Archive for the ‘Emotional Intelligence’ Category

Slide1I’m fairly certain I understand what it takes to make great entertainment: a well-written narrative, good casting, and compelling characters, but the current trend of the Anti-Heroine in the Spy Dame genre is really starting to tick me off and sends a bad message about women in the biz.

It started with Carrie Mathison, the CIA analyst from the popular TV series Homeland. Carrie is a talented analyst aided by her bipolar disorder, when in full-force, enhances her ability to see patterns where others fail. However, her erratic behavior and general prickliness makes her really unlikable as a person.

Then we are followed up by another CIA analyst, Maya Lambert from the Oscar nominated movie Zero Dark Thirty. No apparent mental health issues, but again, the near combative, and constant bullying behavior was overwhelming throughout the movie, and at times, very much unwarranted and out of place.

Now we have the new TV show The Bridge with Sonia Cross, a detective in the El Paso, Texas police department tracking down a serial killer who also has Asperger’s Syndrome, which limits her ability at times to accomplish her job without ruffling more than a few feathers, and apparently also makes her a pretty bad driver.

Maybe these writers think that making these women exceptionally quirky somehow makes them more exciting, lovable, or endearing. Mostly it just makes them aggressively annoying. I love the “procedural drama” because I like to understand how the proverbial machine of investigation and analysis work, but putting the disfunctional character archetype first and foremost really undermines and even derails that genre as a whole.

Now this is not to say that there are not women out there doing the job with these circumstances. But this twist of character doesn’t even have a base level by which to jump off from. A base level where are just women doing The Job. So here’s my bigger problem: It’s not enough that a woman can be a real and normal human being with all the real and normal issues that accompany that, but that she also has to be decidedly single with a mental illness-disorder-awkwardness-whathaveyou, and in many cases, just plain damn unlikable sends the message that dames can’t get the job done unless they delve just enough into a big bag of crazy, or conversely, any woman successful at her job must somehow be a loon on some level. And frankly, at the end of the play, I think it’s a cop-out to cover the fact that writers can’t develop a strong female character without a plot device.

Plenty of amazing fictional Spy Dames didn’t need this malarky: Kate Burroughs, the illustrious M, hell, even Sidney Bristow – Queen of SpyFi – got along just fine with her overly-developed sense of patriotism that almost always resulted in her being a pretty darn positive person…impending Zombie Apocalypse and mad scientists aside.

So I find myself waiting, patiently, for the Happy-Go-Lucky-type SpyDame to appear on the screen, big or small. They’re out there. And if writers had even some sense of a clue, they would write about her.

High profile people make the most interesting spies. Their fame and subsequent connections allow them access to places everyday schmoes can only dream of (like a certain Miss Baker  during WWII). It makes me wonder though about Princess Stephanie Julianne Richter zu Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst (1891 – 1972), a high-society, Austrian of Jewish descent married into German royalty and a spy for Hitler: does this odd relationship say more about a famed wild child-celebutant or a keen self-preservationist?

Stephanie was born in Vienna, Austria, and raised in the lap of luxury. Her training as a ballet dancer, charm and good looks helped insert the young Miss into the highest social circles. It also helped Stephanie get into a good number of fixes over the years as well.

At the tender age 22, Stephanie found herself knocked-up with the illegitimate love child of an Archduke/Prince. The family’s money and connections manage to cover up her indiscretion through a hasty marriage to German Prince Friedrich Franz von Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst.

The child was born and raised with Hohenlohe name. Stephanie herself took to royalty like a Cinderella and a glass slipper. Despite her divorce in 1920, Stephanie continued on with her “Princess” shenanigans all throughout Europe and was involved with anyone from a British newspaper tycoon to a Nazi diplomat. It was during this time that Stephanie began her association with one Adolf Hitler, who intimated her with the moniker “My Dear Princess”. She held close relationships with the Nazi elite and managed to secure yet another title, one of “Honorary Aryan“, a pretty important title if you had but a drop of Jewish blood in you during those times.

During the 1930s, Stephanie took up residence in London and circulated through London society. The assumption during this time was that she was spying for Hitler and using her charms for propaganda and the Nazi cause. Not a hard sell as the London elite of the age had plenty of Nazi sympathizers among their ranks. Passing correspondence and arranging meetings between noted Britons and high-ranking Nazis, Stephanie even arranged the infamous meeting between the abdicated King Edward VIII, now Duke of Windsor, and his American wife, Wallis Simpson, with The Fuhrer in 1937. The British government kept a close eye on her though, noting her influence with Hitler and how he actively sought her advice.

