Archive for August 12th, 2008

August 12, 2008

Not to downplay Abhinav Bindra’s achievement or anything…

…but surely I’m not the only one who thinks this is rather fucked up?

Silent killer, as described by his father, he is the one who spotted his son’s talent when Abhinav was 5 years old. “He kept a water balloon on our maid’s head and began shooting, knowing little that a slight mistake could have proved fatal. But his aim was so perfect that I couldn’t think about anything else but make him a pro,” says AS Bindra.


August 12, 2008

Magical Vanaras

Since I have blogged about weird parallels in myths before.Recently in a discussion elsewhere, Belle linked to the Wikipedia page on the “magical negro“. It was in a completely different context, but this caught my eye:


The magical negro is a reoccurring theme in Chinese Literature from the Tang Dynasty. Known as “Kun-lun” (崑崙, an ancient Chinese term that denoted all dark-skinned races), these African slaves were portrayed as having supernatural strength and the power to invade people’s dreams to reveal great knowledge. One tale known as the Kun-lun slave mentions a slave leaping over high walls while laden with the weight of two people in order to rescue his master’s lover.

This sounds rather
familiar. Though of course Hanuman does not carry Sita back to Rama. Nor does he carry two people – though considering his other feats of strength one assumes he could do so, if required. And Gods don’t have slaves, they have devotees. The parallel is strong enough, though, to make me curious about how closely Hanuman in the Ramayana could be said to conform to the type. Bear with me – this is pointless geekery.

  • The magical negro is typically but not always “in some way outwardly or inwardly disabled, either by discrimination, disability or social constraint,” often a janitor or prisoner. Nope. Doesn’t fit.
  • He has no past; he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist. Also doesn’t fit, Hanuman has a pretty well fleshed out back story. Then again, there’s this whole gigantic body of myth for said backstory to exist in.
  • He sometimes fits the black stereotype, “prone to criminality and laziness.” No, not that I’m aware of. Then again, since Hanuman isn’t actually black (and Rama isn’t actually white; he’s blue), there’s no black stereotype for him to fit into*.
  • To counterbalance this, he has some sort of magical power, “rather vaguely defined but not the sort of thing one typically encounters.” No, I think the incredible strength part, at least, is reasonably tangible.
  • He is patient and wise, often dispensing various words of wisdom, and is “closer to the earth.” Er. Not sure about this one, especially the “closer to the earth” bit. What do people think?
  • The magical negro serves as a plot device to help the protagonist get out of trouble, typically through helping the white character recognize his own faults and overcome them. Er. Again, not sure about this. He’s certainly a lot better fleshed out than a mere plot device. And Rama by definition has no faults.
  • Although he has magical powers, his “magic is ostensibly directed toward helping and enlightening a white male character.” It is this feature of the magical negro that some people find most troubling. Although from a certain perspective the character may seem to be showing African-Americans in a positive light, he is still ultimately subordinate to European-Americans. This, yes. Except with a blue non-vanara/ brown vanara dynamic instead of the black/white thing.

Of course, this would be easier if one could work out what the Vanaras were supposed to be. This being Hinduism there doesn’t seem to be a Canon answer, and one can get any answer along a scale from “really clever monkeys” to “tribe or community who the author thought of as kind of simian and not entirely human”. Which just carries all sorts of potential for winceage.

* Is there a Vanara stereotype though?The wikipedia page says they’re “amusing, childish, mildly irritating, badgering, hyperactive, adventurous, bluntly honest, loyal, courageous, and kind. They are at least a foot shorter than an average human and their bodies are covered with light fur, generally brown in colour” but I’d like a more learned source.