Team-Up Review: Wonder Woman, “Beauty on Parade”

WonderWoman0103_Pageant_Banner

By Kerensa Cadenas and Noel Kirkpatrick

Wonder Woman
Season 1, episode 3: “Beauty on Parade”
Original airdate: Oct. 13, 1976

Kerensa: I really don’t want to continue to complain about Steve every week. But I haven’t experienced levels of television induced rage such as this since Gossip Girl.

I’m still processing right now. My general overview of the episode is this–I was interested by the beauty pageant stuff, enraged by everything Steve said/general sexist crap and completely bored by the actual action plot.

What did you think about this episode?

Noel: I was intrigued by the idea of a beauty pageant given Carter’s past as a beauty pageant contestant herself (she reached the semi-finals in the Miss World pageant in the early 1970s). I wonder how much, if any, input she had with those behind-the-scenes shenanigans that we see between her and Rita, which were probably the strongest aspects of the episode in what was a very weak episode.

But you’ve had some time to breathe since sending me this message. You’ve gone to a basketball game (the Clippers are a basketball team, right?), had a night to sleep on it. So explain the rage to me. I mean, I was on the verge of throwing things at my TV during the first half of the episode, but I didn’t want the TV to somehow figure out a way to keep the disc in the DVD player to torture me.

Diana is, apparently, not attractive in a bathing suitKerensa: I did not know that Carter was a beauty pageant contestant! Good to know.

So all the rage stemmed basically from literally everything that came out of Steve’s mouth and many of the other men as well. Everything he said to Diana and even Wonder Woman reeked of condescension and blatant sexist crap. The rage started for me when Diana volunteered to infiltrate the beauty pageant and Steve’s lovely and thoughtful response was:

“Thanks Diana. I know you’d do a wonderful job but this calls for a really gorgeous girl. One who looks great in a bathing suit.”

I think I started screaming? I’m not entirely sure because that’s the exact moment that my rage blackout began. I may be too angry about this episode to be able to intellectually discuss it at all. But I mean it obviously plays into the trope that we are supposed to see the alter-ego as plain but the way he said it just completely enraged me. I mean he doesn’t know what her body looks like and he makes the annoying assumption that she can’t cut it. Although his surprise in seeing Diana in her “beauty pageant” drag is a little satisfying but then he says she looks like Joan Crawford around the ankles. Ugh.

That moment is obviously the peak. I have many more angry moments to share. What triggered throwing things at your TV for you?

Diana is suddenly a babe when in a wig and in a dress with a plunging neckline

Noel: I let out a very loud “EUUUUUGGGHHHH” at the moment you just quoted, and things just spiraled from there for me. I assumed that an episode centered around a beauty pageant would have this sort of stuff, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so…horrible and vile and mean.

Yes, Steve’s comments are supposed to play into that idea of Diana being not that great looking, but it’s hardly convincing when she’s walking around in that dress or wig, esepcially as Etta tells us what a difference it makes! He talk about her ankles all he wants, but we both know that Diana’s attractive in that scene, and attractive of enough to get into a beauty pageant at the last minute, and raise the ire of the leading competitor in that pageant. Talking down about Diana’s looks isn’t going to make sense ever again.

Dick Van Patten (who would start Eight Is Enough next year) as Jack Wood didn’t make matters any easier for me with his barely thinly-veiled innuendos, though his character is par for the course of that type of radio and emcee personality (his beauty pageant song cracked me up).

What about the episode overall? For what would be the first episode of Wonder Woman that aired as part of an on-going season as opposed to a special, I thought this was a pretty dreadful introduction to the show.

Kerensa: Mean is a perfect way to describe it. Beyond the beauty pageant stuff, I feel like for whatever reason that this gross sexism just permeated the episode. Another thing that infuriated me was when after Wonder Woman saves Steve yet again, she moves his car out for him and his response is “Wonder if you can cook?” She just saved you and that’s what you are thinking about?!

Steve talking down Diana’s looks doesn’t make any sense at all, but he still continues to do so even at the end of the episode when he says that Diana probably just dropped out because she couldn’t compete with Wonder Woman basically. I can see people saying that it’s a tongue in cheek analysis of the sexism of the 40s since this was made in the 70s but Steve’s commentary is such a pervasive element in pop culture that there’s no way that I can see it being self aware. The whole trope of “nerdy girl is actually sexy and we are supposed to be surprised” is so so irritating to me–and it was even more frustrating hearing Steve’s dense commentary on it.

Overall, honestly I kinda hated this episode. I agree that it would be a terrible introduction to the show especially after the the last two which were pretty great. But I don’t know if it was just my rage, but other than the sexist  bullshit everything else was completely unmemorable to me. What did you think?

Wonder Woman catches a rocket...with her bare hands. LIKE A BOSS.Noel: Unmemorable is probably the best word, which is too bad considering that there was a neat idea buried in it: The attempted assassination of Eisenhower, and the sabotage is just a distraction and way to lure in Eisenhower into a kill box near the base of the pageant.

I think the only thing that was remarkable about the episode, action-wise, was Wonder Woman catching a rocket launched from a bazooka. And then throwing it back. I geeked out a little at that, both for just sheer awesome but how low-tech the shot was. I sort of love that.

Did anything break through the rage?

Kerensa: Yeah, it was all pretty boring.

I loved that part too! It was so badass. The only other things to break through the rage was general clothing envy (that turban/robe situation was amazing) and I was getting some major Showgirls vibes mainly because I thought the really competitive woman was going to throw some marbles on the floor move on our girl Diana.

I also really loved when she was talking with Lola  who is talking about how she’s an old woman now even though she’s gorgeous. And Diana’s response is perfect:

“It’s unfair to judge yourself based on the criteria of age. A vital intelligent woman is much more than the sum of her birthdays.”

