Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, Free for CAPC Members
Reinke wants to help readers not be manipulated and enthralled by the spectacles of our media age. Instead, he shows that we see the greatest spectacle of all in the Cross.
“Adora? Adora will you fight for the honor of Grayskull?”
The forest she was in is gone, replaced by the glowing runes of an ancient and yet strangely high-tech temple; the ethereal being before her speaks. Will she fight? Will she take up the sword she’s found and rescue the people of Etheria? And will she do it for the honor of Grayskull?
Orphaned as a baby, Adora was raised by the evil Horde. She was taught, trained, and molded to rule Etheria as a Force Captain. She is a weapon in her own right. Until this point, her life has been neat, orderly, and planned. All of that changed, however, when she snuck out and found the sword of power. Now she is no longer simply Adora, she is She-Ra and she must lead the rebellion to stop Hordak from conquering the world.She-Ra does an amazing job of presenting characters, especially female characters, as whole beings.
Any child of the 80s will recognize the name She-Ra. Not that we all watched the show, but most of us know the name and probably even know she was the sword-wielding princess of power and the sister of He-Man. The original television series, She-Ra: Princess of Power, was released in 1985, and while it ran for only two seasons, it cranked out a whopping 93 episodes and a whole host of toys. In fact, the show itself was entirely created to promote a toy line by Mattel. She-Ra, with her white mini-dress, winged helmet, and unicorn steed was a pop-culture icon of the day.
In November of 2018, Netflix released their much-anticipated reboot of the show. It was the latest in a line of nostalgic remakes introducing the kids of today to characters from years past. She-Ra, however, is different than most of these re-releases. While called a remake, the reality is that this new She-Ra is more of a re-imaging; a re-imaging with a very specific goal.
The most notable change that came with the release of the new version was She-Ra’s look, or more specifically, her age. In the 80s, She-Ra was a fully grown woman, an adult who looked and acted like one. But that’s not the case with this new show. The new She-Ra is much younger. In fact, her look is so wildly different from the first, that sneak peek images and art from the show sparked a fair amount of outrage. Gone is the voluptuous goddess of the past and in her place is a teenage girl. Her high heels have been replaced by flats, her strapless bodice with a shirt complete with sleeves. Even her mini-skirt has been revamped, and in its place, there is a pair of cute and ever-so-practical shorts.
Developed by Noelle Stevenson, the new She-Ra has been entirely overhauled to appeal to a much younger audience, specifically young girls. The goal was not necessarily to simply repackage the original story, but to make it more accessible to kids. They’ve made Adora a young teenager and surrounded her with friends who are similarly young and each of them, in their own way, learning what it means to grow up. Instead of blond, fair-skinned superheroes, this new cast includes people of all different skin tones, races, ages, and body types. Body positivity and character relatability is clearly part of the plan. Despite the original outcries from those unhappy with the changes, many people are finding the updated image to be a really wonderful thing, myself included.
But the changes in Adora’s and She-Ra’s appearance, are only one aspect of the show’s reimagining. And while it is a fantastic and even needed change, it’s not the change that makes the new show so great. The best part of the new show is found in the title. The original show was called She-Ra: Princess of Power. The new title, however, is She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. The colon has been replaced with the word and, and that one little word makes a huge, huge difference. The inclusion of and changes the way we see Adora, but more importantly, it pushes us to change the way we see ourselves and others as well.
When Adora decides to take up the sword of power and join the rebellion, she isn’t just entering into a land divided by war, she’s entering into the divided parts of her own story as well. One of the best, and most needed, aspects of this new She-Ra is that it presents her as a multifaceted, whole being filled with contradictions, duality, and struggle. She’s no longer simply Adora, force captain for the horde. Now she’s also Adora, leader of the rebellion. She’s not just friend, she’s enemy now too. She’s no longer ruled by the part of herself that is straight-laced and rigid, she’s faced with parts of herself, the more free-spirited parts, that she doesn’t know and that she finds uncomfortable. In that one instant she goes from a cliche, one-sided character to a young woman struggling to understand how she can be both good and bad, loyal and traitor, sure and unsure all at the same time.
And while I’m sure there are many other shows that present characters in this way, the fact remains that She-Ra and the Princesses of Power does it really well. The dual nature of Adora/She-Ra is a huge part of this. Visually, when Adora evokes the power of the sword and becomes She-Ra she literally transforms. She’s now massively tall, her hair becomes full and long, her clothing changes, and she is endowed with skills and abilities she didn’t have before. And yet, even though each of those is a major change, she still somehow maintains her overall look too. On a deeper level, the essence of who she is is still present, her personality remains, and remnants of her power linger even after She-Ra is gone. She is both; she embodies the and.
