Sunday, April 1, 2018

KP EBE -- Models can't be role models. (series bible -- cover and summary pages)

There are various interviews about conception and creation of Kim Possible,  but the earliest primary source available is the pitch-era partial Kim Possible series bible released by Bob Schooley (one of the co-creators) on twitter on the 18th and 19th of April, 2016.

Series bibles can come in various forms depending on what the person or people making them are prioritizing and what role they're intended to serve.  The thing that links them all is that they record salient details of the series.  Sometimes it's so that these details are kept straight throughout the run of the show, sometimes it's so that the details can be communicated to the people deciding whether or not to make the show in the first place.  As you might have figured out from "pitch-era", this is the second.

The show didn't exist, and wouldn't for another year and eight months, so there weren't any canon details to keep straight yet.  Additionally, I'm reasonably sure that they never bothered with keeping details straight while the show was in production anyway.

This is all about what Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle wanted the show to be and what they were marketing it as (internally) to the executives who would decide whether or not this was something Disney wanted to make.

- - -

I'm not going to dwell on this too much, but it's worth pointing out that Kim Possible was incredibly significant in terms of the history of Disney animation, particularly television animation, because it was the first in-house Disney Channel original animated series.  (If Nickelodeon hadn't passed on The Proud Family, it would have been the first Disney Channel original animated series, of any kind, ever.)

The Disney Channel and Disney Television Animation had both been around for almost, but not quite, 20 years at this point but they'd never produced something together and Kim Possible was the first foray in making a episodic cartoon for Disney by Disney on Disney.  As such the decision wasn't just "Do we want to make this?" but also "Do we want this to be our flagship property in this area?"

The answer was, "Yes."

With those paragraphs over, I'm done dwelling on that.  Let us dwell on something else.

- - -

First, have a picture:

It's a cover page; there's not a lot to take apart or glean.  To me the most significant part is the date: October 2, 2000.  The first episode (Crush) aired on June 7th, 2002.  While it is certainly possible that at some point an earlier thing will be made public, it's probable that this is as far into proto-show as primary sources will ever take us.

The biggest other thing to note is that while the picture certainly evokes the idea of Kim, that's very much not the Kim we eventually got.  Most notably the hair, clothes, and grappling hook launcher which are all Kim-esque without actually being Kim.  That's a very appropriate note start to this with.

I will touch on the title before we go inside.  The words "Kim Possible: she can do anything" were, as recounted in various interviews, the beginning of the idea of the show, and they very much stick around throughout.

- - -

This is something that we can look through piece by piece.  So, starting with the first line and going one step at a time:
[...] a billionaire Japanese electronics mogul [...]
Looking at a list of Japanese billionaires has taught me that Cyberdyne, the corporation responsible for the Terminators(TM) who will exterminate most of humanity by order of Skynet, has now been founded in the real world.  Thankfully, they don't make killing machines.

The point in the looking up, though, is that this doesn't feel right to me.  The Japanese electronics industry is quite large and has historically been the source of significant innovation, but the sentence reads to me more like something coming out of blatant stereotyping than any kind of understanding of Japanese electronics.

Thus the looking up of Japanese billionaires.

I'm seeing construction, retail, holding companies, real estate, alcohol, eCommerce (not the same as electronics any more than air shipping is the same as airplane design and construction) and more or less the standard slate of stuff you'd expect (which, yes, does include electronics.)

This . . . isn't just me picking on an errant sentence.

Tick Tick Tick has Kim getting a (plane) ride from Gustavo of the Amazon in thanks for saving his village from a piranha infested flood.  In Bueno Nacho she gets a dog sled ride from an indeterminate First Nations individual whom she had saved from an iceberg.  In Monkey Fist Strikes she loots a Cambodian idol that was prized by ninja (Japan =/= Cambodia) who practiced Kung Fu (China =/= Japan or Cambodia) because it granted magical oriental martial arts powers (because . . . fuck.)

Kim Possible runs on many things (it's a hybrid) and one of them is blatant stereotyping.

The more it does it, the more you pick up on it, which in turn leads to giving it less benefit of the doubt.

Anyway, context:
The son of a billionaire Japanese electronics mogul is kidnapped.
The eventual show never dealt with anything like this.  People got kidnapped, sure, but Kim never stooped to rescuing people lesser than the billionaires, scientists, and Ron Stoppables themselves.  She will (very) occasionally deal with the children of important people, but if she's rescuing someone it'll be Mr McGuffin, not his second cousin.

That . . . might be an intentional choice to have Kim Possible and the show of the same name only deal with "important" people, rather than wasting time on lesser beings.  Quotes around "important" because in actuality everyone's important.

