Monday, July 23, 2018

She-Ra: It's Not About Power or Beauty. It's About Fear.

Discussion of the upcoming Netflix reboot She-Ra and the Princesses of Power has been fast and furious in all directions. There are people who love it. There are people who hate it. There are artists cranking out fanart, either for their own fun or to spite the haters. There are takes of all temperatures concerning how this is the "end of femininity," how the new Adora looks like a butch lesbian, and the general expected reactions.

Up front, I was a She-Ra fan as a kid. Of course. I was the target audience. I had the toys and everything. I was more into He-Man and kind of viewed She-Ra as "my girly He-Man alternative because for some reason no one wants me watching the Boy Cartoon," but I still enjoyed it. I've not been a hardcore enough fan to follow the nostalgia over the years. But I'll be watching the Netflix reboot because I'm always interested to see what my generation does when handed the reins to the shows they love.

Also, new Princess Adora straight-up looks like a PreCure so I'm down to clown.

That said, I can totally understand why a fan of the original might genuinely feel a bit odd about the new art. The original series had that sort of rock'n'roll fairy tale Heavy Metal feel to it that a lot of fantasy and action cartoons did at the time. I think honestly it'd be a bit ridiculous to expect every She-Ra fan, or every 80s cartoon fan, to immediately embrace this huge stylistic change that is (literally and artistically) decades removed from its original.

That doesn't mean it's not good or that I don't like it personally or that I think anyone who liked it immediately is being disingenuous. It just means I can completely see why being handed this would make some people need a minute. You can't slap someone in the face with the Fish of Change and expect them to immediately thank you for it.

It grew on some people. Awesome. Some still don't like it. Also awesome. Did you know there are modern cartoons I don't watch because I can't jam with the art style? It's true. Me, an entertainment journalist, can be turned off by art styles. Welcome to the world of subjective opinion and free will.

I'm sure there are people out there not jamming with the new style for reasons that aren't even remotely misogyny- or socially-motivated, but they don't wanna say anything because they're terrified they'll be called sexist or some shit. If you don't dig it for no reason other than you just don't, that's fine. Rock on. Watch what you like.

Y'all aren't who I wanna talk about anyway.

What we are seeing is an influx of hitherto un-self-identified male She-Ra fans of my era, angry as all get-out because the new Adora is "ugly" or "unfeminine." To which I say two things:

1. She looks just like a friend of mine's kid so don't go calling her ugly.

2. You and I both know that's not what's bothering you.

My Law of 7 Billion doesn't permit me to state that none of the guys complaining about the reboot has ever watched the original She-Ra. (For those who don't know: I have a law, which I use to call out mostly myself, saying it's more likely that at least one person in 7 billion has done something than that 0 in 7 billion have. Thus I can't say "None of the people saying this has ever done this" because the odds are against me.) So it is possible, even probable, that at least one guy mourning the existence of the reboot actually does have that deep a childhood connection to the show. It's improbable, though, that all of them do.

What's more probable is that these guys are invoking the exact language that they know will get responses: talk of the "death of femininity," referring to the new Adora as a "butch lesbian," or basically anything else that's going to get the Woke Patrol up in arms. It's to a tee. It's too to a tee. And it's working.

In conjunction with my previously stated Law of 7 Billion, I'm absolutely sure that there are people out there who believe that the teenage Adora now looks like a teenager is indeed the Death of Strong Womanhood as we know it. I'm sure there are some people who, when they say it, really do believe it inside and out. But again, I feel that's just scratching the surface of what's going on here. Because we're looking at people who, in large part, only now are taking an active interest in the IP.

This has zero to do with the show. It has zero to do with strength, beauty, femininity, or (thank God) sex appeal. Across the board, this is about fear. And I'm not talking "weak men scared of strong girls." I'm talking about fear of erasure and irrelevance because of just how strongly many people equate fandom and identity.

Even if She-Ra is not a person's show of choice, it is (theoretically) representative of an era. It is very Eighties. It was never, until now, reimagined in any significant official form, so we don't have the benefit of regular reboots to loosen us up about the idea that the characters could look any different. So for someone who has banked the majority -- if not the entirety -- of their identity in being an Eightes Kid and a Cartoon Fan, the mere existence of the new version is an affront to their literal personality. And that's... gonna make 'em fighty.

Now, He-Man and She-Ra were made to be fun and sell toys. And the art style was made to match the standard art style of its genre. In other words, both shows were very standard. Look at the new She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and -- no offense, just speaking objectively -- it is very standard. It looks like a 2018 Netflix cartoon, just as much as the original looked like an 80s fantasy cartoon. In other words, nothing's really changed. The story still exists in its moment, in the style most accessible to present-day viewers of its chosen demo.

tl;dr on that last paragraph, so far She-Ra is what it always was: a cartoon in the standard present-day animation style, made to appeal to a specific age range and maybe shift some molded plastic.

But the fact that it still functions as it did 30 years ago, even though it doesn't look like it did 30 years ago, is not going to make a difference when someone's primary concern is "they're destroying what makes me me."

Being a fan of something -- even being a huge fan of something -- is fine. God, look at me. But the danger comes when it becomes your primary, or even sole, identifier. Because now you've built your house on sand, and if a wave comes along, there's nothing left.

And I'm not talking, like, shorthanding your personality via a Hogwarts house or something. (Slytherin, BTW.) I'm talking situations where, if you extract the object of the person's fandom from the equation, there's really nothing left. The show, the team, the band, the era, whatever, is their literal everything. It's how they identify themselves, it's how they measure their worth.

This is the real face of gatekeeping: over-dedicated fans so terrified of their primary identifier being corrupted that they need to check any and every change. To them, a show like the new She-Ra is the equivalent of having a stranger's fingers stuck in their DNA. That's the fear. Not the decline of womanhood, not the value of the original product, but their own sense of self-worth.

But they don't say that -- either because it's frankly embarrassing, or because they themselves don't connect the dots that this is why these negative feelings won't process and go away. So, deliberately or subconsciously, they grab the modern keywords. Then people will debate them. Then they'll know they've been heard, even if (or because) they're being deluged with disagreements.

That's their problem. That's their baggage. It's not ours to solve or step around. But it does behoove us to understand this, and to place our energy in other things. Yelling that they're wrong won't fix their hecked-up self image. Only they can do that. In their own time.

I can't speak for the quality of the new She-Ra because it's not out yet. I've only seen pictures, which I'm cool with. But I haven't read scripts, heard voices, or been told about story arcs. I've not seen these images in motion. It would be disingenuous of me to say I will love it (or anything) no matter what, because frankly I learned the hard way that it's called "ride-or-die" for a reason.

But as a fan of the original She-Ra, as a fan of fantasy-action and magical girls, and as an active writer and reviewer of fiction, I am interested enough in what I've seen to give it an enthusiastic chance. I really think that's more than fair to say.

For those who dislike it or aren't sure: that's fair. You do you. Netflix is full to the brim of things that need watching. There's so much entertainment in the world that focusing on what we don't like is just taking time away from discovering things we do like.

And for those actively protesting the existence of the reboot, as well as those engaging them long-term: thing about why this protest exists. Remember that people only fight when they're scared. And be happy to detach and let people unpack their own baggage. This time could be better used engaging in what you love.

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