Steed And Emma, A Man And A Woman
Steed And Emma, A Man And A Woman
To say that The Avengers is a typical product of the '60s is hardly a revolutionary conclusion to come to, especially if flippantly identifying within it the commonplace symbols of those times: the wild psychedelic spirit, the colorfulness, the Pop. For what really made that decade a flourishing period in the history of mankind lies hidden under the layers of make-up, velvet coats and flowers in the hair, created to reduce its intrinsic transformation power to just a number of picturesque elements, to a candid, cheeky look.
This camouflage was not mere chance.
The '60s were the catalyst for deep transformations that had been taking place silently for over a decade; they were not fortuitous. As a natural result of a postwar period, the generation of the '60s - with many of its members having been born in the middle of wailing sirens and falling bombs - embodied the outcry of a world desperately needing to break with a tradition where hegemony was based on betraying life and which was responsible for the systematic destruction of everything that gives sense to all we do and everything that makes us what we really are: humans.
It was a time of fierce questioning, and nothing was left out of discussions: parental relations, art, education, rationality and the unconscious, birth and death, structures of power, sexuality, and, naturally, the man-woman relationship.
There is no doubt that the bond between John Steed and Emma Peel was imbued with that colorful magic of the '60s, but only superficially. Unfortunately, the media amnesia that resulted in the turning of a blossoming revolution into a psychedelic fashion also affected the observation of the decade's phenomena in such a way that we could only deem their effects but were blind to their causes.
If there is something that has made The Avengers famous worldwide, it is the Steed-Emma relationship. It is certainly not the only attraction of the series, but even if seen as part of a coherent whole, the charm of this magic link is so deep that it deserves a special chapter in television history. However, its analysis often falls on ambiguous and pretentious grounds. When definitions are called for, some of the favorite ingredients listed for the recipe are 'chemistry', 'charisma' or 'glamour'. What is it that gives rise to these traits?
In my opinion, the pattern of the Steed-Emma relationship is simpler than it is usually perceived: it goes far beyond the commonplace view of women's liberation and other clichés of the epoch; it meets the demand for innovation that shaped the zeitgeist of the 60s. The core of the bond is to be found in the territory these characters share rather than in the orbit of their individual roles - a key thought at a time when individualism was a worn out concept or, at least, a quite unpopular reality. Consequently, the charm of the Steed-Emma relationship pushes forward with unexpected momentum. It does so because it creates a territory that allows for co-operation and mutual support, where all the things which make us men and women are brought together to be celebrated as blessed belongings or condemned as shared problems, but which should never be used to threaten balance.
What makes this revolutionary approach to the Steed-Emma relationship even greater is the masterly way in which it is presented. It does not linger on the battle of the sexes or the creation of a new stereotype - that of the emancipated woman - but seeks to transcend it by avoiding any bipolarity and entering a domain that could be rightly called "us". To do the opposite would only make the issue redundant: true sexual equality can only exist when both sexes are emancipated. If this was not so, the possibilities of a relationship would be reduced to the repetition of previously learnt patterns. There is depth and transgression in the way Steed and Emma relate to one another, precisely because the quality of their bond defeats the old forms which, up to that moment, had ruled male-female relations.
Steed and Emma are simply a man and a woman. In the limpid beauty of being just a man and a woman, without the burden of tradition or the stigma of prejudice, everything becomes possible. It is possible to get together for play and intimacy, to tell each other secrets while accepting silence. It is possible to question things without being reproachful, to like each other without seducing or being seduced, to be together without oppressing or suffocating the other. It is possible to make sex the spice of the relationship, without the weight of taboo or the urgency for consummation. It is possible to beat the baddies without standing for the goodies. When there are no instigating moral rules, integrity is the only reward. And the best way to celebrate is to toast it with champagne.
Purity is not a virtue reserved for saints, but for those who follow the path of their own nature. John Steed and Emma Peel are the most consistent, good and pure people ever to have inhabited the television galaxy.
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