Do Super-bladders burst? Musings on the Super-ness of Being

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Engaging in a profound philosophical question in one of his celebrated works, the Czech novelist Milan Kundera offers us a provocative debate on the nature of the world. The ontological world, he argues, is precariously balanced between the inconceivably irreconcilable poles of kitsch and the non-kitsch, turning out to be a notorious defender of the latter.
Yet, even as he goads you sensibly towards the logical taking-of-side, one cannot help wondering at the amoeboid quality of the former. It transforms in engulfing, while the realm of the ‘non-‘ remains distant in its lack of involvement, exuding a standoffish air, and turning its nose up at what it incidentally derives its name for. You see, while kitsch is a definite denomination, the ‘non-‘  is a curiously amorphous entity, standing apart in its monstrosity, in its taboo self, inviting engagement at the cost of exclusive and the sexy murkiness of isolation.
So when a senior and I got about to babbling on a session in which he had regaled a rather high-brow intellectual professor-turned-mentor, he casually mentioned, ‘do Superheroes pee?’ ‘No’, I retorted. I knew that on the other side of the screen, my reflector-headed friend was congratulating himself on having shut me up.
And the more I pondered, the more I grasped the importance of, what seemed to me, the fundamental point of The Unbearable Lightness of Being ­– human excretion.
It is well-known that every living being needs to get rid of its bodily waste, one way or the other. As Kundera delightfully demonstrated in his novel however, faeces are an unwelcome topic (unless you reach a certain age in a certain society where constipation and ishobgul figure centrally in the breakfast- table, or across-the-seat conspiratory and audible whispers). But do our providentially chosen, ideal-fixated, somehow posited-in-ambiguity superheroes engage in such acts? Worse still, would they, if things go wrong, submit to the ministrations of the catheter and other similarly tantalizing and deeply humiliating magical medical paraphernalia?
Head reeling under the weight of such mighty thoughts, I sift through the photo gallery of superheroes, each clothed in his/her own customised spandex suit. It is the trimness of the cut, or the bulge of the muscles that I notice. And then I try to peer closely. Is there a near invisible zipper somewhere? Or an adjustable Velcro strap? I cannot ward off such thoughts despite the nagging suggestion of their sheer perversity.
I mean, I have watched Superman flying in the sky (supported by air-cables, but such cynicism can rest), seen Catwoman sweating after a difficult pursuit, and Batman injured and bleeding. Spiderman has offered me no skin peek into his totalitarian mask. Resting my imagination, I triumphantly adjudge Iron Man as the lucky fellow. His huge robotic suit affords easy exit. Only he can run to a lavatory, if needed. The rest, I judiciously believe, would be unhappily stranded, I believe, if their kidneys or intestines worked normally when they donned their supra-human avatars.
But then, I realise, that not many films show even common people, like you and me, discussing their bowel movements, or at least dashing to a washroom at intervals.
That poses another uncomfortable question. What does realism then entail? Clearly, I am not talking of affording a close-up shot into the interiors of decorated bathrooms. But I do not know if I am thinking of understanding realism in the novelistic and film genres as an image of Leopold Bloom wiping himself with the very newspaper he was reading. Or would I accede to the image of Monica sponging every drop of water off the bathroom floor after her friends had used it?
Understanding what realism really means to us in our post postmodern lives would require research. And though I wouldn’t discuss the regularity of my own bowel movement with anyone (if not a doctor), I do think it would be exhilarating to discover the secret super-efficient diaper brotherhood at work in the super-hero(ine) world. As I remind myself, Kundera might have made Stalin’s son militate in favour of shit and die, but even he wonders if a shitting God can remain God.
After all, Peter Parker may have digestion issues, but would I want a sick Spiderman to rescue anyone from any rubble at all?
Perhaps I am only wishing away the stench and unease of defecation in our extended infallible allegorical selves. Dysentery, diarrhoea, nausea and flies are for us. Let the hero(ines)remain above them.  I will content myself with knowing that bashing evil by the head comes with its own biological bonuses. Amen!
– Pritha Mukherjee

Are Thoughts Bad? Is Intelligence Evil?

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“Dada haath thakte mukh kyano?” is a popular Bengali saying that roughly translates as why waste your words when you can simply beat the other person up. This quasi-rhetorical line of encouragement seems to snugly fit into the designs of the modern global American culture of anti-intellectualism, of not thinking, just doing.

Mythology, science fiction, superhero films, or any kind of didactic narrative in general has always basked in the comfort of a populist skepticism against ambition and intellect. If ever it prescribes intelligence, it does so in too humble, less-than-moderate portions. The perfect example would be Bruegel’s Fall of Icarus. Superhero films, like science fiction, also exemplifies the same anxiety that intellect and ambition disturbs social equilibrium, and therefore must ultimately be evil. The ideological machinery finds it easier to break, demolish, and flatten out, rather than to engage in any discourse with, any radical subversive voice.

Take the two Norse half brothers for example – Thor and Loki. Raised in the same household, they are diametrically opposite. In the Beginning of Thor (2011), Thor is vain, burly, strong, brutish, indulging in revelry, but also virtuous, obedient, and familial; and learns the value of humility and duty by the end of the film. Loki, on the other hand, is intelligent to the point of being sly. He is also a little restless, arrogant, jilted, ambitious, and has the gumption to realize his ambitions; hence dangerous, and ultimately evil. By the end of the film, he is cast into the abyss by Thor and by the end of The Avengers (2012), he has ended up in a pile of rubble in Tony Stark’s skyscraper. He has been committed to this ‘rightful place’ by none other than the Incredible Hulk, the suprememost example of mindless brute force.

By almost a rule of thumb, all villains worth their salt are extremely intelligent (read deviously cunning), verbose, ambitious, brave in not-a-foolhardy way, and in the end fallible to self-pride and vanity. In the final confrontation between Hulk and Loki, Loki is exasperated by the lowliness of a ‘dull creature’ like Hulk and chooses to silence and neutralize him with a speech about his superiority. But the regal aristocratic Loki thoroughly underestimates the zealous unthinkingness of a smashing-class-superhero like Hulk, and is repeatedly pummeled into the ground the next second. The scene robs the beauty in evil and makes brute force and dumb goodness pose in the borrowed robes of that beauty.

Superheroes are the perfect emissaries of the superfast advertisement-span American culture, devoid of the virtues of slowness. Advertisements tell us never to stop, never settle, to move on, to imagine life as a constantly mobile, sped up, jittery existence, as if anything else is tantamount to death. The message of superhero films are also dangerously close, and sometimes the same. Superheroes tell us to stop thinking, and just do it (Nike runs by the same motto). Thinking is for villains, the likes of Joker and Loki. Even when they do think, like Tony Stark does in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), it is bound to end up horribly screwed and threaten the existence of the ‘world as we know it’.

I am in no way endorsing the humanity-annihilating or enslaving schemes of Loki or the chaos-fetishism of the Joker; I don’t think that they would be even hypothetically fun. What I am trying to get at is an argument for the importance of thought, and intelligence. At the risk of essentialising, I think what superhero films do is undermine the importance of thought, of intelligence, of dialogue, of discourse and put all weight on blunt action, unilateral goodwill, and forceful enforcement of the state ideological machinery and status quo that would produce more and more zombie-like citizens to fuel the state apparatus. We should be more supportive of intellect. We should have more faith on words, on thought, on conversation. Perhaps we should not just keep moving, but take it slow, think more, do less.

– Souraj Dutta