So 2007 finally rolled around. So here's wishing all of you a fantastic 2007, and hoping that it brings you all the very best this weird and wonderful world has to offer!
And while we're on the topic of weird, I found this story on the Wall Street Journal this afternoon while at work. Normally, I'm not one to read Media & Marketing stories, principally because my work interests lie elsewhere - I'd much rather keep up to date with global politics, or try to keep abreast of the latest events in the world of financial services, corporate finance & capital markets. The title, though, ""Holy Heroes of Indian Lore, Batman!" caught my eye for its decided departure from conventional financial journalism headlines.
So there you have it, folks - after centuries of hearing Indian mythological stories from our grandmothers, reading about the exploits of legendary heroes in Amar Chitra Kathas, and more recently learning about the Ramayana & Mahabharata from television, we will now see our stories told by Virgin Comics LLC. Add to this is a Nicholas Cage starring movie, titled "The Sadhu". Indian mythology, apparently, has gone global, and the craze for all things Indian seems now to extend to our cultural narratives as well.
To be honest, I'm not completely happy with this particular development. I appreciate that Indian mythologies are continuing to reinforce their cultural positioning after centuries of European colonial rule and Occidental imperialsim. More importantly, cultural narratives are only as good as their relevance and involvement in the communities they are a part of, and Indian mythology has a long standing tradition of being shaped, transformed and evolved over the centuries as the stories were transmitted between generations through the oral tradition, before being formally committed to paper. Call me modernist, but this idea of a living story and an evolutionary meta-narrative that can alter and mutate through time adds greater depth and synchronicity with the community it is a part of.
It is an incredibly inclusive concept if you think about it - a mythological legend that is as easily altered and transformed by the narration of a very ordinary person as it is by a powerful intellectual; what it engenders is a fantastic, participatory cultural narrative that can evolve, adjust and ultimately remain relevant for the times it is told in.
That, unfortunately, is where the good news ends. I am especially troubled by what appears to be a blatant appropriation of an Indian & Hindu cultural narrative by a Western world, to be shaped, altered and transformed by people who will not have the cultural moorings to really grasp the intricacies of the stories, the profound reverence with which they are viewed in India, and the importance of keeping something that is linked to religion from descending into profanity. Linking into this appropriation of a Hindu & Indian narrative is the forced imposition of a clearly non-Indian aesthetic into the animation. The initial imagery that Virgin has released from their comics shows a startling similarity to Japanese anime - the landscapes are dark, menacing and unclear, while the characters seem similarly morphed and completely "un-Indian". The character Tara is not even vaguely Indian looking, while Devi herself seems like a Beverley Hills starlet - a silicone-enhanced white woman, with giant breasts, lacking totally the curved waist, hips & thighs that are normally seen in Asian representations.
More disturbingly, and especially with reference to the planned Hollywood release, "The Sadhu", the fact that a Caucasian actor, Nicholas Cage, was chosen to play the modern incarnation of a Hindu holy man just seems to go that much further and reinfore the fact that in media that emanates from the West, the good guy is still the white American, even when his superhero status lies in a previous, Asian birth. So while the idea seems good enough, and would have fit ideally into the idea of a self-regenerating and re-inventing cultural narrative, this particular development is nothing more than yet another example of a Western, white international media structure that seeks to identify, but then appropriate and distort, cultural metaphors from around the world, and to fit it into a "white" paradigm.
Where is the Sangh Parivar when you need them?! Oh right - they're building temples to protect us from ourselves...
All images from: Virgin Comics LLC