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Kono Kalakaua – Hot girl or feminist victory?

In the 'Hawaii 5-0' reboot, the role of Kono went from being male to being female. So is the new female Kono a feminist victory or just another hot girl cop?

Oh, television feminism. A thorny subject to tackle, I think you’ll all agree. But with no new episode of Hawaii 5-0 to discuss, An and I decided to go for it, head on. The debate? Is Kono (Grace Park) little more than just a “hot girl cop,” or is she one small step for feminism?

Julia: I strongly disagree that Kono’s been portrayed as just the “hot girl” cop or not been given a multi-faceted personality, and honestly, I was surprised by that assessment. While I agree that the obligatory hot lady cop is an epidemic I’m not fond of, Kono has always defied rather than defined that stereotype for me.

An: While I think Kono isn’t the “hot girl” cop now, her bikini punch intro and five-minute underwear pose in the pilot, the two cat fights (land-based and water-based) in the second episode, and her daisy dukes in the third where she played an “escort/waitress” and an unconvincing sports fan says different. Admittedly, they’ve slowly improved her since then. And, I like that, unlike other cop shows, we don’t see her rocking heels or full makeup.

Julia: Yeah, the bikini punch was a bit gratuitous, but then again, so is the fact that Steve McGarrett seems allergic to his shirt, and he’s definitely more than just a ridiculously toned chest. (Though I would like to take a moment to be profoundly grateful to whatever powers that be who decided it was high time we objectified some dudes on television as well. So long as it is not the sole reason for any character/group of characters existing, I am a huge fan of giving people props for being really ridiculously good-looking.) Heck, if I looked like Grace Park in a bikini and I lived in Hawaii, I’m not sure I’d ever not be in a bikini. I’d vacuum in a bikini.

As for the undercover roles they have her play… unfortunate? Yes. But kind of the reason she was brought onto the team. I mean, what were they going to do when they had to bust the prostitution ring, make one of the guys drag queen it up? And whenever she is put in the situation of playing the helpless victim, she ends up more than making up for it. She did get that woman to talk by using her dog, which obviously none of the boys would have thought to do. Was she wearing hotpants while she did it? Yes. Do I care? No.

An: To the McGarrett point, I’ll say about damn time. I’m tired of shows that gratuitously feature the females without balancing the scales. I loved ’80s action films, but hated how they portrayed women. If you had four guys and one girl, chances are the one without the “banana hammock” would use her body as a distraction. If McGarrett were just pretty without the mad Mr. Science “skillz,” I’d toss him into the shark tank.

I liked that Steve hired Kono as a trainee whose new face would grant her underworld entry … until she spent five minutes in her underwear. Come on. Didn’t she join H5-0 to avoid HPD pigeon-holing/dirty tasks? If McGarrett/Danno could go undercover as whales, they could come up with something less obvious for Kono. Basically, it’s lazy writing to put Kono into stereotypical roles, when we see the writers showing insight in other areas. Thank goodness they started giving her tech skills.

Julia: I don’t think it’s a crime against feminism for a woman to be attractive on television, and I certainly think that it’s counter-productive to put certain taboos on what women can and can’t do without it pigeonholing them as only being “hot.” Plus, if Kono’s a dedicated surfer as well as doing the Keeping Up With Steve McGarrett regimen (which looks brutal), I don’t mind her skinniness. I strongly disagree with further pigeonholing the fights she had in the second episode as “cat fights.” I mean, the woman she was fighting was hardcore Russian mob! Who cares if they were both attractive and female? That’s James Bond level kickass right there.

An: She can be attractive, but I want to see her intelligence as well. I hate to use Castle as an example, but, come on, look at Beckett, look at Scully (X-Files), look at the women in Carla’s “female dicks” poll — whenever she posts it — you can have eye candy without making it obvious. The main reason for the pool fight was straight-up fantasist girl-on-girl action.

However, Kono with the sniper-rifle? Realistic. Kono overseeing an HPD investigation as a team representative? Interesting. Kono diving for the bank truck? Totally fine. Why? It wasn’t gratuitous. When she’s fleshed out, I like her.

Julia: Yeah, I agree that compared to Steve and Danny, she’s not nearly as fleshed out as she could be, but Steve and Danny are the leads, and I think that’s a bit of a product of being a secondary character. She certainly gets more development than Chin, though, between the police academy graduation scene in the second episode (which I thought was just so poignant and well-done, and said a lot about all of the characters and the nature of their jobs, as well as giving Kono a chance to have a relatable moment) and the episode dedicated to her past as a surfer, I feel like I understand her. She’s a younger, freer Steve. She’s what Steve would be if he didn’t carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. She’s scrappy and snarky and has no issues doing whatever has to be done and damning the consequences. She’s loyal and fiercely protective and will go to the ends of the earth if she loves someone.

