I love American Gladiators.
I loved the old version, I love the new version. I'll love the future version, if ever there is one.
I love it love it love it.
I love AG for many reasons, but one of them is because they appeal to my feminist sensibilities. The women's competition is never secondary to the men's competition (I'm looking at you, ESPN). They don't have "Gladiators" and "Female Gladiators," as if default Gladiators are male, and the females are somehow a sub-category that requires modification (I'm looking at you, every sports team in the country that has the "Tigers" and the "Lady Tigers" or the like). The female gladiators are not dressed more sexily than the male gladiators. The female contenders are not given different or easier obstacles than the male contenders. It's good, get-out-there-and-compete entertainment, and I love it.
In addition to male and female, AG has black Gladiators and white Gladiators and asian Gladiators and a Samoan Gladiator, and they are all equally feared and indistinguishably named (Justice, Jet, Titan, Crush, Steel, Rocket, Militia, etc.- who's female? who's black? who cares!)
Yes, it was all well and good in my bubble of AG love, until Panther.
Panther is the first black female Gladiator. And her name is Panther. And I was forced to shake my fist and cry "noooooooooo!," because AG had just played into one of the classic stereotypes of black women, which is to animalize them. Since the dawn of stereotyping, black women have consistently been portrayed as animalistic, particularly as belonging to the cat-family. This is true even today in general interest magazines, despite the attention that has been drawn to it by a multitude of advertising analysts. If females are often regulated to a modified, "other" form of person (besides the default position: male), black females are regulated even further to a non-human category.
Why, AG, WHY?! You were doing so well. Even Patrick sat upright as soon as they introduced Panther and said "wait a minute, Panther? As in, she's black so she's probably an animal Panther?" 100 for Patrick, who remembers the lecture on pornography and its influence on mainstream advertising we attended last year as part of my 3L thesis research.
At the end of the day, I still love American Gladiators. They do so many things right. But I hate to see them slip backwards, even a little. Black women aren't animals. As soon as the Bar is over, I am going to write a pleasantly-worded letter to the producers of AG, letting them know that their latest choice in naming was not a wise one, and hoping that we see more, non-animalistic black female gladiators in the future.