Saturday, August 12, 2006

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Flash Gordon: "The Monsters of Mongo"

The animated Flash Gordon series kicks it to high gear in "The Monsters of Mongo," the second episode of the early 1980s Filmation effort. Here (in a tale written by Sam Peeples), Flash, Dale and Thun (The Lion Man...) escape Mingo City into the caverns below, only to be recaptured by luscious Princess Aura. Then, Ming adds Dale to his harem, and consigns Flash and Thun to radioactive mines beneath the city, a place that "rots flesh and burns eyes."

In the caverns below, whipped and dominated by Lizard Women Overlords (mmm...Lizard Women Overlords...), Flash and Thun organize an impromptu miner's strike. "By sticking by each other, maybe we can accomplish something," Flash tells Thun. There's an uprising in the caves, and in great anti-fascist (pro communist?) imagery, the workers brandish their shovels and pick-axes (seen in black silhouette...) against their masters. The animation here is powerful, by the way. Black shovels jut into the air triumphantly and the background is a fire and revolutionary red. Okay, my friend Rick Coulter -- is this secret Marxist imagery creeping into American mainstream (kids!) entertainment during the right-wing Reagan eighties or what? I know you'd cheer if you saw this episode...

After the slave revolt (which gets flooded out by Ming...), Aura helps Flash and Thun escape to Arborea, but first the unlikely allies must face the god of the caverns, Ti-Sack (not to be confused with the other God of the mines, Ti-Bag.) The episode ends with Flash and Thun fleeing from Arborea (and the arrival of the Hawkmen), as Prince Barin and Aura trade barbs.

One of the things that struck me most powerfully about "The Monsters of Mongo" is the adherence in the series (and indeed, in the very concept of Flash Gordon) to the whole madonna/whore complex. Think about it: Flash is always forced to choose between the abundantly sexy but evil woman in the metallic bikini, or the acceptable, loyal, demure always-in-need-of-rescue Dale Arden, who in this episode lamely declares. "I'm no wilting violet. I share the risk." This is right after she gets scooped up by a dinosaur, by the way, and Flash saves her. AGAIN!

What's interesting is that Flash treats the "whore" as an equal. He's physically aggressive with Aura (he's always grabbing her by the wrist; and here he steals her *ahem* Multi-ray projector rod...). When they are attacked by a giant carnivorous plant [a metaphor for a devouring vagina, perhaps?), he lets her - like his buddy Thun - fend for herself. Whereas he's basically Daddy and protector to Dale, treating her like a child who needs guidance or help. I guess this is a 1930s vision of male/female relations, or is it still in play today? All I know is this: if I treated my wife as patronizingly as Flash treats Dale - indeed as a wilting violet - I'd get a swift kick to the groin. You know? So what's with this two-dimensional treatment of the ladies in Flash Gordon? Harmless male fantasy or something more subversive? Personally, I think if you blended Aura and Dale into one'd have a hell of a woman, instead of two extremes -the virtuous madonna and the hip-swinging whore - but that's just me...

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:50 AM

    I fondly remember Filmation's Flash Gordon from childhood. I especially loved the sequences with the rotoscoped spaceships. Filmation also did some fun rotoscoped scenes in Tarzan (swinging through the jungle). Most kids I knew also considered Filmation cartoons to be far better, artistic-wise, than the competing Hanna Barbera cartoons. The latter eps of the show really got juvenile once that pink gremlin character was introduced. Also remember that NBC aired a movie version of the show in primetime on a Saturday night.

    If this show comes out on DVD, I'd definately consider buying it.


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