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Random Thoughts

The Mask of the Superhero and the Nakedness of Kali



I was reflecting on the idea of judgement over the past few days. Is it only possible to judge things if one is a good person? Is speech only a privilege that is bestowed upon the good? If this were so, I would be disqualified to judge. I know very well that I am myself a bad person. I have done bad things in the past and continue to do bad things, knowing full well that they are wrong in the eyes of others. I tell myself that the world and this society have contaminated me. Yet the difference is, that when I look into the mirror, I do not lie to myself. I do not tell myself that I am a good person. I recognise my badness. And perhaps it is this recognition of badness that gives me a voice. Because sometimes, the bad person has to say and do the things that the good people don’t say and do. I recall a scene in the recent Batman movie series. There were two ships with bombs on them. The Joker invited people to choose who would live and who would die, as he would set off both bombs if people were unable to choose. The good people couldn’t decide. It was the criminal that finally threw the button which set off the bomb from his ship so that nobody could effectively kill anyone on the other ship. He said that he was the meanest among the people and that gave him to license to do what they could not, with all their virtue.


On this International Woman’s Day, I, a bad person, will talk about a woman that has inspired me. To me, she is a fictional woman, although Hindus revere her as a real person. I want to contrast her with the masked superhero. I want to show how she is both more valiant and powerful than the masked superhero. I will first set out my ideas about the mask of the superhero. I will then talk about Kali and her wonderful nakedness. I want to contrast two forms of power. The first power is masculine. In this power, identity is concealed. That is the strength of this power. The second power, that of Kali, is feminine. In this power, identity and the body are apparent. That is the strength of this power.


Let us start with the superhero. The superhero is typically male and typically masked. One notes the pattern not just in comics, but also in the recent superhero films which have been made and which have been popular. Why is the superhero masked? The mask conceals the identity of a man and the concealment of identity protects the superhero. The mask allows the superhero to live a “normal” life outside of the battlefield in incognito. The mask of the superhero is also said to protect his loved ones. The mask is therefore related to the making of the normal and normalcy. The mask is said to protect love and loved ones. It is presented as social rather than anti-social. The mask as seen as necessary in the make-up of society and social organisation. The mask separates the field of action from the field of normalcy.


The mask is also associated with law and the separation of the public sphere and the private sphere. The mask allows the superhero to move out of the identity of a single man and fight for a supposedly abstract and universal justice. The mask and the concealment of identity is the way that the individual man can move out of his own limited perspective and life into a field of battle which is much bigger than himself. The mask allows a man to fight as the champion of justice against injustice and evil.


The mask is therefore crucial to the concealment of identity and the fight for justice. It enables the fight for justice as it conceals identity and only as it conceals identity. It is only then that the hero can become an abstract and supposedly universal figure outside the limitations of what is human. If the mask is a symbol of power, it is of a power which attempts to divest itself of identity. If the power of the mask is associated with anything, it is associated with the justice of the West.


The mask of the superhero can be contrasted with the nakedness of Kali. Kali is the supreme Woman and the supreme Warrior. She is the Mother of the whole Universe and the supreme form of power. She is also the destroyer of evil. She is the protector and the liberator. Kali stands for a justice envisioned as female, not male. Her female body is emphasised, as is her nakedness. As Wikipedia states, Kali “is often shown naked or just wearing a skirt made of human arms and a garland of human heads”. Kali wears no disguise when she steps into battle, nor any armour. She is fearless. She assumes no other identity than her own. Indeed, it is not even possible for Kali to be clothed. As Wikipedia states, “[s]he is often depicted naked which symbolizes her being beyond the covering of Maya since she is pure (nirguna) being-consciousness-bliss and far above prakriti.” The explanation of a Hindu is more telling: “She is shown nude because no finite clothes can cover the infinite” (http://hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/3412/why-is-goddess-kali-shown-topless).


If the bloodthirsty and invincible Kali is a fighter for justice, then she never stoops to conceal her identity. She betrays no weakness. She does not fear that others will know her or her loved ones. She does not need a mask to give her power. She is power herself. Her power is naked. Her power derives from her femininity and her association with nature. For where the male superhero needs clothes which are produced by humans, Kali stands at one with nature in her nakedness. She is nature herself and the mother of all. She is the supreme power of femininity and the female form.  She is the beauty of the body.


These are the two opposed forms of the fighters for justice. The masked superhero and the naked Kali. The mask of the superhero hides his face, his features, his human expressions and his eyes. He stays in a state of calm repose, as no one can see or feel his emotions. He acts outside of vision and the limits of vision. The nakedness of Kali is an assault on the senses. She is a vision herself. One sees emotion and anger in her face. One feels her through sight as total fury and devastation. As Wikipedia states, “[h]er eyes are described as red with intoxication, and in absolute rage, her hair is shown disheveled, small fangs sometimes protrude out of her mouth, and her tongue is lolling.” Emotion, femininity, animalism, nature. These are all attributes of the vision of Kali. Her body highlights the bodily senses which are attuned to the material world: her eyes which see are red and more evidently visible and her tongue also to be seen, that tongue which tastes food and which is out to taste blood. Kali is beautiful because she is aggression and anger itself. Her hair is disordered and she is outside of any conventional depictions of beauty. Her power is her beauty, the power of fury unleashed.


Such is the mask of the superhero and the nakedness of Kali. This is the character of two fighters for justice. The masked superhero is Western and male. The naked Kali is from an ancient india and she is the supreme embodiment of Woman as the Mother of us all. The masked superhero hides his face and his emotions and expressions. He wears what is really a uniform for one person. Kali wears nothing. She is without shame and supremely confident in herself and her body. The masked superhero has a split personality: the unlimited fighter for a seemingly abstract and universal justice and the limited man. The masked superhero is a recent invention. Kali is beyond splitting. Kali is beyond the contemporary. Kali is beyond the limits of all: she is infinite. She is supreme form. She never dies. She comes in every age. She fights for justice in every historical period. This is why Kali is inspiration and the masked superhero is contemptible.



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