There’s something about watching demi-goddesses beat the living crap out of each other and not even get a scratch that is really quite exciting (btw, spoilers!). Yup, the first twenty odd minutes of the new Wonder Woman film are dedicated to the all-female clan of Amazon warrioresses created by the gods of Mount Olympus to protect humankind. Needless to say humankind swiftly became mankind, which quick got to relentlessly killing itself and so the Amazonians retreated to the hidden island of Themyscria where the eponymous heroine of the film is born. Unfortunately for Wonder Woman, aka Diana (played by Gal Gadot), WW1 blasts its violent way into her peaceful life. She chooses not to take things lying down and teams up with US spy Captain Steve Trevor to go and put an end to the war. Cue trenches, machine guns, mustard gas and a host of nefarious villains.
There are so many things to praise about this film. It passes the Bechdel test without being a film that tries to pass the Bechdel test because it is inherently a film about women (well, one woman to be precise). It also features a Native American smuggler, a marksman with PTSD and a Moroccan spy who are all given enough wiggle room to express characterhood without being reduced to stereotypes. A few hurdles it falls down at are lazily equating facial scars with villainy as Isabel Maru, a chief villain who loves gassing people to death, wears a mask over part of her face and doesn’t get to do much other than be a ‘deformed’ psychopath. It also completely buys into conventional representations of ‘beauty’ with a ‘golden couple’ at the heart of the film. Also, given that lady-on-lady romances would abound on Themyscria why not just come out and say it? And, even if Hollywood is desperate to have a man-on-woman romance, why not make Diana proudly bisexual?
One area in which I think the film excels is in the portrayal of Diana’s relentless optimism. Her chief goal in the film is to find Ares, god of war, and slay him, believing that in killing him the war will end as will mankind’s belligerence. At first she’s a bit naive about this, assuming that human’s are inherently good, but as the plot progresses she comes to realise that humans are neither inherently good nor bad but that they have the ability to choose how to behave and can be encouraged to choose good. I like the nuance and I like the shots of troops from the Allies and Central Powers shaking hands once Ares has been slain (fyi, Ares turns out to be a British politician and not the nasty German general proving that all countries were complicit in the atrocities of WW1). And this links to a fascinating bit of history that during 1918/9 there were an abundance of strikes and revolutions in Europe (including Britain!) as soldiers and civilians alike got so fed up of fighting the establishment’s war. These strikes often failed or ended with another bunch of bastards taking political control but they prove the moral shades of grey at the heart of the ‘war to end all wars’ and that the capitalist elite’s exploitation of workers transcends national borders. Imagine a sequel that goes from here rather than just introduces a new super baddy and rehashes the same plot, maybe in WW2. In summary, there’s so much to like when it comes to Wonder Woman not least its breaking of boundaries and box offices. Of course, what is not to like are Gal Gadot’s seemingly naive views on the Israeli Defence League and the huge number of civilian deaths in Gaza (giving more than enough reason for many people to boycott this film). Diana constantly reminds her fellow characters that war is wrong and not inherent to human nature, now let’s apply that logic to the real world.
Spoilers ahead if you didn’t catch this week’s episode of Great British Bake Off – think Game of Thrones meets the Home Counties by way of the Hummingbird Bakery. And this week was a corker – broken eggs, soggy bottoms, tarts galore and Mary Berry even cracked a joke. However, two things really struck me, one concerns filo pastry and the other concerns our dearly departed Val.
