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