jump through the old paradigm to accept this. As a lover of Xena Warrior Princess myself, I am inclined to agree.  A woman whose body works that well is just going to be sexy particularly if she is also a high femme.  There’s kind of no way around it.  What Cameron means to say is, we have yet to see the groundbreaking role of a butch protagonist superhero. I agree, and though he keeps spouting her name, not even Cameron did this with Linda Hamilton in Terminator, and I would also argue, Hamilton is extremely sexy in that movie.  Come on, the bra-less tank top?  The dominatrix wielding the phallic weaponry? She doesn’t just go for guns, she goes for big guns. She’s riveting from start to finish.

James Cameron isn’t without reproach for balking on groundbreaking depictions of women himself. As with Terminator, his trope is to find new ways we haven’t thought of yet. Avatar is one of my favorite movies, but it is unlikely in a culture that understands animals as equals and whose shaman is female, that women would be passive recipients of the first marriage partner to choose them. That was kind of stupid.  And unbelievable. And please tell me the Na’vi women weren’t gorgeous and basically naked and covered in body paint. That must have been a fun set to be on, James Cameron. How come the men got to wear skirts? What was up with the violent nature of the “bond?” That was a little weird. But everything else was great.

I’ll take it.

On that note, everything else was great in Wonder Woman. Some of those things:

I.  The depiction of an Amazon isolated from modern culture for over 2,000 years encountering patriarchy for the first time was pricelessly funny.  I didn’t know the movie was going to be so funny. Wonder Woman asks “What do these women wear into battle?” upon arriving in London and being told to cover up. We saw the reality of domestication through an Amazon’s eyes. Sometimes it was sad, like when Wonder Woman saw the horse being beaten to cross the river in the war zone. Amazons were first to ride horses and achieved that feat out of developing a relationship of trust & love, the opposite of patriarchy’s “breaking an animal” approach. It’s normal to us, but we were able to see the brutality of it through her eyes.

The famous Amazon Parthian Shot, still practiced in Mongolia today. Amazons & not Parthians invented this technique. (ORIGINAL: Alabastron – Warriors, Circa 470 BCE, Ancient Greece The Hermitage Museum.)

II.  The depiction of Amazon fighting techniques were exactingly accurate, the famous Parthian shot, the horse acrobatics combined with archery, etc… For anyone familiar with the body of knowledge, the imagined battle scene between Amazons and modern day soldiers (who know only guns) was as cinematically edifying as it gets and we’ve been waiting a long time.

III. Wonder Woman’s ignorance of her true origins, therefore her power. The very good reason for this and the very good reason Antiope challenges her to remember. Even the men I speak with say they got the shivers during that scene. A much needed and activating archetypal scene for the times. One might say, groundbreaking.

IV.  The epic reveal of Wonder Woman’s costume does not even happen until halfway through the movie and there is no cleavage. I repeat: there is no cleavage.  I cried the first time I saw this scene. Cameron claims she is in a corset, but it is actually armor strapped on by her sheath. Wonder Woman’s response to seeing a corset in England for the first time was to question if it was the modern woman’s version of armor.  So perhaps the corset is a fetishized offshoot of female appropriate armor and not the other way around (see Penthesilea above & Atalanta below). In contrast, the 1970’s Linda Carter Wonder Woman wore a corset, a cleavage-bearing corset so tight that lifting one arm up meant a boob would pop out. All women know this.

Forty years ago,  below the corset, Carter wore nothing more than a pin-up girl’s bathing suit bottom (William Marston’s original comic book character of the 1940’s was modeled on a pin-up girl).  She ran in Go-Go girl boots. In 2017, Wonder Woman wears a leather skirt made of separate panels for maximum movement, flexibility & protection. Like a Roman gladiator. She runs in breathable, armor-clad, shin guarding boots with a slight lift to maximize speed. (Actually, I’m not sure about the boots, but I’d like to try them.)

V.  The dialogue about free will & the nature of evil. Human weakness vs. human strength. Believing the worst of people vs. believing the best.  A fantastic & nuanced dialogue.

VI.  The imagined scenario between an activated feminine principle and an activated masculine. Not just the partnership but how the interaction of both brings us to a deeper understanding of right action.

VII.  No gratuitous sex scene, just eye contact and connection. This is huge. And it was beautiful.  Thank you, Patty Jenkins.

VIII.  The activated male’s acknowledgment that sacrifice is necessary to correct the current imbalance. Metaphorically speaking, and only a certain kind of toxic, neurotic masculinity, born of the imbalance, must die.

I’ll take it.

 

Some depictions of Amazons, like this one below of Atalanta, are quite similar to Wonder Woman, and my own personal hero, Xena Warrior Princess’, attire.  The Greeks were obsessed with Amazons and most of all, Atalanta.  Her story.

In the following museum description, the unnamed “Scythian Archer” is Atalanta, who delivers the death blow & saves ancient Greece from a rampaging boar: “Hunt of Meleager and Peleus Calydonian boar, hunters and Scythian archer, detail from the Francois vase, Attic volute crater, 570 BC-560 BC, by the potter Ergotimos (active ca 575 BC-ca 569 BC), decoration by Kleitias (active ca 575 BC-ca 560 BC), black-figure pottery, height 66 cm, diameter 57 cm. Greek civilisation, 6th century BC.|Florence, Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Archaeological Museum)”

 

Red-figure Greek amphora / nude Greek fighting clothed Amazon. They each use the traditional weaponry of their perspective cultures, the Amazon wielding the classic battle-axe, invented by Queen Penthesilea. Greek men were often depicted naked in battle. It is amusing the modern day reversal of near-naked women (and in the instance of Avatar, totally naked women) and clothed men in battle depictions. Were the Greeks sexually objectifying male warriors? Or could nudity mean something different?

 

“Amazons / Scythian archers on Greek vases use nomad/Mongolian style thumbdraw instead of Mediterranean draw archery.” – Adrienne Mayor

 

An Amazon in traditional garb fighting nude Greek / Greek Red-figure Amphora. The Greeks depicted Amazons more than any other subject in their pottery. We used to dismiss these representations as fantasy in a culture with a hyper-repressed feminine, however, we have found the graves of these ancient warrior women now and the clothing and weaponry match exactly. (See the work of pioneers like Jeanine Davis-Kimball and Adrienne Mayor.)

 

Atalanta / Greek Red-figure amphora. Atalanta was the most famous Amazon in the Greek world. Check this outfit out!

Jen Taylor

3 Comments

  1. Mike S.

    February 11, 2018

    Thank you for sharing your writing. It was thought provoking, informative, and engaging!

  2. Carlos Pagán

    March 21, 2018

    Egypt Circus Shadows Jen Taylor 10-24unicorn-glyph-1024×677

    Hello Jen,
    I am writing to get acquainted with you as an artist because I was so intrigued by your Egyptian Circus Shadows piece. I am an independent television producer currently working on a Circus Arts documentary here in Sarasota Florida, the winter headquarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus for many decades before its closing announcement in 2017 after 146 years of performance and visuals arts displays.

    I am writing today more specifically to request permission to use your Egypt Circus Shadows for a few seconds over a circus historian and former ringmaster’s comments on the early roots of circus. Would you please consider granting this permission in exchange for an on screen credit for your work at the end of the feature? I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, Carlos Pagán : Carlosp2@me.com

    • Jen Taylor

      April 25, 2018

      Hi Carlos –
      Yes, I happily grant you permission to do so.

      (If I am not replying too late). When can I see your documentary or your current work?

      best-
      Jen

Comments are closed.

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