Monday, May 18, 2015

Jem and the Lack of Female Agency

When I first heard the buzz that the live-action Jem and the Holograms was actually happening, I was pumped. I watched Jem as a youngling, and while the episodes themselves don't entirely hold up (WHY DID NO ONE EVER ARREST THE MISFITS?), it fared way better than ThunderCats or my beloved TMNT. The premise itself was punchy post-punk sci-fi and there was plenty of glitter--not unlike my current life in STEM where I have to budget with my spouse for glitter makeup.

The first trailer dropped last week:



I'm sympathetic to the fact that not all properties can--or should--be faithfully adapted. We live in an era where Battleship happened and had very little to link it to its parent IP. 

However, Jem is prepping me for a lot of disappointment. I know it's just one trailer, but it looked boring. The movie is more than likely being made to trade on older fan nostalgia, with hopes it can catapult into new (younger) markets. I get it. 

I just feel kinda... blah. If there is anything left of the science fiction premise, it's being downplayed right away. The trailer portrays it as a very generic Cinderella story of a teen girl becoming a YouTube sensation, landing a record contract, and then struggling not to lose herself. Or find herself? 

Besides the glaring lack of super-powered AI Synergy, the Jem persona is forced upon the protagonist by the record label rather than something she dons for her own ends (in the cartoon, saving the orphanage and fighting the bad-attitude Misfits). Does this mean that a central conflict is internal, rather than external? That's a perfectly fine story, but is it Jem? Does it matter? 

Does it matter that Jem and the Holograms have been de-aged from young adult women to teenagers? I don't mind the idea of the projected-self of social media (Facebook as a mask) taking over from the literal projection of Synergy, but it doesn't feel very Jem. The trailer has several major points of plot development that emphasize things happening to Jerrica, and then her reacting to it. I assume that part of the coming-of-age shtick here will be her development into a more assertive woman, but is that Jem-y enough? 

At the same time, though, I'm not sure I can identify "essential Jem". If I had to describe Transformers, I would say "giant fighting robots". When I say Jem, I guess I'd say "girl band fights capitalism"? In that sense, maybe this new movie fits.

In my opinion, the story itself seems bland enough that without the brand power and nostalgia for the Jem property it wouldn't be getting made--or that it would be getting made but I wouldn't notice or care.

I'm existentially lost on this one. I feel like new takes on old properties don't diminish my enjoyment of the original, but... meh. Selfishly, I was hoping I could get excited about it. 

At least I can console myself with IDW's new [Jem and the Holograms] comics!