Eternal meanderings of mind on Politics-Culture-Religion-History-Civilisation-Economy-Science-Language…Questions par un esprit libre sur sa raison d'être, ses souvenirs et pensées sans fin…বাঙালির জানালায় পৃথিবী – সাহিত্য দর্শন রাজনীতি ধর্মে বাঙালির চোখে বিশ্ব আর বিশ্বের চোখে বাঙালি। একই জীবনদর্শনের ভিন্ন রূপ না দুই সমান্তরাল মহাবিশ্ব?
Congratulations to the people of ‘Great’ Britain for voting the ruling elite into power yet again. You certainly do know your place. Now they have a mandate to treat people with disdain and contempt, for the next five years. I always thought people in the US were dumb, but there is a new kid on the block vying for the title. How can a party offering no credible policies, with a history of inflicting misery on millions, with a leader who hides in a fridge when things get mildly difficult remain in power. I could glibly say you get what you deserve, but that would be grossly unfair to the millions who can see through this charade of thinly veiled fascism.
It would appear that many people from where I grew up in the north have had a lobotomy, believing all that the billionaire controlled media had to say pre-election…
It has been a month since the disastrous election results came out on Friday the 13th December, a true day of horror that will haunt the UK for at least another five years. The loss hurt more this time because, after the encouraging results of 2017 GE, one would have expected Labour to go further. This was followed by a revolutionary manifesto. They had the youth voters, or the “youthquake” how they invented the term in the polling day. On Thursday as the news poured in on the social media that people queued up since morning to vote, the hopes soared. People were voting for a change then! They were indeed, but for a change that was unthinkable. First time in many years, at times in a century, the Labour seats were wiped out even at their safest heartlands. The euphoria that built up during the day, quickly evaporated at the pace of a burst balloon, when the exit poll showed the Tory landslide. There was no doubt that the predictions are not going to be far off, but there was a slither of hope that the marginal seats may swing to Labour. They didn’t.
It’s hard to explain how the next few days went. On the personal front, the Christmas was coming, my daughters were excited about the prospect, we were going away for a few days, and we were looking forward to spending a longer Christmas break this year. In the middle of all this excitement, the results left a big hollow inside me. I could not stop thinking about the results, could not think about the betrayal of the voters who would be the worst hit by the Tory austerity policies, I could not feel more angry about the media that brainwashed the gullible voters of an imaginary enemy, and I felt angry about Labour for not doing enough to convince people of the dangers of a Tory government. I looked up at various Labour member forums and the feeling was about the same across the board. Some started to smell a rat how postal vote counts were all messed up, how Laura Kuenssberg almost gave away that postal votes showed a Tory lead…but it was clear that no judicial steps would be taken. When it failed to nail the criminals spewing misinformation during Brexit campaign, these petty postal votes would not have mattered much to guarantee a thorough investigation. This post is mainly about the thoughts that were going through in my mind as the aftermath of Labour’s worst defeat in recent years.
First, I thought why on earth Labour agreed for the election before Christmas. I think I knew the answer straight away. The opposition in the parliament already had a strong position in the cabinet regarding Brexit debate. Labour probably thought if they can increase their seats, it will make it even difficult for Boris Johnson to get a deal with the EU. So I can anticipate that many inside Labour wanted Jeremy Corbyn to give in to the calls for a general election, possibly from the activist factions. It didn’t help the situation by the Libdem aka the Remain party, who expected all remainers will be voting for them. On the other side, the xenophobic and racists had already colluded so their votes don’t split. But on the progressive front, the disagreements continued that cost many seats in the end. It is commonplace on the left spectrum of politics, in the UK, in France, in the US — the left doesn’t come to a common ground and compromise on their principles. This was apparent in the Labour manifesto. Despite knowing how it will be accepted in the right-wing media that feeds the brain-fodder to the British electorate, Labour did not compromise on its offering. Nor did they run a campaign of fear and lies, as did the Tory campaign, led by the brash idiot. So, that would be something to take away from this campaign — a clean campaign and a brilliant and groundbreaking manifesto, only to be overshadowed by Brexit.
But thinking about the future was even more painful. I wondered if Labour would win any future election or will turn into the role of the main opposition, with a diminishing representation in the cabinet, with lesser influence on the divisive government policies. Part of me just wanted to give up on politics. Especially because during this election period I was involved a lot in the social media campaigns, debates, researches and carefully going through the manifesto of the two major parties to understand the fundamental differences between then. All my efforts were felt to be wasted on a lost cause. Also, the glimmer of hope for a Labour resurgence disappeared with the election results, knowing Jeremy Corbyn will have to go now, which would mean shifting into reverse gear in the socialist agenda for the party. The results were also an eye-opener to understand how deeply divided the country is. Probably it always was, but Brexit brought the division to the surface. And this made me feel resigned knowing the situation is only going to get worse with another five years of Tory government and they’ll use all means to spread their propaganda of fear. I just thought of stop thinking about politics, concentrate on family and life. But I knew the answer already why I won’t do that. I would become one of the millions of indifferent people who think their view doesn’t count. And then regret for years to come that I did nothing.
