Anna Abbott is a graduate of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She has written for Catholic World Report and Canticle. She had a weekly column on religion for four years at the Napa Valley Register, the Weekly Calistogan, the St. Helena Star and the American Canyon Eagle. She is aunt and godmother to two boys, as well as a newborn girl. She currently resides in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
“For the honor of Grayskull, I am She-Ra!” the heroine of the 1980s cartoon would declare as she raised her magical sword. Back in the day, when I watched them in the afternoon after school, the cartoons were wholesome family fun that one could watch without parental guidance and the action figures were bright, colorful, and smelled of perfume.
Now, with a reboot from Netflix and Dreamworks, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power are returning with a second season on April 26. The original She-Ra had morals at the end of each show, covering subjects such as telling the truth and avoiding drugs. In the reboot, however, She-Ra has not only become an androgynous anime-style character, but she and her friends live in a morally flat landscape.
Noelle Stevenson, the reboot’s executive producer, has made no secret of her show’s progressive agenda. In November 2018, Stevenson told the magazine Queerty that she was “queering” the series. On a February episode of the podcast “She-Ra: Progressive of Power”, Stevenson goes into detail about the romantic relationship between two princesses, Spinerella and Netossa. She calls the couple a “bonded pair.” She promised that the second season would have more “lore” about them. At the Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle this March, she discussed how the rainbow symbolism of the show is about “LGBT representation.” In January, GLAAD (an “LGBT” rights organization) nominated the reboot in its category of “Outstanding Kids and Family programming.”
Much has been made of representation on the show, particularly when it comes to “queerness.” Netossa and Spinnerella are depicted as a couple, albeit with enough G-rated plausible deniability that they come across as best friends. In the episode “Princess Prom”, Adora and Catra have a dance fraught with romantic tension, with cartoon versions of Stevenson and her partner Molly Knox Ostertag on the dance floor. In the same episode, Adora says that Sweet Bee and Peekablue, who are both female, are dating. Despite its G rating as a cartoon, there is much left for parents to explain.
The male-female relationships depicted on the show are problematic, at best.
In “The Sea Gate”, the adventurous Sea Hawk constantly endangers his romantic interest Mermista.
Instead of the traditional “damsel in distress” trope, Sea Hawk actually puts his damsel in distress. His impulsive adventurousness puts her and her realm in real danger.
The relationship between the male archer Bow and his Princess friend Glimmer is also played equivocally. The ambiguity of it causes Glimmer distress in “Princess Prom.” Bow toys with Glimmer’s emotions when he accepts Perfuma’s invitation to the prom. Glimmer is visibly upset, yet Bow is dismissive. Nonetheless, some fans see Bow and Sea Hawk as “antidotes” to so-called “toxic masculinity.”
In comparison, the friendship/romance between two females, Netossa and Spinnerella, comes across as healthy and wholesome. They genuinely care about each other, at least within this context. Most of the same-sex relationships are depicted in a positive light; in contrast, heterosexual relationships are negative. The sexes are shown as oppositional, rather than complementary. Some fans claim that Stevenson’s reimagining is about a good, virtuous matriarchy in opposition to the main villain Hordak’s evil patriarchy.
The show touts its “representation” and “diversity” as forms of virtue signaling. In themselves, neither representation nor diversity are good or bad. They are simply descriptive. However, the show uses them as a substitute for morality. It also treats same-sex attraction as equivalent to race. The entire “LGBTQA+” spectrum of “identities” are viewed as morally neutral as eye color. The concept of “disorder” would be dismissed as prejudiced.
The original 1980s version made a point of concluding each episode with a lesson in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Its Christmas special had children from Earth explaining Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem to He-man. The current reboot is praised for being “morally ambiguous,” despite the fact its target audience (children) aren’t equipped for moral ambiguity.
Heroes and villains (such as Catra and Scorpia) all come to the dance in the morally neutral “Princess Prom.” There is no clear good or evil. This means that there are no real stakes for the heroes. Even in pre-Christian epics such as the Odyssey and the Aeneid, there were goals — Odysseus to return to his family in Ithaca, and Aeneas to found Rome. Family and patriotism were valued. The moral ambiguity in the She-Ra reboot leads to aimlessness. It is like the “seeker” spirituality that has no destination in mind.
In the original show, She-Ra was an adult, with a sense of maturity; the reboot recasts her as a confused adolescent. The original She-Ra not only had greater superpowers, but also was morally stronger. Virtue was strength. The new She-Ra is an adrift teenager, still searching for the doubtful existence of the meaning of life. It makes power into a virtue. An adolescent mentality informs the show. It also does a great disservice to teens, who, if they are not miseducated, are idealistic and concerned about the truth.
The immaturity of the reboot shows in its handling of Adora’s conversion experience to She-Ra. In the original, it took about four episodes for Adora, with the help of her twin brother He-man, to realize the evil of the Horde and to “see the light.” In the reboot, Adora’s conversion is inexplicable and instantaneous. The original show had the members of the Rebellion wary of Adora’s conversion, since she had once persecuted them. Adora’s story arc parallels that of Saul becoming St. Paul (Acts 9:1-31). St. Paul’s conversion is greeted with caution when he arrives in Jerusalem, for the disciples still justifiably fear him (Acts 9:26). They witnessed him cheer on St. Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 8:1). In the She-Ra reboot, Adora/She-Ra is instantly welcomed and befriended by the Rebellion, though she once persecuted them. It seems to teach kids that they should take strangers as “friends” without question, leaving them vulnerable to “grooming.”
There is an unrealistic moral flatness, and a complete unfamiliarity with human nature. Human instincts and traditional virtues were the staple of the old show, despite its fairy land setting and magical powers. The original taught Judeo-Christian morality, right down to keeping Jesus in the special Christmas episode, in a winning and fantastical way.
But today’s cartoons are not those of my childhood. Today’s She-Ra, like so much else, has lost its fun and innocence. Now even cartoons act in loco parentis, subverting parental authority with their own politics instead of the family’s morals. As the opening of Proverbs says (Proverbs 1:8-9), “Hear my son, your father’s instruction, and reject not your mother’s teaching; for they are a fair garland for your head, and pendants for your neck.” Our education in the biblical virtues are superpowers of their own — they have the ability to make us saints.