I think when it comes to characters like Kono, where they’re by their very nature second fiddle to the leads, you have to sometimes make a point to pay attention to them. The episode where Chin was strapped to a bomb, for instance, was pretty Steve-centric, but it told us a lot about Kono. It was her who brought up breaking into the vault, she was the one who overrode Danny and went along with Steve’s crazy plan, she was the one who hid in the back of the car and then took Hesse down. If that doesn’t get you major girl power props, I mean, what will?

An: Hmm, while I don’t see her as a younger Steve, I’d like to point out your examples are from later in the season. My concerns focus on Kono during the first three episodes. When TV creates content-less “skinny hot girl” characters, they use the surrounding characters to point out her “awesomeness.” It reminds me of ’80s laugh tracks and implies uncertainty on the writing staff’s part. If she’s awesome, we don’t need the background. Take note: they’re doing that less and less the more she tangibly contributes to the team.

However, I’ll admit I have an issue with the contemporary “skinny hot girl” overall. I totally bought Lucy Lawless (Xena), Mary McCormack (In Plain Sight) and Gina Torres (Cleopatra 2525, Firefly, Vampire Diaries) as kicking ass, but I don’t buy contemporary skinny hot girls likes Ames (Human Target) or Kate (Sanctuary) because they’re almost wannabes. We’re supposed to believe skinny hot girls in their 20s have the same combat background/experiences/physical capabilities as their older, heavier, more trained, more toned male counterparts?

Julia: Well that’s the other thing I like about Kono. They make no bones about the fact that she’s young and inexperienced (like when Danny told her she had to go talk to the kid not because she was a woman, but because she was the rookie), but there’s an implicit trust there. They know she can handle herself. They know she’ll get the job done.

What being a strong female character on television comes down to for me is not ignoring a character’s femininity, and certainly not obsessing over it. It’s acknowledging the reality that yes, this character is female, but not making it a bigger deal than any other characteristic. Kono being a hot girl gets winked at, but so does Steve being a hot guy. I have no problem with it precisely because they play with that fact regardless of gender. It’s there, but most of the time it’s beside the point. Same with Kono’s gender — it’s there, but its beside the point. She’s a competent, valued team member, an autonomous character, and she can kick your ass. My feminist checklist is quite happily filled.

An: That’s where we agree. I like that Kono is young and inexperienced. I like when Chin Ho trains her. But, I hated her intro. Really? A woman without the same build/training/background as her teammates, could take out a guy twice her size? Boomer? Sure. Kono?  Not yet. Surfer brawls not withstanding. While Maggie Q (Nikita), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy) and Summer Glau (Terminator, Firefly) are stick thin, I wouldn’t want to cage match them. I like Fiona (Burn Notice) now because they don’t pretend she can take down a 250-lb bruiser without a taser and molotov cocktails. In the end, it’s about character realism, development and good writing.

Not to get academic, but femininity is a social construction. In the 15th – 18th centuries showing legs was considered masculine and in the 1950s, pink was considered a male color. So, I’d hate if rocking a bikini is considered the penultimate of my sex today.

However, I agree, that the not obsessing over a character’s looks is when we can enjoy the person. The pilot was all about Kono’s body. Now, that they’re using her as a character who happens to be female, they’re writing to her character and not her looks, which is a good thing. I’m fine with cheesecake if it’s done well. While we might disagree about Kono’s portrayal in the first three episodes, we do agree on her recent improvement.

Photo Credit: CBS

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Categories: | General | Hawaii Five-0 | TV Shows |

4 Responses to “Kono Kalakaua – Hot girl or feminist victory?”

January 13, 2011 at 12:41 PM

. . . . .

I had the most difficult time trying to wrap my head around this piece. With so many ideas and directions, I found myself floundering time and again when I attempted to put together any coherent thoughts. So I gave up.

I’ve said it previously: Grace Park is one big ‘meh’ as far as I’m concerned. That’s just me. I’ve seen her all over the place and I just haven’t been impressed. This is not to say some of her past roles haven’t been impressive … she just doesn’t elicit any reaction as an actress nor does she gripe my cookies enough to get into it about her.

So … I’ll simply leave it at mentioning one of my epitomous females: Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) of The X-Files. Simply stated, she’s trigger tripping in a myriad of manners. Thought-provoking, daring, intelligent, wary, questioning, Amazonian and with a hint of the comedic.

Who could ask for anything more?

January 13, 2011 at 2:43 PM

And she’s a redhead too, right Michael? ;-)

January 13, 2011 at 3:35 PM

. . . . .

*sigh* Stop it, Debbie.

I try to be serious for once … and my reputation precedes me. (By the by: I did say ‘myriad of manners’ up there … just didn’t mention’em …)

Thankfully, I have big shoulders and I can take it.

January 13, 2011 at 9:26 PM

Hmm, I have to agree with you Michael, Kono is definitely plain vanilla, but I give you a high five for liking Scully. I think it’s ironic that the episode where I truly enjoyed Kono, they placed a female writer behind the pen.