With Germany effectively being broke during this time, one wonders how the Princess managed to support herself. Well, she did so by becoming the paid mistress of a British Lord. The relationship eventually fizzled and Stephanie went as far as to sue the Lord in court (she lost) demanding continued payment as was promised to her for life. Considering the payments were regarded as a “retainer”, one doesn’t have to go far to guess what kind of services were rendered.

An affair with Hitler’s top-aid, Fritz Weidemann, saw Stephanie through the rest of the 1930s. When Fritz was name consul-General to the United States and assigned to the San Francisco post, she followed. She traveled back and forth between the US and England but settled in the US after the official outbreak of war. Her spidey-senses a tingling, she became fearful the Brits might arrest her as a spy. However, the US, despite not taking part in the global festivities, kept a close eye on the minx. FDR famously wrote that the activities of one Princess Stephanie made her “worse than 10,000 men”.

Stephanie’s relationship with Fritz ended and after her visas ran-out in 1941, she was detained by US immigration. However, yet another affair, with the head INS no less, prolonged her stay in the country, and even saw her put up in a hotel in DC for a spell.

But as we all know too well, all good things must come to an end. In 1941, the FBI arrested Stephanie. She was placed in a detainment camp in Texas until her parole in 1945. But she made good use of her time there, she helped the OSS develop a psychological profile of Herr Hitler and was influential in a 1943 report “Analysis of the Personality of Adolf Hitler“.

After the war, Stephanie resumed her affairs in post-war Germany, targeting men who were best able to support her lifestyle. She lived to the ripe-old age of 81 and died in Geneva, Switzerland. A good long life, longer and better than most who lived during those times.

A very good book about this dame and her exploits was crafted by Martha Schad and is definitely worth a read.

I cannot believe I am about to blog about Lana Kane, aka sex-bomb super-agent of Archer‘s fictional spy-outfit “Isis”, but here we go…

If you haven’t seen the anachronistic FX animated Series “Archer”, then you’re in for a treat. The show is snappy, dirty, raucous (great word – don’t get to use it very often), and abso-freakin-lutlely hilarious. Of course, I can see where it would offend someone with more “delicate sensibilities”, so if you’re one of those, you best skip it altogether.

Lana Kane, voiced by the highly-nuanced Aisha Tyler, plays a constant second-fiddle to the slightly dumb and misogynistic Sterling Archer, spy extraordinaire!, of Isis, a security agency run by Archer’s fabulously wicked mother.

Lana is mostly a consummate pro when on the clock. She’s regimented, disciplined, and not above shooting Archer in the foot when he’s being an ass, which is pretty often. And the running joke on her monster paws is amusing. However, Lana does introduce a great point of contention in the co-ed workforce and that is the difficulties of “inter-office dating”.

Lana’s dating fiasco with Archer is followed up by her equally disastrous relationship with Cyril, agency comptroller, and further muddied by a fling with an agent from a rival outfit. Lana’s not about to let a bad-man get her down, but it does frustrate the beejeebers out of her when she can’t escape the idiocy that are her former flames.

Tune in for name drops on tradecraft and obscure pop-culture references, but mostly just tune in because it’s so damn funny.

“YUP!”

I’ve been a little loathe to write of Elizabeth “Betty” Thorpe Pack (1910-1963), famous WWII Spy-Dame, for the simple reason that she is too closely associated with a term this Agent truly dislikes: Sexpionage.

Sexpionage, quite simply, is a practice attributed to the dames who use those other “womanly charms” to get the intel or finish the op. This term is regularly and incorrectly attributed to ladies in the know,  just like the name “Mata Hari”.  And while this Agent won’t dispute the reality or even the necessity of utilizing such extreme methods to get a job done, this Agent does take issue with such methods garnering Ms. Pack the moniker of “Greatest Female Spy” because of them.

Okay, so here we go: Betty-Boop was born in Minneapolis, the daughter of a career Military man. Betty was a broad who, at a very early age, like to play the field. She was well educated and a striking beauty with her red hair and green eyes. She became the Paris Hilton of her day prowling the socialite circuit until she found herself knocked-up at 21 and set to marry a dull, British, embassy man twice her age.

