Power Rangers, Reddit, and the fixation men have on the women they watched while growing up.
Despite the fact that approximately 15 women have borne the title of Pink Ranger in the Power Rangers megafranchise—which spans 24 loosely connected TV series across about as many years—only two seem to matter in a Google search: Kimberly Hart, and the woman who played her onscreen, Amy Jo Johnson.
Google "pink ranger" and you'll get countless hits—some, of course, tied to the Power Rangers film opening this weekend—but almost all about Johnson, or the character she played. Go to a darker corner of the Internet—say, Reddit—and you'll find far more obsessive fare. A painting posted by a Redditor who claims he commissioned it, featuring the Pink Ranger, fully costumed, on a stripper pole while being watched by Power Rangers villain Lord Zedd and the Redditor's likeness. A subreddit named after Johnson, which is, for reasons of a probably prurient nature, both labeled "NSFW" and set to private, meaning you can only view it with approval from the forums moderator. And did you know Johnson is in a 2001 film called Pursuit of Happiness? Reddit does, because she appears in a sex scene in it for about five seconds.
For a generation of millennial boys, Kimberly Hart and the late Thuy Trang's Trini Kwan were among the first women they encountered in a TV series aimed at them. Interestingly, the original Yellow Ranger does not share the level of obsession that her Pink counterpart incites; Google results these days are just as likely to mention the new movie's Yellow Ranger, Becky G, as they are Trang. Search Reddit and you'll mostly get bits of trivia about Ranger history: that the Yellow Ranger had pants (as opposed to the Pink Ranger's more skirt-like design) because, in the Japanese TV show that Power Rangers lifted the majority of its costumed fights from, the Yellow Ranger was a man; or that Trang died tragically young at the age of 27 in a 2001 car accident. For reasons difficult to put a finger on—perhaps the less stereotypically feminine presentation of the Yellow Ranger, perhaps the dark note of Trang's untimely death, or maybe even thanks to plain old racial discrimination—Kimberly became a fetish object while Trini did not.
The fetishization of Kimberly Hart isn't necessarily written into the Power Rangers property itself, but her "cuteness" and femininity are emphasized even though Trini's often are not. Consider Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, which dresses her mostly in halter tops and contains this exchange between two of the film's villains. (Note that by this point, the character of Trini Kwan had been written out of Power Ranger canon, replaced with Karan Ashley as Aisha Campbell.)
Ivan Ooze: Ooooo, here comes that cute little Pink Ranger to the rescue."
Goldar: "You think she's cute too, huhhhh?"
It's not a shockingly offensive display, by any means, but it's noticeable in a movie that's mostly there to smash action figures together for kids—almost as if Kimberly isn't there to be a point of identification for girls in the audience, but for boys to find cute. It's reminiscent of the sort of thinking that put Carrie Fisher in a gold bikini and turned her into a geek fixation for nearly thirty years. ("Put a girl in a thing aimed at boys," my partner remarked to me while I was researching this article, "and they will fixate on her for the rest of their lives.")
Most actors who were Power Rangers don't really go on to have particularly noteworthy careers. Some stayed in acting, performing in direct-to-video productions you'd have trouble finding even if video stores were still a thing. Those who were actual martial artists might have gone on to continue their martial arts careers. And a few, like Jason David Frank—also known as Tommy Oliver—have become staples of Power Ranger subculture, with roles that recur in multiple series, regular convention appearances, and a general, good-natured acceptance at having found their niche, their people. You can find those folks on Reddit, too—10,911 subscribers strong at the time of this writing. But on Reddit, the careers of female Power Rangers are documented in a vastly different way. If a woman who played a Ranger—or even someone who looks like one, it doesn't particularly matter—has ever done a nude scene or photo shoot or modeling work, it will likely be found and posted. There's even a subreddit that compiles them all for you.
It's the same sort of thinking that put Carrie Fisher in a gold bikini and turned her into a geek fixation for nearly thirty years.
Over the past few years, of course, this has become a terribly plain truth about being a famous woman in America, as hackers steal private photographs to post on anonymous message boards with regularity and websites cataloguing every remotely risqué moment caught on camera have become the norm. If a woman's image is available for public consumption, then so must her naked body be too. But if the fascination with the Pink Ranger demonstrates anything at all, it's how the perception of women as mere objects to lust after starts early. It leverages the thin, two-dimensional portrayals of women featured in media aimed at boys, is cultivated through adolescence on the dark, private message boards and forums on the internet, and allowed to fester by through adulthood by men who refuse to say anything about it.
Today, Amy Jo Johnson still acts, but she's also a singer-songwriter, a screenwriter, and a filmmaker, who moved on from Power Rangers long ago. Three years after leaving the show in 1995, she became a regular cast member on Felicity, and would continue to regularly secure roles on TV and in small movies. She's mostly stayed away from Power Rangers fandom, and doesn't appear at most conventions or reunions. In a 2012 interview with the Power Rangers fan podcast No Pink Spandex, she mostly attributed this to a reluctance to revisit an incredibly stressful time in her life, but also mentioned some discomfort with the intensity of some fans. She'd been stalked, at times.
Johnson hasn't put on a Power Rangers costume in over twenty years—that is, until last March. Recently, she successfully crowdfunded her first feature film, The Space Between. As part of the crowdfunding campaign, she agreed to a challenge—from former Blue Ranger David Yost, no less—to put on the Pink Ranger tights once more, and busk in Toronto. So, for the sake of her first film, she did. She later uploaded a video on YouTube, where all of the Internet could watch her standing in the cold, in Kimberly Hart's uniform, singing Amy Johnson's songs.
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