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Exit, Ambassador Wonder Woman

Has the world lost its ability to choose heroes from the domain of the real?

In the second week of December 2016, the United Nations dropped the comic book superhero Wonder Woman as Ambassador for empowering girls and women, after a brief stint that had drawn widespread criticism.

The UN had made the appointment in October, concomitant with the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the creation of the warrior princess of Themyscira, a feminist icon worldwide.

This was not the first time the UN had appointed comic characters as ambassadors for its programmes. In March 2016, it asked youngsters to react to climate change by making the ‘angry birds’ happy on the International Day of Happiness. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon took pride in giving the Red (the angry birds’ leader) a reason to go green! In October 2009, to spread the message of environmental awareness, the UN named the Walt Disney fairy Tinker Bell, an Ambassador “to go green”. In 1998, in order to promote the cause of friendship, Winnie the Pooh was named Ambassador for Friendship.

The fiction grippe

Personification of the inanimate may seem smart brainwork to strike a chord with large sections of the population, but the tendency is a reflection of changes in the template of idealism. The idea of a ‘role model’ has moved from one’s own parents or historical figures to the super-humans that exist just on paper and reels. We are indoctrinated to believe in the absurd originality of the lives led by comic characters — be it regarding their flight speed, their strength, unassailability, achievements, ability to save lives or end evil, and the recurring theme of apocalypse that might have befallen the earth had it not been for their presence. The deluge of superhero movies is a potent cue to the frenzy of fancied heroism that has spread from kids, teens and adolescents even to institutional pillars such as the UN.

Think of the free marketing and promotion that the next film in the Wonder Woman series got! Whether it is the marketing strategy of the ingenious comic producers or the belief in ‘the influential progress’, as the UN termed it, we are carried away to a world of illusion and virtuality.

The Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston out of a compulsion to make a feminist super-person during the Second World War, and it has indeed proven to be a competent counter to the male super-heroes. The Amazon Princess who she is, clad in an alluring, skimpy outfit, armed with sword and shield and trained in multiple martial arts, often joins her male counterparts in the fight to save the world. Although the outfit of a woman is no barrier in her empowerment or success, one’s personality is silver-lined by ‘zer’ (his/her) attire. The numbers put the women in the Third World countries and Islamic nations more vulnerable to the household violence and boorish punishments. In an era where gender equality is predicted to be achieved after a span of 170 years, where women’s rights have become a laughing stock and where people argue that attacks on women is multiplied by the exposure of her curves, was it morally advisable and tactically prudent to take up a comic character who has sexuality blown out in her appearance as Ambassador for the women and the girls? The anointment rekindled the debate whether the heroine is a role model for women or an object of yearning created to satisfy the male leer. The ‘image’ of Wonder Woman is definitely not what we want to sculpt onto our women.

Choosing Wonder Woman as Ambassador was indeed a tight slap to the successful women of the world. At a time when the Security Council shied away from electing for the first time a woman as Secretary-General, the act of appointing Wonder Woman was nothing short of the ostrich burying its head. It would have been ideal if a ‘real’ inspirational ‘human’ female like Malala Yousafzai, Aung San Suu Kyi or Oprah Winfrey was portrayed to empower girls. Gender equality doesn’t mean women should give up her identity as the tender, understanding, peace-loving and patient being. It means growing and progressing. To gather the cognitive spirit of strength. Women should know the pain and hard work behind their sovereignty. The fire to strive should be kindled. They should understand the virtue of being real. The picture of life should be clear, not obscured by fancies of the unreal.

The “Red” is supposed to go on a virtual tour to preach about the impending climate change and the need of sustainable development. The angry bird game provides good entertainment to people, but leisure and obligation are diametric. How is ‘Red’ even eco-friendly when it comes from cyberspace?

The point is that the UN thinks people will lend their ears more to the tours and talks of an animated ambassador than to a mortal one! It swallows the illusion that an inanimate character could throw light on how to make the world a better place. When Winnie the Pooh, an anthropomorphic bear, is ‘formally’ recognised as the epitome of friendship, have we halted ourselves to contemplate that the happiness of companionship has shrivelled to the extent of being satisfied by the picture of a cartoon character? When Tinker Bell is ‘formally’ attributed as the sentinel to the protection of the environment, we forget ‘the’ Rachel Carson or ‘the’ Gro Harlem Brundtland or ‘the’ Al Gore, who shaped the environmental history of this planet and reminded us that there is no ‘Planet B’ if we lose this one.

The influential progress

The purblind world of quasi-reality is imposed on our thought autonomy. The chores of reality are unattractive. The varied emotions, transient joys, grief, sickness, recoiling dilemma, drive the world to abide in an utopia of the unreal. The mind is gratified by the illusory. In the virtual world events can be modelled. Belief and comprehension can be limited to the valley of elation.

In all the ages till now, the world has found the heroes it needs. Has the world lost its ability to choose heroes from the domain of the real? Apart from the delusional existence and the transitory hype, can the superheroes ever solve the problems of gender exploitation, climate change or lost friendships? It’s time to realise that ‘real’ actions echo louder than trending Twitter hashtags.

Being slaves of mortality, intellect is essentially an interregnum between birth and death. It would be fatuous to believe that ‘The Iron Man’ would fly down the Line of Control, torpedo the base camps of terrorists and toss Masood Azhar on to the Indian side and deliver the punch line, “He is all yours” before taking off. It’s time to acknowledge the terrestrial realism of life. Let’s be ready to visualise our teetotum stop the whirl and cure the fiction grippe.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 2:33:54 AM |

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