A nuclear arsenal in a breakaway Soviet republic goes missing.
This is sort of mission was, I think, tossed for an entirely different reason.  The threats Kim deals with in the actual show are very Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated-esque.  Certainly no one in Las Vegas particularly wants a black hole the size of Nevada to suddenly appear in their hotel, but death rays, freeze rays, hypnotic disco balls, spinning tops of doom, monkey ninjas in space, and the potentially-Nevada-destroying Pan Dimensional Vortex Inducer all have different connotations than, you know, the threat of a nuclear holocaust.

When the show went to dark places it seemed to be because the people making it utterly failed to notice that those places were dark, and when it was self aware things stayed in much lighter territory.  Territory which is harder to be in when the people around you are stocking up on potassium iodide, Prussian blue, and diethylenetriamine pentaacetic acid.
World weather patterns mysteriously reverse overnight.
This is the kind of thing that will survive to the final form of the show.  Not a big part of it, but it's the only thing in this introduction that will actually show up.

Anyway, that's all set up for this:
Fear not.  Kim Possible is ready for action.

Yes, Kim Possible -- High School sophomore, Junior Varsity cheerleader, and the world's last hope.
This all makes it into the show's title sequence.  It makes it there with such force that Kim continues to be listed as a high school sophomore throughout her junior year.

We previously discussed, in May of 2015, the inclusion of these things in the title sequence.  It makes more sense now that we have it in an actual context.

I'm of two minds on this.  On the one hand "High school sophomore [...] and the world's last hope," really captures what the show aspired to but never really delivered on.  Ordinary person forced into extraordinary role and all of the things that come with that.

This, apparently, was actually what aspiration was before there was anything else.  I'm focusing on the series bible, so just the one quote here, but before Schooley and McCorkle learned there was a desire for a new show, Disney had already decided that they were "looking for a show that showed ordinary kids in extraordinary circumstances".

So that's the one thing.  Ordinary kid in extraordinary circumstances is full of potential, though it's also full of potential for failure (which is probably why it usually gets screwed up.)

The other thing is this:
Junior Varsity cheerleader
At this point they had yet to cut Kim's characterization back to just "cheerleader" (she's still leader of the debate team during this stage of development) and yet only one part of her high school career makes it into this description.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with being a cheerleader, but it's notable that they specifically picked out the single most traditionally femininely coded extracurricular.

Shots of Kim's room will show that she has baseball and basketball equipment but it's important that she got her world saving athleticism via a stereotypically-feminine values-voter-approved 1950s-wholesome route.

This isn't an "I'm saying it's important" thing.  The show makes it important.  Kim credits cheerleading.  Time is taken to give Drakken a "Why did she have to be a cheerleader?" lament where it's made clear that he too thinks that Kim came to be superhero-capable only via cheerleading.  Those two are on opposite sides of the board, so that mutual agreement makes it across the board already and I'm only two examples in.

But that's for later.  What about now?

Well,  here we are: at the beginning, a year and eight months before the first episode hits the airwaves, the show is but a pitch.  What's important about Kim in this one page summary of everything you need to know?  Cheerleader.  A bit later: babysitter.

And that's the push pull for me.

Ordinary kid somehow in a unique position to save the world (repeatedly) and thus having that become their life is definitely interesting and full of potential.  It will never come up with Kim because she isn't ordinary (and it coming up with Ron is watered down severely by how quickly he got a magical upgrade.)

Also, there's definitely nothing wrong with the hero getting their athletic conditioning from their time on the cheer squad.

Yet, at the same time, it definitely seems to be the case that cheerleader was chosen for a very specific reason.  In a show that leans so heavily on stereotypes they picked the most feminine of the go-to high school stereotypes to build their character around.

You, female audience member between the ages of nine and fourteen (inclusive), can be a hero too.  (Yay!)  Provided that you make sure that it's all built upon a sufficiently girly foundation.  Wear a skirt, bare your midriff, wave some pom-poms, and never once consider that maybe you'd be more comfortable, for example, on the track team.  (Not-yay.)

It could have easily been that Kim is a kid who happens to be a cheerleader, instead it's more the case that she'a a cheerleader who happens to be a kid.  It goes from accidental (she is this but could have been anything else instead) to essential (this is who and what she is.)

That seems painfully limiting to me.  What if you're not the kind of girl who wants to be a cheerleader, or you are but you don't want it to the point that it would become the central aspect of your identity?  Does that disqualify you from being a hero?

- - -
It started innocently enough with Kim's webpage ad, "She can do anything."  She meant stuff like babysitting and watering neighbors plants.  But a weird thing happened.  The website got hits from around the world.  From people in trouble.  Take-over-the-world super-villain kind of trouble.
I quibble with the placement of "But a weird thing happened".

