Last week, the United Nations (U.N.) announced comic book figure Wonder Woman as their new honorary ambassador. While the Security Council selected António Guterres as the Secretary General of the highest diplomatic body, rejecting seven female candidates vying to lead the organisation, they picked up the cartoon character to promote ‘empowerment of women and girls’. Considering that they selected a fictional character as an ambassador, critics are not quite pleased. We speak to feminists, sociologists, artists, and cartoonists on the pertinence and legitimacy of the gesture.
We get celebrities to give their take on a current issue each week and lend their perspective to a much-discussed topic. This week we talk about: Wonder Woman as UN ambassador
Parvathi Nayar, visual artist, Chennai: ‘Pop icons have a far wider reach’
I believe that the philosophy behind announcing Wonder Woman as the honorary ambassador has the same belief that has granted the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan. Pop icons, and popular culture, have a far wider reach. If pop culture can be used for a positive cause, then why not? This act is an acknowledgment of the power culture has in reaching a wider reception base. I’m not saying that every brand ambassador should be a pop-culture figure, but it is interesting to throw in something provocative.
Priya Kuriyan, illustrator: ‘Isn’t the UN more than just America?’
The U.N. has chosen fictional ambassadors previously, for instance, Winnie the Pooh was chosen as the Day of Friendship Ambassador in 1998. But today it would have been better to have someone with an actual voice for something as important as women empowerment. Wonder Woman has an interesting story arc; and stories can indeed inspire women as well, but at the end of the day, she is still someone who lives in the realms of fiction. Also, there is something so American about her. Isn’t the U.N. more than just America?
In the current scenario where they once again went with a man for the position of a secretary general, it does seem like a symbolic gesture in a place that’s known to be a boys club. Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been consistently speaking up for the rights of women. There’s universal relatability, especially among young women, in the way she writes.
Jatin Varma, founder and director at Comic Con India: ‘A useful tool to reach out to children’
Considering that the U.N. isn’t exactly a democratic institution with permanent powers holding the veto, I don’t really believe the selection is completely on merit, since there is a lot of politics at play here. With respect to the Goodwill Ambassadorship, using a comic book character isn’t a bad idea altogether, since comics are a powerful visual medium. However, it all depends on how they utilise the character. The Wonder Woman movie, as well as its follow ups in the coming years, will make the character a bigger worldwide phenomenon than it already is. It’s certainly useful to reach out to children and young adults, but in practicality, can it influence actual events on ground? There are hundreds of actual candidates who could certainly do a lot more. Female athletes, entrepreneurs and activists who actually could deliver results would have been great as a goodwill ambassador.
Kishore Mohan, artist: ‘Mascots cannot replace a person’
As an artist, I’d definitely consider this a big win for every artist. Today, Wonder Woman has evolved into a feminist symbol in the DC superhero world. But it seems like a smart marketing move, especially with a major movie release in the offing. That said, it is totally acceptable to have a comic character as a mascot. It’s always easier to relate to a fictional character than to a real person but that’s where it ends. I think we live in an age where we associate faces, logos, and brand-names with the credibility of a cause or a product. But a mascot can never replace an actual person when it comes to standing up for a cause and actually doing something.
Raghu Karnad, author: ‘U.N. Failing to appoint a woman makes their claims hollow’
When Shashi Tharoor was in the running for U.N. Secretary General, we heard a lot about the sensitive politics of representation that underlie the choice. But, failing to appoint a single woman in seven decades makes their claims sound very hollow. I guess a woman has to literally possess divine super powers in order to lead the U.N....