What good is having Supergirl if we can't politicize her?

Last night was the debut of the new CBS series Supergirl. While this article doesn’t have all that much to do with the show itself, I’ll warn you in advance that there are some minor spoilers in the first paragraph here, so if you haven’t seen it yet and plan to, skip ahead to the break. (Just FYI… if you missed it you can watch the entire premier episode at the link.) I don’t actually go in for the whole comic book superhero genre, but it’s had a lot of success in the theaters lately so I’m sure they thought it was a good investment. Long story short, Kara Zor-El is Superman’s older cousin who was sent along after him shortly after the destruction of their home planet so she could watch over him and help him adapt to their new world. But through some awfully convenient twist of fate her capsule gets deflected off course into a shadow dimension or something and yada yada yada she shows up on Earth decades later, but having been frozen in time so she’s still a young girl. Being from the same stock and galactic location she has all of the same powers as Superman and her adventures begin.

Enough about the show. Watch it if you like.

Now, you might think that the launch of a very expensive new fantasy series based on comic book characters would be a great time to set aside all of our partisan squabbles and just evaluate the show on its entertainment merits. You would, of course, be absolutely wrong about that. The very first interview I saw published in conjunction with the show’s launch was at EW.com where they interviewed executive producers Greg Berlanti and Ali Adler about their new creation. So what did they want to talk about? I suppose in the current social climate it should have been predictable. Let’s take a look at a couple of the questions, starting with where they wrestle with the dicey question of… why’d you have to call her a girl!?!?

Q: I thought one of the smartest things you guys did was having the speech about the “girl” vs. “woman” in the pilot and then putting that in the trailer and getting out ahead of that just as criticism of that element began to brew online. You reclaimed the issue and reframed it. Whose idea was that, and can you talk about the strategy to get out there months before the show aired?

BERLANTI: That was my idea even before the pitch. That speech was in our pitch for the show. One of my golden rules about these things, is I don’t want to do a Supergirl show and then call it something else and make it something else. I want it to be what it. It’s hard enough trying to make these things what they deserve to be, let alone try to make them something different, and I knew sometimes the corporate people and executives can get nervous or scared about certain things. It’s called Supergirl and so people are going to wonder how that’s not too young for a broader network [like CBS]. One of the most valuable things about it is the name, so we wanted to have the conversation that we felt the audience would have.

If I’d seen this ahead of time it would have been enough to put me off the show before it began. Seriously? The franchise full of characters has been around forever. Did you really consider changing the name to avoid ticking off the feminists? We already had Wonder Woman. Supergirl is younger, so she’s… you know, a girl. The word girl isn’t an insult. If you choose to take it as such that’s on you, not the speaker or the author of a stupid comic book.

There was also apparently a rather heated discussion about the costume. That’s normal for any show, but they had to find out what the boots would be like. They couldn’t possibly put her in heels, no matter how good they look with the outfit. Personally, I agree. You don’t want to be running down the road at half the speed of sound and have one of your stilettos snap off. Civilization could well hang in the balance. But the point is, the flats were apparently used to make sure she didn’t look too girly. Oh, and here’s another odd discussion which took place behind the scenes.

Q: Why does Kara feel the need to have a day job?

ADLER: I don’t know if the other job pays the rent, for one. Like Clark Kent, it’s important for her to stay close to this nexus of information and at CatCo she’s at this media hub. Also, Kara thrives on being around people.

More to the point, you wouldn’t want Superwomyn being the stay at home type. She’s got to have a career and be saving the world in her off hours.

I think this show might be a bit more fun for people who don’t read any of the behind the scenes stuff personally. Maybe you could just sit down on a Monday evening and enjoy the finished product, assuming you go in for this sort of thing. But how much better might it have been if half the effort that went into developing it wasn’t expended on making sure they didn’t get angry letters from the editors at Salon complaining about how they weren’t standing up for the feminist ideal well enough?

The show is on Mondays at 8 pm if you’re so inclined.

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