My dad was once the web designer/manager/person of a small restaurant chain.  He wasn't hired for this job (he was the head chef) he was just the only one who knew anything about computers or the internet.

The chain had all of three locations, which were in Maine and New Hampshire.  As the web manager he was getting emails from people in Europe asking if the chain could cater a local (to them) event.

That's just how it works.

You put something out there and it will get hits from around the world, even more so when this was written in 2000 as, back then, there was significantly less competition for those hits.

Quibble is over now.

- - -

So the set up is Kim had a Trixie-esque ad (The Great and Powerful Kim Possible can do anything!) and people with super-villain problems started asking for help.

We're back into the territory of things I like.  She didn't set out to be a hero, she stumbled into it by failing to specify what she was actually advertising for and now she's being introduced into a world that she might not have even known existed.  Faced with the (unstated) choice of helping the people or turning away, she chose to help.

Most kids would be in over their heads, and I'm actually interested in those stories a great deal.

It's been ages since I've read Sinfest, so I don't know where things stand now, but I loved Tange and Lily being in completely over their heads, never entirely sure what was going on, keeping each other positive, and always trying (and fighting) to do the right thing.

It was beautiful.

Realistically they had no chance whatsoever, but they didn't let it stop them and they muddled through somehow.  While they were very seldom (if ever) the heroes they did mange to be heroes.

That, however, isn't the direction they decided to take the show.
Tested by extremes, Kim found that she really could do anything.
She can't, that we know of, sprout wings and fly.  That said, for all that it's not literal, they're pretty big on the "anything" bit.

With the exception of ones the show seems to approve of, Kim almost never has a shortcoming that isn't solved by the end of the episode.  Certainly if there's ever something Kim encounters that she can't do, she will be able to do it soon.  (Or she'll decide it doesn't matter and isn't worth doing, but I can think of only one example of that.)

This, emphatically, not a function of the show being episodic.  Other characters have flaws that stick with them or difficulties that last (or at least linger.)  Kim is perfect.  If an imperfection is found it will be dealt with in 22 minutes or less.

- - -
Now Kim is a normal fifteen year-old
No.  No, no, no.  No.

When these pages were first released I had a concussion and was supposed to stay away from screens.  So I just linked to them and left it at that.  This is from depizan in the comments to that post, with some formatting added by me:
They really hammer on the whole "typical teenage girl, except totally not" thing.  I can't decide how I feel about that.

On the one hand, I do like the idea of someone discovering they're capable of a whole hell of a lot if people just give them the chance.

On the other hand, she's NOT a typical teenage girl (martial arts, ability to travel the world at the drop of a hat, detective skills, etc, etc, including, apparently, being model-pretty), and claiming that she IS doesn't sit quite right with me.

The more they say she's typical, normal, whatever, the more they're kind of unintentionally insulting both Kim (by minimizing her achievements) and all teenage girls everywhere (who probably aren't capable of most of the things she does).
This is huge.  Kim isn't normal.  Most of the X-Men are closer to normal than she is.  If Kim is just your basic average girl then what does that say about all of the girls out there who can't so easily balance school, family, friends, sports, activism, and everything else?

Or, to fast forward and use an example from the show, if this is average:

then what does it say about all of the girls who couldn't do that in middle school?  What are they?  Obviously they don't measure up to "average".

That scene, from the time travel movie, takes place before Kim got her first hit on her website.  That's what she was like before becoming a super hero.  Years later, after she's needed to improve on those skills massively to survive her new hobby of saving the world, she's still merely average, normal, typical, and so forth.

When Kim's saying it we can reflect on what it means that she never gives herself credit, but right here, right now, this isn't Kim.  This is one of the documents that went into creating the show and it's not saying, "Kim thinks of herself as normal," it's saying she is.

And the thing is, this:
Now Kim is a normal fifteen year-old, who happens to save the world.  A lot.
could have been done.  Given the right opportunities, resources, and support structure you could have a thing where a normal kid saved the world from super-villains.  Kim Possible is very definitely not anything like that.

It isn't like that because Kim is never allowed to be normal.

- - -
Sure, she's got schoolwork and chores and the occasional babysitting gig,
It might have been nice if we saw some of this stuff.  We will see her in school a lot, and it's probably unavoidable that we therefore know of assignments she's had.  I don't, off the top of my head, know of any chores she's ever had to do.  Her being a babysitter will be mentioned.  Her babysitting will never be shown.

I suppose that lets them avoid the question of what Kim does when someone calls or beeps her but she can't leave little Timmy at home all alone.
but what about the missing team of climbers on Mount Everest?  Somebody has got to help them.
Calling in the proper authorities is never considered, of course.  That's a missed opportunity.  The show would have been vastly different if Kim were helping the people whom the authorities ignored.

