Nostalgia Slain by Sexist Nonsense: Airwolf Edition

Apologies for it being somewhat quiet round here lately, my darlings. I’m deep in a project wherein I am sorting through well over a thousand public domain images of Mount St. Helens. It’s necessary for upcoming posts, not to mention the eruption book and the guidebooks I’m working on, but ye gods does it ever suck up the time.

Fortunately, I can watch television whilst downloading, categorizing, and posting select images. I’ve got through most of Supernatural, and will have So Many Things to Say about it soon. I’ve sampled Gilmore Girls, and discovered that stuff based on ordinary life terrifies me far more than shows with monsters or murders. I actually had to quit watching because it was giving me conniptions. I’ve started Daredevil, and oh, yes, I will have Thoughts on that as well.

Today, we shall talk about Airwolf.

I was a ginormous fan of that show as a kid. I had a huge crush on Stringfellow Hawke, which was dwarfed only by my love for that helicopter. I still adore that helicopter. The rest of it, not so much.

I put it on for a little light background entertainment so that I could better concentrate on my photos, and found myself hollering at the screen for an entire afternoon. See, I’d been far too young to notice how much of an asshole Stringfellow is. The beginning of the show basically tries to pretend he’s deep by having him playing cello to a bald eagle (who’s making the wrong noises for a bald eagle, btw) and having a nice art collection, but really, he’s just a misogynistic, fucked up bundle of anger. We realize this when he attacks the woman who’s come along to help talk him into stealing back this experimental helicopter that got snatched away to Libya by some evil dude. In a rapetastic scene, he grabs her, violently throws her down, calls her a whore, and just barely manages not to complete a sexual assault – but only because he’s disgusted by her. Of course, she gets left alone with him for a week and they totally become lovers.

Image shows Jan-Michael Vincent and Belinda Bauer in character as Stringfellow Hawke and Gabrielle Ademaur. It's very 80s: he's got frosted feathered hair, and she's got a dark cloud of curls.
Stringfellow and Gabrielle. We’re supposed to think they’re a blissfully happy couple after, like, six days. Despite the fact Stringfellow is a fucked-up bundle of misogynistic rage.

Don’t get attached, because the creators don’t think Stringfellow is fucked up enough without fridging this girlfriend. We’ll come back to that.

When I was a kid, I loved Dominic Santini, Stringfellow’s only friend. He’s one of those older jovial uncle types. He also is an unrepentant sexist ass. Here is an exchange between himself and Stringfellow’s new girlfriend/former assault victim Gabrielle:

Gabrielle: Here, Dom, I can totally help you with those groceries you’re carrying in.

Dom: “l don’t believe in women’s lib.”

Gabrielle: ??? WTF is wrong with you, dude?

Dom: “l like the sexes the way God intended them.”

Gabrielle: *contemplates violence*

And String laughs, and they tell her to make dinner while they go gallivanting off to look at a super-sekrit helicopter base.

If the writers had kept Gabrielle around, she probably would’ve taught Dom a thing or three about the general badassery of a woman with a career as a CIA operative. And she was certainly filing off String’s rough edges: he became almost charming while they were together (because everyone knows the Right Woman can Fix the Broken Dude). But of course, we can’t have that. They ship her off to Tripoli to get tortured and murdered by the psychopath who stole Airwolf, just so that String has extra reasons to be all angsty and tragic. Can’t have a hero with healthy relationships, heaven forfend. And of course, she dies melodramatically in his arms, and he whines about how she promised she wouldn’t die, as if this getting tortured to death thing was all her idea. That took a moment that might have been somewhat poignant, if hackneyed, and turned it into one of the most spectacular examples of sniveling male entitlement I’ve ever seen.

At least Airwolf herself is still fucking awesome. I just want to rub her sweet streamlined nose, and assure her we’ll have a group of militant feminists steal her so she won’t have to put up with all the toxic masculinity anymore.

Image shows Airwolf, a streamlined Bell 222 helicopter painted black on top and white on the bottom. It's flying past a red rock cliff.
I’ll save you, baby!

Also, the theme song’s not bad. Aaaand… that’s about all that’s survived intact.

To top everything off: the actor who plays Stringfellow Hawke, upon whom I crushed strongly as a little girl, turns out to have been a spectacularly abusive asshole. Fantastic. One should have no childhood heroes other than Mr. Rogers. (If you were raised in Arizona in the 80s, it’s also still safe to count Wallace and Ladmo among your personal faves, as far as I know.)

I’m almost afraid to try any of the other shows I adored as a child. What if Michael Knight, who was basically my fantasy boyfriend for many years, turns out to be total trash? Is MacGuyver still cool, or will he make me want to strangle him with a paperclip and a strip of duct tape?

It does put certain things in perspective. Supernatural is super-problematic, but we’ve actually advanced enough as a civilization that even a dudebro show based on toxic masculinity has to rein it in a bit. That gives me hope. Perhaps someday, we’ll have a remake of Airwolf in which Ms. Stringfellow Hawke is a well-adjusted bush pilot who takes shit from no one, and turns Dominic into a committed feminist who is happy to be her gentleman of honor when she marries her enby childhood sweetheart. I’d watch the shit out of that show.

Which of your childhood faves have turned out to be absolutely appalling upon rewatching?

Nostalgia Slain by Sexist Nonsense: Airwolf Edition
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4 thoughts on “Nostalgia Slain by Sexist Nonsense: Airwolf Edition

  1. rq

    I find this rather weird, because I never had any childhood favourites, due to my dad’s strict no-TV rule. However, shows I have watched since have really changed character over a mere few years. Or is it that I have learned more? In any case, several ‘romantic’ movies are now, more truthfully, stalker thrillers with the wrong ending (Moulin Rouge comes to mind).
    But speaking of childhood heroes, this one’s not mine personally, but he doesn’t seem to have devolved. Too much. So far. That I know of.

  2. 3

    I never watched TV at all until junior year of high school (1959-60) but that was at catholic boarding school, so carefully moderated. We did get to watch Dick Clark. Now, I have watched Airwolf and loved it at the time but, like you, it was the airbird that I loved, not the guys.

    I was a major fan of Highlander and Adrian Paul and Methos (my favorite). As far as I can tell, those folk seem to be okay and turned out well. In fact, Peter Wingfield (Methos) quit acting to go back to finish his medical degree.

    I try not to rewatch too many things from my early life as age and knowledge and cynicism lead me to see more and deeper and more darkly. However, Buffy is rewatched with different eyes and brain, thank you very much.

  3. 4

    Oh, that theme song… Next in YouTube’s play list was Crockett’s theme, from that other totally bad 80s show. Here‘s a link to some info on the current state of J-M Vincent. It ain’t pretty…

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