So that thought was soon changed into anger and a feeling of betrayal. Betrayal of the working class population against a manifesto that put their interest at the heart of it. And more you heard about them, more frustrated you got. Someone voting Tory because they like how Boris Johnson looks! He looks like a pig who has just been jet-washed! Then you have people in the north of England who are saying they wanted Brexit done, so they voted Tory only this time and will go back to Labour. Couldn’t help thinking it was not going to the cinema and deciding on sweet or salty popcorn. As most of the public services are at the breaking point, and poverty and inequality constantly on the rise, that idea seemed laughable and dangerous in equal proportions. I could not believe how gullible someone can be to make such a decision. And I thought for a moment — let them suffer. If they can’t spot the wolf in sheep’s skin, let them suffer and they’ll realise the hard way why on earth they voted in a Tory MP. But that stage of anger only lasted momentarily as I start to question if it was the gullibility of the people or was it desperation that drove them to make such a momentous decision? Perhaps they hoped for a Brexit will end all their misfortune. The vote was driven by desperation to get out of the mess we are in, except for the fact that they chose to rely on a hopeless and heartless party.
Finally, at the third stage, the pragmatism kicked in. Giving up taking part in politics or having an interest in politics was not an option. It’s one of the core principles that define me and I could not simply let go of the hopes I garnered since a long time ago. Turning my back to people who will suffer the most was also not an option. Fortunately or unfortunately my life is at a stage where until something else drastically change our situation, the election results will have little impact on our life. That’s not true for the millions, especially in the deprived north. This will also prolong a Labour recovery because the Tories will attempt to retain those seats irrespective of the Brexit outcomes. So money will be invested in the region from their magical money tree, and people will vote them again by seeing the initiative, which might mean another Tory rule in 2024! What they won’t realise is that the Conservatives’ main agenda is to deprive communities of investments, so they main appear to be investing but will surely take the money back from peoples’ pockets. So what I thought I will be doing, despite sounding cheesy and somewhat plucked from a B-rated film, is not to let the fire that’s burning within be extinguished. A loss is soul destroying but it only makes you resolute. I felt that it was high time to regroup for 2024. And work towards a Labour Party with a united front, a lot more concerned at the perils of people but also more visible, and vocal to debunk the lies and bias in the media.
So come 2020 and it’s business as usual for me now. 2019 is gone, and the era of Corbyn is over. It’s time to move on and choose a Labour leader who would live up to the legacy of Jeremy Corbyn, as well as win back the confidence of the perennial Labour voters who shunned them this time. It’s also time to give up on Brexit and consider that it will happen and ensure that the living conditions of the EU nationals in the UK and the UK citizens in the EU are not in any way compromised in the process. And finally, I would want to see the start of transformation from the grassroots level. It’s about participation in the local communities and interests where the fightback will need to begin, not in the social media or closed-door meetings. With the arrival of 2020, I was finally able to put the horror of the election behind, and feel hopeful that 2024 will be a different story. It will, but if we only start acting on it now.
Comics played a large role during my childhood. In the late eighties, I used to look forward to the newest issues of Indrajal Comics. They published stories featuring many superheroes, but the two main characters featured were my childhood heroes Phantom and Mandrake. When Indrajal Comics was in circulation, I used to read them often, but I wasn’t fanatical about them. Then after they went out of publication in 1989, I went through phases of disinterest, to inquisitiveness, to obsessively searching for the books. It was a quest, almost like a pilgrimage to amass all Indrajal Comics strips ever published. Once I’ve nearly finished that, I learned that Hermes Press is going to reprint all Golden era comics of Phantom. A few years later, Titan Comics decided to bring out the other character created by the prolific Lee Falk — Mandrake the magician. The stories I grew up reading were reprints of many later issues, but it was through those stories that I formed an idea about the central characters. Going back where their journeys first started, these reprints of early years’ issues had taught me new things that would not have been very apparent thirty years back.
Reading 1930’s Mandrake is almost a throwback to the society and its expectations of that epoch. That’s why, in the very first Mandrake adventure, we are introduced to Lothar as Mandrake’s “Giant black servant”. He is black, wears a leopard skin or skin printed fabric, calls Mandrake “Master” and speaks broken incoherent English. It was written in the description that Mandrake’s “black slave” Lothar does this or that. Thirty years back, the Lothar I was introduced to, was Mandrake’s friend, like equals, spoke many languages, was a black belt. And he is more brown and less black. He called Mandrake “Mandrake”, not “Master”. The image of Lothar was perhaps how he was perceived in post-depression America — the black slave of the magnificent Mandrake. The Lothar I grew up with is the 1960’s version, on the other hand, is around the Civil Rights Movement and had undergone a major change of character. It just echoed an image of how society started to perceive non-whites as equals. Likewise, when we think about the character of Hojo, the Japanese chef who speaks many languages and heads the Inter-intel, you cannot imagine him being featured in the 1930s. In the 60s comics, the societal lenience on race and colour were reflected in the contemporary comics like Mandrake and Phantom.