As it is, Kim has jumped into action to save the Billionaires' Club but I'm not really remembering any times she helped poor people.  She's done things that help everyone in a given area (a village, Wisconsin, Europe, the world, so forth), which logically means she must have helped any impoverished people therein, but working directly to help someone on the margins?  I'm drawing a blank.

Most of the times she's called in (which is not nearly as often as you'd think given the premise) it's a rich individual, a corporation, or a part of a government doing the calling.
And that's just what Kim does.  She helps.  Doesn't matter where.  Doesn't matter when.  Doesn't matter how dangerous.  When Kim gets an instant message from someone in trouble, she has just got to help.
I do think that there's probably something to be said about the difference between choosing to help and being compelled by your nature to help, but I'm not sure what that something is so I'm going to leave this alone.

Kim has let other people's problems become a central part of her life because she's the sort of person who won't turn away any request for help.  In real life, with real people, that's a recipe for total burnout, and we'd need to talk about the need for self care and all of that.

But Kim isn't your basic average girl (as noted above), so she doesn't face such problems.  She's only overwhelmed if an episode's plot demands it, and she never risks burning out.  Kim is perfect and therefore can help everyone with all the things all the time.

- - -
Tenacious.  Strong.  Resourceful.  Kim could be anything she wants to be.
This is the most description we've gotten of the title character, generic though it is, in this summary.

Also note the continued dissonance of actual-Kim vs. "We swear she's totally normal" Kim.

A normal high school student cannot be anything they want to be.  Sometimes they fail.  Sometimes their abilities don't match the task.  Sometimes someone else is better than they are and therefore gets the last opening.

"You can be anything you want to be" is useful in certain circumstances, but it becomes damning when someone like Kim shows up for whom it is literally true.

Usually it's said to encourage people to reach for their dreams instead of giving up before they even start.  It's said because while you can't be anything you want to be, you don't know what you can and can't be until you try.  Thus something that encourages you to try is often good, because without it "I can't be X," isn't a statement of what is actually possible so much as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The dark side of the sentiment is that it sets things up so that when you come across something you truly can't be, it tells you it's because you're somehow failing and deficient.  Or, at the very least, you're not trying hard enough.  Since you can, it's not like something else is preventing you from being what you want.  Since you're not, and we've already ruled out "something else", the blame can only lie with you.

Why aren't you a perfect, pretty, and popular student who makes her parents proud?  Must be your fault.  Kim Possible, who is merely basic, average, normal, and typical has pulled off all of that and so much more.  You could too, if you actually cared.

So the message seems to be.

- - -
It's like that time she saved a remote Pacific island from volcanic disaster, a photographer doing a swimsuit shoot offered to catapult her to cover girl status, but in her words:

Gee, thanks.  But why be a supermodel when I can be a super role model.
Right, because those two things are mutually exclusive.

Kim can be anything she wants to be.  Even a supermodel.  Models, on the other hand, can't be role models.  Because fuck 'em, amirite?

(If you're going to look into this woman, be warned that what she was standing up against was horrific, as in: mutilation-horrific.  Warning out of the way:)

In 2000, when this is dated, Waris Dirie was at the midpoint of her time as a UN Special Ambassador.

But, hey, trying to make a difference in the world --trying to make it a better place-- that's not role model material, now is it?

Or, maybe, we should have a hero that doesn't judge people and professions based solely on superficial stereotypes.

Kim is supermodel pretty, because she has to be feminine, but not supermodel willing, because we all know that models are *slams head into keyboard . . . figuratively*

Of course, this is just the-less-than-one-page summary.  As such it's an inherently shallow look at everything.

We'll start looking at character bios next.


  1. I like the idea of the normal kid that has a support system that can help them do whatever is at hand. With the World Wide Web, you could play a Brewster's Millions plot with it to handwave where the money and things were coming from.

    But instead, we get a crack about how models can't be role models because the showrunners probably hadn't been paying attention to the causes celebre that models often undertake to avoid being typecast on such a way.

    And an impossible Kim passed off as if she were totally normal. That seems to be a trend for the Strong Female Protagonist - they make the impossible effortless.

  2. Girls with grappling hooks seem to be A Thing for Disney lately. Not that I'm complaining. So Kim ended up *not* having it in the show? (Look, it's been *years*, I only remember like three episodes, and only barely, so no idea if she used a grappling hook there or not.)


    1. She used a grappling hook, an iconic one at that, but it wasn't that grappling hook.

      In keeping with the Bond-esque stylings of the show, her grappling hook launcher looked like a hairdryer.