Friday, November 12

Reason #3 Why The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest Was Ballin' Television

#3. Girl Power
Now, I don’t claim to be a connoisseur of old school Jonny Quest by any means, but in the episodes I have seen, I noticed very quickly that there was a noticeable absence of the XX chromosome. Always.

Apparently, I’m not alone in this realization:
"All in all, we see nine women largely featured and four-plus shown in crowd scenes [I estimated 8 - 3 in Riddle of the Gold, and 5 in Terror Island (crowd scene watching dragon) - LPB]. Of the nine featured women, three (Drena Hartman, Jezebel Jade, and Denise Lor) are of major importance to the storyline. (classicjq.com)

There were 26 episodes total in the original 1960s series and out of those eps and hundreds of characters, goons, and lizardmen they encountered, only 3 of the major players were of the female variety. Most of them seemed to either be flight attendants or treacherous skanks.

Welcome aboard Progress Airlines. My name's Cindy and I'll be your indentured servant for the flight.
It seemed like most depictions of women on TV back in the day were either the pleasant, submissive type, the damsel in distress, or the alluring, yet morally deficient femme fatale who always brought down any man foolish enough to stumble into her web. The most prominent female character (who appeared in all of 2 episodes),“Jezebel” Jade was interesting because she was always so morally ambiguous that it was hard to tell where her true loyalties lay at any given moment. She was strong in the sense that she was able to thrive independent of male help, and in fact, rescued the Quest boys’ hapless butts on more than one occasion. 
Jezebel Jade. 'Nuf said.
Much of her perceived power, however, was drawn from the mysterious allure she held over men, allowing her to use and manipulate them like microwaved silly putty. This female character who was a thief, adventurer, and explorer was not as progressive as it sounds. The creators seemed to have no qualms revealing their attitude toward women who defied socially-sanctified gender roles in the very fact that they called her "Jezebel;" a name traditionally reserved for evil, sexually promiscuous women, and those who won't speak straight about their feelings for Doug Funny.

Patty Mayonnaise: A mixed-message sending, gerbil holding Jezebel
Fast forward 30 years and you have the birth of real girl power in the introduction of Race Bannon’s teenage daughter, Jessie. This might seem a little discriminatory, but one of the first major draws to The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest for me as a child was because there was a girl on the team. Plain and simple.

Hey, if you look at most American action-adventure shows of the 80s and 90s (i.e. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, Spider-Man, G.I. Joe, Gargoyles, Transformers, etc.) the focus was mainly on male leads and if there were recurring female characters it seemed like they were either villains, love interests, or just put there because she gave the hero a constant derriere to save.

When you need 4 turtles to rescue you from a pig with a nose ring, it's probably time to re-evaluate your decisions in life.
Seeing a female role model close to my age who was a computer whiz, could Maguyver a hot air balloon out of airplane wreckage and fabri c scraps, saved the boys from falling off cliffs, could pilot a plane, and knew her way around the business end of a gun was revolutionary for me. She did everything the boys did and often better, yet nobody ever called her femininity into question. Jessie was 100% woman.
And sometimes part bird according to the concept art.
The brand-new writing crew for season 2 also gave Jessie girl power…the kind of power a girl had in Renaissance England when your most effective strategy in a tough situation was fainting, or not giving the king a male heir. The butt-kicking gal that we all knew and loved from the first 26 episodes suddenly finds herself possessed by hormonal ghosts, gets mummified, has a demon drain her life-force once or twice, and is otherwise unconscious on-again-off-again for a quarter of the season. 

Jessie takes a nap while Jonny almost breaks his arm trying to keep her soul from getting sucked out.
If that isn’t bad enough, they give her a daintier, more stereotypical “girl” look in the 2nd season. To complete the transformation, they outfit her with a horrid pink jumper contraption, shiny turquoise earrings, and a piercing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom damsel in distress cry which she deploys in basically every episode.

Oh yeah, and they pretty much remove all semblance of balls…uh, figuratively of course.

Because Race Bannon certainly doesn't create no flipper-like hermaphrodite babies.
To basically sum up the differences between the two different Jessies, why don’t we play everyone’s favorite game: “Your Jessie Sucks.” In this game we ask each Jessie a question about how they would deal with hypothetical situations and they will answer using actual quotations from their respective season. This way we will be able to determine which Jessie is the real one, and which one sucks. 