Maintaining both parts of herself is important because Adora lives in a world that seeks to measure a person based on the sum of their abilities, that tries to define and label and box everyone into neat little categories. But She-Ra doesn’t fit. Yes, she becomes a massive magical fighting being who can sometimes single handedly defeat an army. She could certainly be labeled hero. But she is more than that because it is the wholeness of her story, the multifaceted parts of her character and the duality of self, that really make her who she is. When she takes up the sword, she does not stop being who she was; who she was enhances who she becomes.
She-Ra does an amazing job of presenting characters, especially female characters, as whole beings. They can be princesses and army captains, fighters and caretakers, confident and unsure, strong and hurt, bringers of aid and yet at the same time, in need of help themselves. They can be conflicted and confident without sacrificing their identity. And that’s a message we need more of. It’s a common urge to try to fit into molds created by the world around us and to work to become who we think we are supposed to be. Yet we are not easily defined people; we are deep, rich, bearers of God’s image. And we need to see that. We need to see characters who are more, because we are more.
The longer I think about She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, the more I am convinced of just how important this message is. Like Adora, we too live in a world that seeks to label and quantify. We like things to be neat and orderly, straight-laced if you will. But like Adora, life is not like that and sooner rather than later we need to step outside of that idea and really see ourselves and the people around us. We cannot be labeled and boxed up any more than she could be because we too are more than the sum of our abilities. We too are whole beings seeking to live the “and.” Not only are we each fully entrenched in this struggle, but each and every person around us is as well.
This message is especially important for us as Christ-followers because we were given a blueprint for how to see and interact with people. When God created us in Genesis 1, he declared us to be made in his image and that, in and of itself, is a multifaceted status; it encapsulates the very essences of our being. Being made in God’s image is not just about what we do, it is about who we are. And not just who we are, but who every single person is and was and is yet to be. It means our value and worth is not determined by our abilities; it is declared by God.
As image bearers we were created with dignity and are infinitely more valuable than the sum of our contributions or actions. And in a very real way, She-Ra pushes us to consider that. It forces us to look past who a person seems to be and what they are doing, to see who they really are; multifaceted whole beings with pasts and stories and hopes. People created to be outside the box and beyond labeling.
We are made up of duality, contradictions, and struggle. But there is beauty in that—beauty and freedom. Seeing ourselves and others as more than the sum of their abilities changes the value we place on others and allows us to see them closer to the way God sees them: as his image. In so many ways, Adora represents the “and” that we all wrestle with, and I love that about the show.
But the “and” in the title has one other important role: it connects She-Ra/Adora with the community around her. In the original show, She-Ra was the focus and as the title says, the Princess of Power. But this new show changed that. By adding the “and” they also shifted the focus away from She-Ra alone and brought in the rest of the princesses of power around her. The very premise of the show is now Adora’s mission to unite the other princesses so that together they can defeat the Horde. She knows, even from the very beginning, that she cannot do it alone.
What’s particularly interesting is that this theme of community as salvation ties in perfectly with the idea of a multifaceted self because each of these princesses, while all called princesses, are vastly different. Not only do they look different from one another, but they have a wide range of skills, interests, personalities, and even goals. They are princesses because they have magical abilities, but they are not cookie cutter characters; they too are rich combinations of traits and whole beings. And this combination of many different people creating a varied community exemplifies the “and” of the story as a whole and mirrors the “and” of Adora. Without the varied parts of herself and her story, Adora would not be who she is. She needs it all. Likewise, without the varied and diverse parts of their society, Etheria would not be what it is; as a society they need them all.
And so do we. The diversity presented in the look, the characterization, the goals, and even the traits of each and every member of Etheria, from She-Ra to each of her compatriots, matters. It pushes us to look at the world around us differently… to see not just what a person brings to the table, but to rejoice in the very fact that they are there at all. What’s more, it underscores the need to invite all people in the first place. I love that this show demonstrates so beautifully the struggle of living out the deeper parts of our own stories. I love that it urges us to see others not based on labels or abilities, not on what they do, but on who they are. And quite frankly, I love that it presents all of this in a fanciful world with magic and unicorns (because who doesn’t love unicorns?). I love that She-Ra and the Princesses of Power teaches us about the power of “and.”
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