Kinda half way through the programme Mel or Sue (the comedy commentators who keep the whole thing together) go off on a tangent to reveal a bit of the history of baking. This week was Baklava. Back in the 13th century Ottoman Empire the Sultan was getting a bit peckish, so his royal chefs invented filo pastry. It’s a tricky process that involves finely rolling numerous sheets of pastry, so fine that you can read a book through them (or a bottle of alcohol as contestant Jane did, ahem). The process required such skill that, back in the day, the number of sheets within the filo pastry was used as a signifier of wealth. Rich households would demand a minimum of 100 layers. Wait a second. Number of sheets in filo pastry as a sign of wealth. What the actual f*ck?! I mean, come on people, let’s get a grip. But it was then, as I watched Mel bite into a tasty morsel of pistachio filled Baklava, that I realised we’re doomed. Humans are actually doomed. We prioritise the number of layers in filo pastry over things like lessening hunger in the world, tackling climate change and redistributing wealth. And things haven’t changed that much since then except it’s less about filo pastry and more about number of yachts, houses and watches. The irony is that once a year the Sultan would host a great Baklava ceremony and the servants of his Empire would be given some of the stuff as a token of gratitude in return for their unending service. After that it was back to a life of gruelling slavery. Humans. We’re the worst.
As you can imagine I was in despair and then Val was outed from the Bake Off tent. She’d had a bad week but when the camera turned to her these were her parting words: “When you bake you always bake for a reason, you’re giving it to people, so you make it the best you can and you make it with love. And whenever I make anything I stir love into it, I knead love into it, so when I present it, it’s special. I’m not unhappy, I’ve had a great time with some great people and, phwoar, I didn’t expect it, I didn’t expect to ever get here, never mind be honoured.” And those words speak for themselves. What a woman and what an inspiration to us all – so positive, so grateful and just so darn nice. All the other characters (I mean contestants) spoke so highly of her positive personality and even judge Paul Hollywood had a good word for her. And what a world we might live in if we didn’t prioritise the number of layers in our filo pastry but prioritised love instead. It sounds cheesy but it tastes great.
Britain doesn’t strike me as a very happy place at the moment. For example, you might not have read that burger chain Byron regularly employs staff who do not have the correct documentation with regards their migrant status and then recently ran a fake training event at which the same staff were met by immigration officers and deported. It seems Byron is more than happy to have its burger and eat it when it comes to exploiting a cheap and vulnerable workforce and then getting rid of them should the government decide to ‘crack down’. However, what you may have read is that following the deportations a group of activists protested outside Bryon in London and threw cockroaches, locusts and crickets into the restaurant. They apologised for any “irritation” caused but said “we had to act as forced deportations such as this and others are unacceptable, we must defend these people and their families from such dehumanised treatment.”
It’s a funny world when deportations only get news coverage once swarms of locusts are involved but then it’s also a world where we prioritise cheap burgers over human rights. Of course, it’s not actually funny, it’s tragic. The political-economic system we live under, namely consumer capitalism, encourages us to be self-interested and self-absorbed and to spend more time consuming stuff rather than building meaningful relationships. Now, I’m not judging anyone for doing this, I do it all the time and, until recently, was a fan of Byron’s burgers. But what also annoys me is when people try to justify this lifestyle. For example, I’m often told that the system is like this because human nature is inherently selfish. Oh! So suddenly everyone is an expert in psychology and knows the fundamental motivations of the human being? Actually no, human nature is not merely one thing but a diversity of drives, motivations, conditions, genes, hormones etc, many of which we know nothing or little about. I’d say if anything were inherently selfish it’s capitalism – I mean, Diet Coke or Coke Zero is presented as a dilemma whilst trampling on someone’s human rights isn’t.
So, yeah, of course it’s annoying to have a whole bunch of crickets hopping over your chips but what’s worse is how we treat each other so the food can get on the table in the first place (and even if Bryon are being honest, which I doubt, when they say the relevant members of staff used forged documentation, they are still very much part of the exploitative system). Our everyday world of consumerism is completely untenable – it is built on historic and present legacies of exploitation and abuse, and it’s undermining the future. It is unjustifiable however we try to rationalise it. But I’m not writing this to try to make you feel guilty. I regularly consume but one thing I don’t do is pretend I can justify it. Of course, in an ideal world, I’d be a vegan human rights activist and I hope one day I get there but in the meantime I would urge us to reprioritise. I dare you to forego that burger and go join that protest instead. I dare you to step outside of your usual social groups and make some new friends. I dare you to get beyond the repressive and limited conditioning of our society and explore more of your human nature. And you can do that tonight at 6.30pm outside the Byron at Holborn. Facebook event details here!