William D. Waltz

from Cruising the Beat

Diana Rigg's portrayal of Mrs. Emma Peel in The Avengers is legendary. Hundreds of websites dedicated to this archetype of sensuous female power bristle with megabytes, testifying to the lasting allure of this dynamo. The Avengers was naughty (even radical) not because it was titillating (which it was) but because Mrs. Emma Peel embodied a strong, sensuous, feminine woman. The character's success (read popularity) allowed for the gradual development a new kind of character, the Lady Cop. As agents of law enforcement, Lady Cops are automatically afforded the authority of their positions and consequently the issues of gender, power, and sexuality are pulled into debate. The Lady Cop compels because she is a rarity in pop culture reflecting a corresponding dearth in society at large. Women in powerful positions have been portrayed and perceived as "manly," homely, motherly, or asexual. What's at stake is control over not only individuals but over the inexhaustible fuel called desire which makes us all dynamic, all human.

Desire must be one of the ingredients that makes us human as imagination must be. We know inertia kills the mind, the body, the soul. Sharks must continually propel forward or die. We are not unlike our toothy cousins in this regard. What makes a body move? Our momentum depends on engines like desire, without which we would be reduced to a clan of stick figures, or else an assemblage of tin hats stuck on Go.

Like all forces, desire is problematic. The subjects and objects of desire, be they human or un-human, suffer and triumph in balance only by grace. The ultimate algorithm of the essential will not be offered here, but there is no equation without desire, the prime mover, the elixir of the soul, the electricity coursing through our switches. Like our nervous systems that pulses through our bodies to move us in the metaphysical sense, in all ways, desire makes women and men Go. If desire be drained from our beings we would collapse.

Mrs. Emma Peel blazed trail for Sgt. Pepper Anderson, Angie Dickinson's character in the television drama Police Woman. Pepper Anderson was "tough as nails but sensuous." Now the lead character, the lady cop, this powerhouse of female energy, jettisoned the male counterpoint and replaced it assembly of lesser male characters. Lady Cop had evolved as did the American landscape. The seemingly carefree 60s were a million miles away from the grim, uncertain ‘70s. Pepper Anderson was a working, middle-age woman trying to make it on her own. She just so happened to be beautiful and a cop. The irony and playfulness of The Avengers was abandoned. Was it because a woman with power wasn't so ridiculous? Dickinson's character was strong, sensuous and attractive, but her desires and sexuality were remained mostly un-examined. Without imbuing the character with real desires, she remained more of a male fantasy than a role model. (Uncommonly beautiful and sexually overcharged Sgt. Pepper Anderson and Mrs. Emma Peel emphasized fantasy.) Society remained unwilling to walk the beat of desire with women, stifling a sea of potential.