A similar shift is noticed in how women were presented in these stories as well. The 1930s versions used terms to describe women we now can’t even think about. The comics were positively sexist, but only branding the artist who created them as sexist would be almost anachronistic. Lee Falk was a common man with extraordinary skills in creating comics. His ideas about women reflected the perception of women in society. They were shown to be fragile, dominated by male characters. Emmeline Pankhurst and Amelia Earhart hadn’t made a substantial change in people’s perspective towards women. On the other hand, the 1960s editions show much more parity in the depiction of women in the comics. They are far more independent, strong and outspoken. In fact, many of the comics around the 1960s started showing women as villains because perhaps there was still no willingness to show a female character as good as the male protagonist, but by showing them on the wrong side, it was inevitable that they will be defeated at the end. Nevertheless, the depiction of female characters in Phantom and Mandrake comics has gone through a major overhaul and the comics published characters whose only role in the story wasn’t about being the weakling in the adventure and throw herself on the central character every now and often. In some cases, the efforts of featuring women, especially the partners of the central protagonist were so intense that at times their qualities appeared as exaggerated as the superpowers of the male characters. They had to be super rich, speak several languages, hold a role of UN ambassador, know martial arts, related to nobility — in short, it cannot be a common woman to be associated with an extraordinary superhero. Indirectly the new generation authors sustained the patriarchy. However, that is a different argument. At least, women were no longer seen as merely a pretty face.
So, when we turn the pages of the first phantom book from Hermes press, where Diana Palmer asks who he was after he saved her and how could she thank him, Phantom just kissed her and said “Like this” and dives back in the sea. The next time they see each other, Phantom is aware that Diana is going out with someone, yet he kisses her while saying goodbye. The word consent probably didn’t exist then in that context. Men could choose their woman and taunt, tease, grab or kiss them, or worse. I guess much hasn’t changed now, but at least we pretend to be more civil now and push issues like this under the carpet. Comics is not an exception. The patriarchy that was blatant in those early years, they became subtler, but never eliminated. That’s why, the first son always becomes the next Phantom, not the first child. I think Frew or the Danish version of Phantom has only just thought about making Heloise the 22nd Phantom rather than Kit.
The storyline during the 60’s comics was also made more informative and less fantastic. The 1930’s Mandrake wasn’t just a magician with phenomenal hypnotising powers, but he used to do magic as well. In one of the first episodes, Mandrake transforms one of his aides into a leopard. On another, he lifted a man froom falling into a fire-pit. He could make things happen rather than just pretending to, like the later stories, more like a Harry Potter than David Blaine. In my view, with changing times, the readers became savvier about science and reality. Whilst Superman continued flying around and melting every obstacle with his X-ray vision, Mandrake became more humane. He became a hypnotist and helped the authorities to fight crime. Likewise, in the later issues, Phantom did not control the thousands of miles between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. He becomes the chief of jungle patrol, the security force that keeps peace in the jungle. It’s no longer down to Phantom to tackle all the miscreants. Although the introduction of Stegy the stegosaurus and Hzz & Hrz cave monsters in phantom stories wasn’t a shining example, on a broader scale, the characters were more down to earth.
During 1930s America, racism was rife, a non-white principal character was unimaginable, and women in comics were merely a pretty face – used to fill up a few tiles and to prove the bravery of the comics heroes. In the 1960s, all social divisions were still there, yet the difference was remarkable. These changes in the society are clearly visible in the Mandrake and Phantom comics of the two eras. As study subject, Phantom may be even more interesting, since not all stories were reprints of the American versions. Team Fantomen, for example, was an entirely different set of stories, written and illustrated by Scandinavian artists. The stories of Team Fantomen may present a different outlook to life, possibly a reflection of the Scandinavian society of the epoch, especially since they have been in circulation for over 60 years.
As children, we saw comics as the world we would like to grow up into and have an idol. As grown-ups, we become a part of the period we are living in, adhering to its societal norms. We learn that heroes have their follies, etched into their persona but their creators. It would have been interesting, if Lee Falk was still illustrating, to see how he would have represented the society and relationships during the 21st century. Will the 22nd Phantom marry someone or will he have a partner? Will there be a female Phantom? Will Mandrake and Narda argue over silly things? Will there be LGBTQI characters? Will they feature interracial couples? Will there be a Phantom who doesn’t like to be Phantom but do it because he/she’s expected to? And going forward, how will the stories shape up in future? These are compelling questions for which we have no answers. Perhaps I’ll leave the task to my children to dissect the stories of 2030 and compare them with 1930 versions. I hope that I’ll live to watch their appalled expression reading that Mandrake had a giant black slave, or Phantom forcing a kiss on Diana. I hope turning the pages of the comic books of the 1930s and 1960s will make them appreciate how far society will have been progressed in a century. And how we are in the need of superheroes, because humans, despite having come a long way on the vices prevalent in the 20th century, have created new evils. Perhaps the Mandrake and Phantom of tomorrow will feature the inequality, terrorism, post-truth politics, environmental catastrophe, the middle-east, religious persecution. Perhaps they never will, if the artist is not bold enough to rise above the societal mediocrity, like Lee Falk in 1930.