The US’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has accused Australian Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, the controversial anti-secrecy venture, of “malicious crime” in the leak of hacked emails of its director John Brennan. As the cult figure wanted in Sweden for questioning on a rape accusation, he says he is innocent. As he fights extradition from Ecuador’s diplomatically immune embassy in the UK, fiction lovers would logically expect James Bond to show up from somewhere in Her Majesty’s name.
But no, we live in interesting times.
It is Asterix the Gaul who has beaten the British spy in fictionalising 21st Century’s new anti-establishment hero, who has been indulging in the fine art of whistleblowing and social media outrage to highlight those Evil Powers.
Asterix and his menhir-carrying friend, Obelix, in their latest adventure titled “Asterix and the Missing Scroll,” team up with a journalist evidently inspired by Assange to battle the Roman Empire.
On deep thought, it should surprise no one. Asterix has always been a metaphor for the underdog and a mirror to the contemporary world. The Roman Empire under Julius Caesar, you could say, was the Original Super Power in Western history. The French love to fight giants in style – at least in their fictional selves. The Gaul hero, we knew all along, was a French icon. Since current Romans are busy battling an economic crisis and a latter day descent from former Prime Minister Berlusconi’s escapades, familiar jibes across the English channel and standing up to overbearing Americans may just be the right thing for the French, with their unique mix of humour, style and elegant anti-establishment conduct.
The mid-1980s saw a spirited protest in France against Euro Disney, which later became Disneyland Paris. The opposition, which spoke for local farmers displaced by the project while expressing disgust at the entry of American Mickey Mouse into French culture, was essentially the Asterix lobby fighting ratty competition from across the Atlantic.
It is only natural that the underdogs of the world unite in a new Asterix tale. The 36th edition of Asterix comics has seen four million copies printed already and possibly sends a subtle message to the other new French icon, the violence and squabble-hit weekly Charlie Hebdo: subtle humour works better than in-your-face cartoons.
Asterix has always echoed contemporary themes, and remains a favourite with adults and children alike for varying reasons: rarely do adult satire and child-friendly slapstick co-exist so well.
With delightful character names such as Confoundtheirpolitix, the latest of the comics focuses on Caesar’s account of the Gallic War (That must sound familiar at Langley, the CIA’s headquarters, so what if sweltering Iraq is not Gay Paris! ). What’s more, the comic even has a social media twist with blue birds in a forest that remind you of Twitter’s bird icon.
Albert Uderzo, one of Asterix’s creators, is now 88, while his co-conspirator in the hilarious series, Rene Goscinny, died in 1977. Their creative spirit continues to enjoy an inspiration that reminds one of the magic potion that that Gauls sip to down mighty foes.
Now, it is not clear if Asterix can somehow transport some magic potion to the real-life Assange, whose current holed-up condition is such that he could do with a magic carpet that the Gaul warriors flew on in a 1987 edition.