Friday, November 9, 2007

Some final thoughts on my series about fictional role models.

I had a lot of fun delving into my childhood memories, thinking about which characters made an impact on me. Most I discovered as a child, but there were some I came to later in life. We're never too old to learn from good examples. I discovered Wonder Woman comics in the 90s and that's when I 'met' Etta Candy. You may have noticed that her write-up was a bit different than the others (talking about girlhood role models and bondage in the same breath? Who is this weird blogger?). That's because I'd written that piece a couple of years ago for another publication but decided against sending it in. Rather than let it gather dust on the hard drive, I figured I'd pop it into this series because bondage aside, Etta is an extremely cool character and would be an excellent role model for a little girl with low self-esteem about weight or height or other societal constructs where one is deemed "lesser than" because of appearance.

Most of these highlighted characters had elements of fundamental archetypes. These enduring, almost mythical characters become part of our shared psyche. As mridu said in her comment on Mary Poppins, "These really are timeless and borderless role models." Two people on opposite sides of the globe and we share a love and admiration for these wonderful female characters who helped shape our lives.

There were a lot of names on my list that I didn't get to. I didn't want to wear out my welcome with this series. I figured one week's worth was enough. Everyone from the Bionic Woman (I'm old school and prefer the Jamie Summers of the 70s, but I'm giving the new series a chance) to Scarlett O'Hara (she had an impact on me as an teenager, but this series was about pre-teen heroes) to Cassie Sandsmark (for the modern pre-teen).

Don't know who Cassie Sandsmark is? You probably can see the similarity between our last names. Cassie is a character in the DC Universe who became Wonder Girl. Wonder Girl has a long and storied history, but she's always been associated with Wonder Woman. Sometimes it's difficult to explain the relationship (especially since Wonder Girl began as simply Wonder Woman in her youth). Cassie is the daughter of Helena Sandsmark and the neice of... well, me.

When John Byrne took over the Wonder Woman comic book, he created the Sandsmark family as supporting players. Originally, he had an Italian name in mind. I was talking to him on IM and joked, "Where are all the Scandinavian characters in comics? We get Thor and that's it?" I was just playing with him, but he decided on the spot to name Cassie and Helena after me. "You'll be Cassie's aunt," he said. The comic fangirl in me went a bit giddy at the thought of my name being a part of comics history, especially when Cassie became Wonder Girl. In one of those bizarre life coincidences, I had the nickname "Channa, the Wonder Girl" decades before Cassie was created. It, too, was just a joke. If you say "Joanna" in a fast, plaintive voice, it sort of sounds like "Channa". My friends tagged me with 'Wonder Girl' because it seemed to fit the name. Had nothing to do with the towel pinned around my neck, I promise.

Funny how sometimes life goes full circle, isn't it? I started reading comic books and Nancy Drew books, and watching amazing movies like The Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins when I was very young. They spoke to me then and they still speak to me now. I have a deep and abiding love for these fictional characters and I hope I have lived my life in a way that would make them proud (if, in fact, they were real. I do understand the difference, I promise). There are hosts of real role models, living or passed, that deserve all the plaudits we can give them. For me, the person who holds the title at the top of that list is my mother. If I am half the person she is, I'll be more than happy. But for a book, movie and TV lover, well, there's nothing quite like finding that special character who shows us our own potential.

I hope you enjoyed the series.


Jim Perreault said...

I just saw this series, linked from your other blog. It got me thinking what fictional role models I had growing up. I've narrowed the list to three:

Mr. Spock
Captain America
Hannibal Smith, from the A-team.

A disparate group of characters, to be sure.

There are lots of other characters/shows that I fondly remember from my youth ( Justice Society, Star Blazers, the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series, to name a few), but I don't think they quite make "role model" status.

And if you include characters I've found as an adult, I would add the following:

Three Musketeers
Lone Ranger
Kim Possible

I'm not sure the count as role models, but they certainly resonate with me.

I remember watching the Lone Ranger when I was a kid ( both the live action and the Filmation cartoon ), but it was not until I was an adult that I discovered the original radio show. And I absolutely adore it. The radio format allowed them to be so much more creative.

Kim Possible is a bit odd, as I'm far outside the target demographic. But it is a wonderful show, and she is a terrific character.

Joanna Sandsmark said...

I'm no authority on role models, either, Jim. I went with characters who had a positive impact on me, or who had characteristics worthy of emulation.

I like your lists. I can see why you chose them, as each brings something unique to the table.

Thank you for such a thoughtful post.

Jim Perreault said...

I guess I need to clarify on what I was calling "role model." I was trying to draw a distinction between characters that had a definite and visible impact on my behavior and those that were personal favorites, but probably did not influence my behavior much.

Maybe there really isn't that much of a distinction, but looking back I can certainly see the impact of the top 2 to 3 much more than the other characters.

Thanks for a thoughtful series.