Tuesday, September 23, 2008

We must kill Mickey Mouse!

If you are shocked by the title of this post please read this news item . Mickey Mouse must die for the good of Islam, a leading Saudi cleric said last month in a broadcast on al-Majd TV. This same cleric on August 10 had denounced the Beijing Olympics as the "bikini Olympics," saying the immodest dress of women athletes was "satanic" and issued a fatwa against women's participation in the Olympics as the games were also "satanic". In 2005 he denounced soccer, saying the short pants worn by players "reveal nakedness." He called for a ban on women's sports and public exercise as to do so would require them to don "tight fitting, short" tunics that were offensive to Muslim decorum.
In the present case he was actually asked to state the Islamic legal teaching on mice. He responded that mice were called "little corrupters" in Sharia and it was permissible to kill them at all times. "The mouse is one of Satan's soldiers and is steered by him," he explained, adding that should a mouse come in contact with food, the food must be disposed of as the mouse is an impure creature. "According to Islamic law, the mouse is a repulsive, corrupting creature," he said, adding that he was concerned that popular culture had given mice an undeserved positive image. "How do you think children view mice today - after Tom and Jerry?" he asked. "Even creatures that are repulsive by nature, by logic, and according to Islamic law have become wonderful and are loved by children. Even mice. Mickey Mouse has become an awesome character, even though according to Islamic law, Mickey Mouse should be killed in all cases."
I know nothing about Sharia or any other law but I know a lot about ‘Tom and Jerry’ , Mickey mouse and other cartoon characters. A devoted viewer of cartoons I feel they are the highest form of creativity in today’s media world. I came to know about this fatwa on Mickey mouse through my husband, who in the news room of his TV channel accidentally come across this wire. This ‘news’ was received in the news room with much amusement and everybody laughed at the issue…everybody except one colleague of his. This fellow argued that the cleric is asking for the right thing – for wrong reasons. He agreed with the rest that such ridiculous interpretation of any scripture is foolish but argued that Mickey mouse and the entire gang of cartoon characters are responsible for erasing local and regional flavours of upbringing of children. His arguement does have some strength . There are very good attempts these days to tell children about our cultural characters like Hanuman, Tenali raman and Gopal Bhand etc through their ‘disney-isation’ . How true are these animated versions to the folk tales they are claim to be originated from? Don’t you feel that animated avatars of chota Birbal, Tenali raman and Hanuman do the same stunts as Aladdin and Mickey mouse?For that matter Disney’s Aladdin is also miles away from the original character from Arabian Nights . Stories for these are mostly written for American kids and they are full of contemporary American notions . Disney on its side is trying to enhance local elements in its characters. Disney princesses are no longer always blonde with blue eyes and their characters at times speak with different accents. But is this enough? Despite being a die-hard fan of animations and all these Disney creations I can not acquit them from the charge of killing our local culture.
On second thoughts …is it Disney or is it market ? Market which ensures that world over kids eat similar potato chips , drink same soft drinks and watch similar sitcoms. Market which ensures that all popular English (read American ) sitcoms are available in their Hindi versions too. No not through dubbing ….an entire new series with Indian faces and Indian setup but with the copied concept and script. Let us face the truth – these are a hit with their targeted clientele . These animated versions are cute and there is a lot of creativity in the series also . No wonder kids are wearing Harry Potter T shirts and cuddling Chota-hanuman ‘ stuff toys with equal fondness . Even Indianised version of Batman and Superman- Krrish and Shaktiman go well with the children…even when they are selling biscuits and chewing gums through advertisements . So is it a good bargain that our kids know about our mythical characters but only through a Disney filter? More importantly can we stop the forces of globalisation to make everything-including our myths, history and folktales, as they deem fit. I really have no answer for that. I strongly feel that Mickey mouse should not be killed but should Mickey meet T-shirt wearing Hanuman in Akbar’s court …..I really don’t think that is a good idea either.

PS: If you wish to read more about my views on animations in India from the industry point of view read this article .

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