Host: Contestant #1,your plane goes down in Siberia and you come across a civilization in the ice. How do you explain their ability to sustain themselves without sunlight as a source of photosynthesis for vegetation?

Season 1 Jessie: “The geothermal energy from that volcano is creating its own eco-system. You’ve been farming the arable land between the lava flow and the ice cliffs.”

Host: Interesting. Contestant #2, how would you handle it if you were to go to Tweet an adorable picture of Bandit to all your friends but Twitter wouldn’t load due to high volumes of traffic?

Season 2 Jessie: “Johnnyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy---

*quick commercial break*
...*Returns from break*

--- yyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!” 

I think we have our answer ladies and gentlemen.

The addition of Jessie also brought new dimensions to the existing Quest team members. It was intriguing to see the hunky James Bond-like lady-killer and action man, Race Bannon, become incredibly sensitive and outright vulnerable when it came to the well-being and safety of his daughter. Jessie, being close in age to Jonny, provided both a romantic interest and a foil for the young Quest. With Jessie being a brainiac like Dr. Quest and Jonny being a kung-fu action man like Race, they each provided perceived competition for their individual father’s affections, and even made one wonder whether the two weren’t switched at birth.

You know, Benton Quest also originally had red hair in the 1960s series…

"Benton, you are not the father."

"Word."
  In the Jonny Quest writer's guide which the creators used while pitching and creating the show (can be read on the ever fantastic Questfan.com), they describe Jessie's character as such:

“As Race's daughter, she is fit and athletic but she is not Superwoman in training. She cannot, even with all Race's tuition in the martial arts, overpower an adult[…]But though Jessie is not as strong, physically, as Jonny, she is just as tough. She's smarter, too, and more thoughtful."
Jessie is a well-rounded character who has her strengths and can hold her own but isn’t perfect and even has areas she struggles with. Choosing to make her human and not some impossible superhero who is good at everything truly makes her more relatable to the girls in the viewing audience who may be struggling with their own insecurities.

“Like Hadji, Jessie has a strong interest in Dr. Quest's work and she often has a better grasp of the academic and the theoretical than Jonny. So, just as Jonny likes to hang out with Race - the man of action - Jessie likes to spend time with Dr. Quest. She shares his consuming interest in archaeology, physics and the paranormal. Race may be a touch envious of Jessie's relationship with Benton. Call it fatherly jealousy. But Race is also extremely proud that his daughter can hold her own with a genius like Dr. Quest. The very real differences between Jessie and Jonny should make for interesting crossplay and tensions[…]Maybe some day, the two will become more than friends. Maybe Jessie really prefers Hadji's company. Sometimes Jonny thinks so.”

As we all know, jealousy and competition are the stuff of compelling television because tension can add spice and momentum to a plot. The set up Lawrence established here by tossing Jessie in the mix, set the stage for all sorts of potential drama and deeper character motivations. 
Go go, Gadget Drama.
     We see this demonstrated really well in several season 2 episodes where the romantic tension between Jonny and Jessie are milked for maximum effect. In “The Haunted Sonata,” Jonny has a crush on Irina, a piano prodigy, while Jessie is digging on Milo, a Russian guy with a thick pony tail. The two indulge in endless jibes and slightly envious eye-rolling whenever the romantic affiliations of the other person are mentioned. 

     The episode “Eclipse” has Hadji bewitched to fall in love with a female vampire/demon thingie and Jessie becomes green with envy, which seems to unsettle young Mr. Quest (all of us hopeless romantics are pretty sure it’s because he’s madly in love with her and wants to have tons of ginger babies with her. But this is just a theory.)

Jessie is truly the epitome of girl power because she is not sexualized and reduced to being objectified by her fellow cast members. They don’t endow her with ridiculous cleavage, and they don’t force her to flaunt her body in skimpy outfits for the pleasure of male viewers. There’s no gratuitous jiggling or bouncing when she walks and thankfully none of the skeevy action panty-shots we’ve become so accustomed to in many comic books and anime (here’s looking at you, Sailor Scouts). 

