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
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
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.