North Coast Journal

Jan. 1995

Emma Peel Morphs

by Lisa Ladd-Wilson

I still remember the episode of "The Avengers" in which Emma Peel left.

Although it was about 30 years ago, it's a memory as clear as that new Ban roll-on, and about as tough to swallow.

"The Avengers" was a campy spy-vs.-spy TV series imported from England. It featured John Steed, the bowler-hatted epitome of British gentry with a sword in every cane, and his female partner, Emma Peel. Peel, played by Diana Rigg, was a martial arts expert.

She dressed in pantsuits and jumpsuits (admittedly horrid in style, but this was the '60s) and did not carry a handbag. Except for the odd duty given to her of serving Steed his cocktails, Emma and he were equals.

Like any spy, Emma fought, snooped and apprehended in the name of her country. Sometimes she rescued Steed; sometimes he rescued her. And she managed to do it without jiggling, wiggling or otherwise calling attention to her gender.

For girls such as myself, Emma Peel was a revelation. Female heroes never were crafted for girls, but molded as male fantasy figures - all bust like Wonder Woman and Bat Girl, or all lust like Barbarella. But Peel didn't use her sexuality to get the job done; she used the skills of a secret agent.

Then she resigned from the spy game, and in the same "Avengers" episode where Emma walked out the door, now entered Steed's new partner: a skirted cutie who coyly offered that her name was "Tara, like boom-dee-ay," and then knocked out her first opponent by hitting him with her purse.

Yo, Emma! Wait for me!

Unfortunately, the Emma Peel-hero-for-girls phenomenon didn't pique the entertainment industry's curiosity. Other than the blip on the radar screen made by Ripley in the "Alien" series, recurring female heroes generally have been confined to the likes of She-Ra, Princess of Power (Wonder Bra sold separately).

Until now, that is, and this probably wasn't even planned. But the enormous success of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is due, in part, to Emma Peel Syndrome, to little girls finally getting a female hero - actually two female heroes - they can embrace.

Watching the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" (weekdays at 4:30 p.m., Fox Network) is a benumbing process, not the least of which is due to the fact that half of its footage is cribbed from a Japanese TV serial.

The basic facts are these: Six teens adept at martial arts "morph" into color-coded super heroes who have at their disposal giant dinosaur-shaped machines called "zords." These machines can lock together to form one big "ultrazord." This season, expanded powers for all zords and a new White Ranger allow the dinozords to combine for "megadragonzord power" as well.

Kimberly and Trini are one-third of the Power Rangers team. They are girls, and they fight alongside Zack, Billy, Jason and Tommy as equal partners in the battle to save Earth from the evil Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd. They are not big-busted, full-hipped, half-clothed super model super heroines, and - surprise! - girls love them.

All across America little girls can be heard yelling "eee-yah!" as they strike the pose of Kimberly and Trini fighting off the Putties. In the cartoon strip "Cathy," mothers frantically search store shelves for the elusive Kimberly/Trini Power Ranger merchandise.

See any pink Power Ranger costumes on Halloween? That's Kimberly's color. (Yeah, yeah, it's pink, and Trini the Asian is yellow, African-American Zack is black. I know. Erp.)

My 8-year-old niece, Lucy, adores the show, and my sister says it's no mystery why: "These are the first female super heroes that these girls can relate to," she says. "They have the same powers as the guys, and they aren't dopey."

They aren't dopey. Take that, She-Ra. Eee-yah!

Lisa Ladd-Wilson is a Eureka free-lance writer.

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