Life wasn’t all bad as her husband’s career took her abroad to Chile, Spain, Poland, where she apparently continued to play the field. Around such time, Betty was put on the British payroll as a spy and set up to capture her first target: a Polish Prime Minister with access to the code-breaking work on the Enigma machine.

When war broke out, Betty found herself back on home turf where she was further recruited by the British (remember, the US was still neutral at this point) to set up shop in Washington DC. Her task was to obtain Italian naval codes from a certain sailor at the Italian Embassy. Betty employed her “usual methods” and voila! the Italian battle fleet is hitting skids.

Next up: Vichy France and their cipher codes. Betty set her sights on Charles Brousse, French Embassy Press Officer in order to gain access to the French Embassy in DC. She began a passionate affair with Brousse (a married person not unlike Betty, it’s easy to forget about that fact). Brousse was “turned” by the enticement of money, his dislike of Germans, and apparently Betty’s charms. The intel flowed into British hands but the cipher books were proving difficult to obtain and despite Betty’s “best efforts” with other men in the embassy, she unable to get them into the hands of the Brits.

A last ditch effort to obtain the books involved Brousse and Betty working in tandom over several nights at the French Embassy with a safe cracker. Guards were paid, others drugged, and the pinnacle event was while the safe cracker was doing his deed, Betty and Brousse engaged in the deed themselves, in flagrante delicato no less, in order to thwart discovery of their true activities when a security guard happened into the room they were in at the embassy.

So, of course, after all that hooplah, the codes were obtained. Pearl Harbor went down, America ended its neutrality, and we can all pretty much remember what happened after that.

After the war, Brousse divorced his wife and Betty’s long forgotten husband committed suicide leaving Betty and Brousse free to marry, which they did. Betty pack died in 1963 of throat cancer at the age of 53.

So what do we take away from all of this? Perhaps an argument about what makes a successful spy versus what makes a great spy? Betty was certainly successful and the intel was important, but do you compare that to the exploits of Hall, Szabo, Cornioley, and the host of other dames being dropped out of airplanes, wrangling ammo, sending secret communiques, waging war, and generally risking their lives? Does a broad using sex as her tradecraft really equate a “great” spy?

I’m not trying to undermine Betty’s accomplishments because to a certain extent we are comparing apples and radiators, but tallying up this skirt’s love of adventure and promiscuity, both of which seemed to have fueled her actions, makes this Agent glad for one thing:

That Betty Pack was on our side.

Oh, you knew it was only a matter of time before we visited this broad. Jodie Foster’s Oscar-winning performance as FBI trainee, Clarice Starling, in the movie “Silence of the Lambs”, still has certain friends of this Agent quoting “It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.”

Quick recap: Starling is an FBI trainee. Starling wishes to work in the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI. She is called in to engage the infamous Hannibal Lecter in order to gain insight into the twisted musings of a serial killer the FBI is hunting. As Starling isn’t even a full-blown Special Agent, this complicates matters to some degree, but hey, she does receive the best on the job training a girl can get in profiling under the circumstances.

So let’s talk about what this movie brings to the table aside from an uber-creepy supervillan in the form of Anthony Hopkins: politics. It’s coming at Clarice from all sides, whether it is from the local sheriff not wanting the feds to invade their turf, or the Senator (whose daughter is taken hostage) wanting to side-step the feds and save her daughter her way, or the FBI’s own internal politics (which is much more explicit in the novel), or the social politics of dealing with institution director, Dr. Chilton, who craves respect and attention and uses his prize pet, Hannibal Lecter, as a way of fulfilling those desires.

That’s a lot of land mines to dodge while still trying to do your job and it requires a degree of Emotional Intelligence. In just a moment, Clarice needs to be able to read a room, a group, a person, and a situation in order to best know how react, get what she needs, and move the investigation forward. That’s a tall order and something that is not easily taught.

The other order of business in this movie is the sensationalizing of profiling. This idea that the way one commits a crime and the clues they leave behind says something about how the perpetrator thinks and thus assists law enforcement in apprehending them. Profiling has taken a bit of a hit since the Beltway/D.C. Sniper case back in 2003, but missteps in one case is not enough to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

By the end of the film, Clarice has most definitely been fed through the ringer, but the combination of being open to different ideas and the tough-as-nails determination of a long-term survivor, and this skirt most certainly gets her man.

Although, consequently, all that previously mentioned political infighting allows for the other man to get away. Ah, politics, gotta love it. You know Hannibal Lecter does.