Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Flash Gordon: "The Monsters of Mongo" (September 29, 1979)

The animated Flash Gordon series kicks it to high gear in "The Monsters of Mongo," the second episode of this Filmation effort. ]

Here (in a tale written by Samuel A. 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, Flash and Thun organize an impromptu miner's strike. "By sticking by each other, maybe we can accomplish something," Flash tells Thun.  Again, this is textbook Flash Gordon philosophy: triumph through team-work; success through cooperation.

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 quite powerful, by the way. Black shovels jut into the air triumphantly and the background is a fire and revolutionary red. 

After the slave revolt (which gets flooded out by Ming...), Aura helps Flash and Thun escape to Arboria, but first the unlikely allies must face the god of the caverns, Ti-Sack. The episode ends with Flash and Thun fleeing from Arboria (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 parochial and stereotypical 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 so-called "whore" as an equal in fighting and cunning. He's physically aggressive with Aura (he's always grabbing her by the wrist; and here he steals her Multi-ray projector rod...). 

Similarly, 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 Flash is basically Daddy and protector to Dale, treating her like a child who needs guidance or help. I suppose this is a 1930s vision of male/female relations, or is it still in play today? I wonder.

In a way it makes sense, when one considers the World War II milieu and metaphor. Dale is the un-worldly but solid  and loyal "American" female (again, stereotypically speakin), the one whom soldiers like Flash would have left on the home front to go to war.  

Aura is the European woman: exotic, different, and engaged in the battle that concerns her particular homeland.

The idea, under the surface, is that one of these women is appropriate for marriage; the other for bedding in war-time, in an exotic/foreign country.

One might think this sort of discussion is strange, since it regards a Saturday morning TV show, but this episode about "monsters" of Mongo is largely -- at least under the surface -- about sex. Ming sends Dale to his exotic harem, which we see in detail in future episodes. And Aura -- lustful of Flash and lusted after by Barin -- is also depicted in sexual terms.

Next week: "Vultan - King of the Hawkmen" 

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