This actually ties in a lot with previous parts of this string of random musings, so they are handily linked for you to review if you so desire. I can wait. But if you don’t have time, briefly – artists often think (not maliciously), “I don’t understand it, therefore it doesn’t exist and/or matter.”
Utopia is most commonly expressed in the fiction I have read as a philosophical ideal. Rarely, very rarely, have I ever seen an effort to truly depict a utopian society. In fact, nearly all stories I can think of that featured a utopian society either ended with:
a) that society being crushed/conquered/destroyed by a clearly non-utopian society.
b) the revelation that the utopian society wasn’t a true utopia at all but had a dark underside that allowed for the pretense of a perfect, equal society.
Once upon a time in Greek lore, the Amazons were an isolationist race of women who were such dedicated warriors that in some accounts they cut off their right breasts in order to be able to better draw back a bow. Depending on the myth, they either visited neighboring tribes to become pregnant or kept a few slaves for procreation. Baby boys were either sent back to their fathers, killed, or left in the wilderness. Baby girls were raised to become the next generation of Amazons.
It is also a difficult task to for writers to create a society different from the one they grew up in, or were exposed to in the media. I know; I struggle with this myself which may be why I don’t venture into sci-fi. Our world, while not entirely a crapsack world, is far from a utopia. So attempting to create such a society even in fiction requires a significant effort on the part of the writer’s imagination. So what? I grew up in a capitalist society, so I would have difficulty writing a functioning communist society. But difficulty should not be a barrier to even trying to write something different even if our own limitations can lead to unfortunate implications.
Once upon a time (the 1940s), a middle-aged white male psychiatrist drew on Greek myth to create a role-model superhero for little girls. And in this new mythology, Wonder Woman was created from clay on an island of immortal women called Amazons, who worshipped the Greek gods. The island was called Themyscira, or Paradise Island. It was, and was meant to be, a utopia.
Where does this leave Paradise Island? I’ve presented the two accounts of the Amazons, one from history (although assuredly biased because all history is written by the victors), and one from the mind of Wonder Woman’s creator. Paradise Island is the only utopia I can think of that exist(ed) in mainstream fiction. Paradise Island was the home of Wonder Woman and shaped her morals and personality. I have a theory that part of the difficulty some writers have with the character of Wonder Woman is in fact Paradise Island; i.e., they don’t understand a utopia, therefore it doesn’t exist/matter. Artists, writers, everyone understands dystopia. In fact, such a cynical and jaded society are we that we understand many different types of dystopia (post-pandemic, post-gasoline shortage, post-robot uprising, post-nuclear devastation, post-astroid impact, Detroit, etc.). But a utopia? That couldn’t exist.
That is NOT the point. Pretty much no superhero in the vast stables of the Big Two (not to mention the dozens and dozens of independents) could actually exist (physics just does not work that way).
The writers don’t understand a utopia; they don’t understand how it could come about and continue to exist. So the idea of Paradise Island, and therefore the character of Wonder Woman, is misinterpreted in generally two ways:
a) Her society is perfect so she must be disdainful and condescending of all other societies.
b) Her society is perfect and has no men so she must be disdainful of all men, as they are clearly the obstacle to achieving utopia.
The idea of a compassionate warrior just boggles the mind of some writers. The idea that there could indeed be a society that has managed to endure for centuries in peace is almost beyond comprehension. Granted, a true utopia doesn’t offer a lot of dramatic possibilities, but as a background of a character, it seems like a narratively manageable concept to me. And it has been managed, with perhaps differing levels of success, for seven DECADES.
Once upon a time, (statistically probable) middle-aged, white males got together to revamp the origins of their characters. And in the new mythology, the Amazons were an isolationist race of women warriors who kidnapped sailors to become pregnant and then killed the sailors and drowned the baby boys until Hephaestus took pity on the boys so the Amazons traded them into slavery for weapons because clearly history just wasn’t dark and edgy enough. Wonder Woman is an illegitimate daughter of Zeus.
I.e., “I don’t understand utopia, therefore it doesn’t exist/matter.”
In a post-9/11 world, the point of disbelief for the DCnU creative team wasn’t that Batman statistically can’t have all that money and training (and also should have been put in to therapy stat), or that Superman is an alien orphan from another planet who is super-strong, super-fast, and can fly and shoot laser beams out of his eyes, that aliens created totally not-magical rings that allow the wearer to create solid green light constructs, or that a person can get doused in chemicals and run so fast they can travel through time (I mean, more so than humans ordinarily do), but that Paradise Island is really, actually, truly a utopia.
The loss of Paradise Island is clearly not due to a lack of imagination. I posit the loss of Paradise Island is a result of an insular world-view that just doesn’t understand anything outside of itself, and based on DC’s other obviously bad decisions with the New 52, a world-view that dosen’t want to understand anything outside of itself. I’d also like to point out this issue is not limited to Paradise Island and Wonder Woman; I understand utopia is in fact a difficult concept to grapple with. I have some slight sympathy for writers, but then again, that’s why they are paid professionals, right? To cope with these kinds of narratively tricky concepts. I can imagine a better world and write a better world and I’m not a paid professional (not yet anyway).
I’m sorry Paradise Island, and by extension Wonder Woman, have been sacrificed by this destructive lack of vision and self-adsorption.