Yet another reason to consider pants for all of your crime-fighting needs.
Despite what baggage the word might carry to some people, "feminism" is simply used to describe a theory in which men and women are equal. It has nothing to do with bra burning and man-hating; just a matter of asking to be treated with the same respect men get. I believe the creators of TRAJQ really did Jessie (and girls everywhere) a service when they chose to ignore her "lovely lady lumps," and focus on developing a great character that people would be drawn to based on her brains, integrity, and bad-assitude.

Women are showcased quite a bit on this series as anything from old western gunslingers to astronauts and they often play a vital role in the outcome of the episodes. Sometimes the women have so much awesome in them that they come back to life as ghosts just to be like, “hey guys, remember how awesome I was?...yeah so, funny thing was, I had too much awesome for one lifetime so I had to come back again just to relieve myself of some of this awesomeness.”

And if I haven't already hammered home the point that this show has awesome female heroes, check out my mock trailer: Kill Belle 2. Using audio bytes from the Kill Bill 2 trailer, I pay homage to Belle Bonnet, one of TRAJQ's coolest undead lady characters ever: 


What are your thoughts on the women of the JQ universe?
Become a follower, leave a comment, and join in on the discussion! 

Oh yeah, and buy the DVD yo:

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

In all fairness to the season 2 Jessie (and the awesome voice actor who voiced her) she was portrayed as younger than the version of her character in season 1. A certain amount of the lack of girl power (for want of a better word) seen in the second season I think had to do with the fact that she had YET to grow into the strong capable teenager Season 1 showed us. I admit this brings a curious-case-of-Benjamin-Button feel to the time line of the show (or maybe a better analogy is seeing the original Star Wars and then the Prequels) , but you still can see a hint Season 1 Jessie in season 2 episodes like Thoughtscape or Digital Doublecross so in my mind the two aren't COMPLETELY unrelated.

Anonymous said...

Jessie is my fav character in this show. I do love Jessie season 1 more b'coz she's badass. I dont hate Jessie season 2just i'm not so in to her that much but I still like her :) I agree with the comment above me that Jessie in both season are quite different but to that they are not related at all. She still talks the same way she talks and still acts the same way she acts (but include more girly screaming)

Annik Miller said...

I love the new word of the day "bad-assitude". Should be introduced into the thesaurus soon!

carla said...

JQ and doug in the same post. you win at life FOREVER. xD

oh, jessie. let me tell you, that girl was a role model the likes of which humanity had not seen since she-ra. i swear, jessie is like the reincarnation of she-ra. the only other female character who could come close those days was gadget, and while i liked gadget, she didn't hold a candle to jessie when it came to badassery. and i always loved that she wasn't just "one of the guys, but with boobs"-- she was a girl, her femininity was never in question, but she was also a girl who could kick ass and take names just as well as any guy, and sometimes better. she was a breath of fresh air for the quest team.

i have a love-hate relationship with season two. on the one hand, i LOVED season two jonny so, so much. and i genuinely liked the plotlines much better (hey, i liked the hormonal ghosts and the mummies and the succubus demon). on the other hand, there was jessie with her bright pink "KIDNAP ME" shirt, and let's not even mention hadji thinking with his other head every other episode. but overall i enjoyed it very much.

damn, i have GOT to read me this "JQ bible" that everybody keeps talking about. i can't be the only one who hasn't read it. i feel totally out of the loop.

thanks for this post! looking forward the the next few reasons.

Anonymous said...

"jessie. let me tell you, that girl was a role model the likes of which humanity had not seen since she-ra. i swear, jessie is like the reincarnation of she-ra. the only other female character who could come close those days was gadget, and while i liked gadget, she didn't hold a candle to jessie when it came to badassery."

I think Ivy from Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego might give Jessie a run for her money, but then again she was voiced by the same actor so maybe it's not much of a comparison as they are very similar characters.

Anonymous said...

As a young guy who grew up watching the show, and who saw Johnny as the personification of everything I wanted to be, I had a major crush on Jessie. She was everything a 13-year-old boy wanted of his first girlfriend: she was cool, competent, confident, and pretty; a sexy tomboy. She was, in part, why I watched the show.

So great was her charisma, and my attraction to it, that it has shaped my taste in women. Without really thinking, I find myself drawn to the same kind of woman that Jessie personified. (I even kinda have a thing for gingers :P)