Really loved that and it reminded me of that incredible New York Times profile of Connie Britton from last week that talks about aging.

Anything else stick out for you?

Noel: And now I just want Connie Britton to play Wonder Woman. She could totally do it, right? How awesome would she be?

I do like that, even in the midst of this sexist ridiculousness, that the show managed to work in at least one positive message about women. If only the rest of the episode had been so forward thinking.

Nothing else stood out for me, really, beyond all the distaste for this one. I’m optimistic about next week though!

Kerensa: Connie Britton could totally do it. I mean she can do absolutely anything. And she would be incredible.

I’m excited for next week too. If you are going to have a reference to any feminist theory text ever, I’m automatically on board.

***

Next week: It’s a two-parter for us next week as we discuss “The Feminum Mystique” parts 1 and 2. Diana’s sister makes her first appearance, and the Nazis are after the material that Diana’s bracelets are made of. It should be an exciting episode for both of us considering that it was co-written by Barbara Avedon and Barbara Corday. Yes, that’s right: the creators of Cagney & Lacey wrote a Wonder Woman episode. Hells yeah.

After “The Feminum Mystique” we’re going to take a two-week break. Kerensa is going to, and then recovering from, SXSW. Noel is planning on keeping the Wonder Woman fun going, however, with a two reviews of Wonder Woman-centric episodes from the animated series Justice League, most likely “Paradise Lost” and “Fury” from Season 1. He debated doing the Cathy Lee Crosby Wonder Woman pilot movie, but decided he’d rather watch that with Kerensa at some point.

8 Responses to “Team-Up Review: Wonder Woman, “Beauty on Parade””

  1. Marty McKee

    I think you’re getting to the point, and then letting political correctness pull you away from it. The overall point is that Diana, coming from a world ruled by women, is tossed into a male-dominated society, discovers males are not doing such a great job of ruling, and demonstrates her superiority at the end.

    First off, Steve saying Diana isn’t attractive enough to be in a beauty conftest. On some level, this is common sense. *Of course* an unattractive woman would be a bad choice to send undercover to a beauty contest. We know, obviously, Diana is a hottie. But. 1) The “plain girl who disguises her beauty under a bun and thick glasses” is a trope that goes back to the beginning of film, certainly to the beginning of the Wonder Woman comics, and is still being used in 2013. It’s like Lois Lane not recognizing Clark Kent as Superman because of his glasses. You either go with it or you don’t. 2) Steve is in love with Wonder Woman. Of course, every other woman he sees pales in comparison.

    Is Steve Trevor sexist? He’s a military man in the 1940s–of course he is! Just a glance at headlines from 2013 proves misogyny still runs rampant in the U.S. military, so it’s unfair to expect an Air Corps major in 1942 to be Alan Alda. Also, it plays into the producers’ plan (I believe), which is, as I stated above, to be another obstacle in Wonder Woman’s path. By showing Wonder Woman’s physical and mental superiority (by rescuing Steve, stopping the villains’ plan, etc.), it makes the sexism look ridiculous. Not only does Wonder Woman have to fight Nazis, but also *the Americans’ inability to appreciate her superiority because of her gender*.

    The problem is that the producers want to have their cake and eat it too. They want Trevor to be a likable fellow and a potential love interest for Wonder Woman, yet they also need him to be a clumsy clod who gets brained and tied up by the baddies. Trevor is this show’s Lois Lane, but he’s the Noel Neill Lois Lane, as opposed to the Teri Hatcher Lois Lane. That’s why Waggoner’s casting is important (and the animated glint on his shiny teeth during the opening titles is a signal we aren’t supposed to take Trevor seriously). He does come across as a likable simpleton who’s too naive to understand the stuff he says is wrong by 1970s standards, *but perfectly in tune with 1940s sensibilities*.

    Beyond all that, the action stuff was cool, though very similar to the fights and stunts happening in Universal’s bionic shows at that time. Catching the rocket and flinging it back was awesome. Did you notice the scenes filmed at Bronson Canyon? The cave representing the military base in the teaser is the same cave (actually a tunnel) that “played” the Batcave in the 1960s BATMAN series. Always cool to see Bronson Canyon.

    Reply
    • Noel Kirkpatrick

      Yes, it is a trope that goes back a ways, not debating that. But if they continue to do it after this episode (understanding, of course, that this isn’t serialized in any way), it’s sort of ridiculous for Steve to continue to see Diana as a woman without a bathing suit body. Or to comment on how plain she looks.

      And Clark’s a different issue from Diana since Clark is a male. He can be klutz and need glasses, but he’s still a man, and all the privileges that come with that. I think it’s telling that Diana as an alter ego has been used and discarded and picked up again across the comics history, and is now being horribly and inconsistently used in the current run since “Diana” only exists to go on dates with Clark Kent so he doesn’t have to be Superman all the time. The alternate identity leads to these sorts of ridiculous and demeaning situations.

      [Edited this a bit a tad] Wonder Woman is fighting the discrimination of the 1940s sensibilities, and she’s recognized it for her abilities, but the issue is that that recognition isn’t carrying over for the men to recognize the merits of other women. She becomes, at least on this show it feels like, an exception that proves the rule, and then needs to be brought in line with those rules (“I wonder if she can cook, too?!”). The sexism does look ridiculous, but I’m not convinced the show fully makes that as explicit as it could have.

      Thank you for identifying the canyon! It was driving me nuts that I recognized it and then couldn’t put together where I knew it from. To me, half of their exteriors just look like the M*A*S*H exteriors (speaking of Alda!).

      Reply

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