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The Cult of Knut

Nick AmiesMarch 24, 2007

Knut the polar bear cub is the darling of the world's media at the moment -- and with his unbearable cuteness and heart-warming story of survival, rightly so. But what does his elevation to superstardom say about us?

Knut has become a media pro in recent weeks since hitting the headlinesImage: AP

Could it be that I slipped unnoticed into some kind of news narcolepsy over the last week? While other aspects of life seem to have carried on as normal in the past few days, there is a huge black hole in my memory concerning the most pertinent international current affairs stories.

I must have slept peacefully through the release of the German hostages in Iraq; snored and dribbled through the resolution of the Iran nuclear crisis and twitched fitfully as Middle East peace broke out. There can be no other reason for the dearth of serious topics on the front page of the international press and the omnipresent fuzzy visage of a baby polar bear.

Berlin - Eisbärenbaby Knut
Bono should have thought about doing this years agoImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Don't get me wrong. If the first public appearance of Knut the polar bear cub at Berlin's zoo is the most dramatic event facing mankind this week then I am truly happy. His stumpy little moon-boot legs are much more appealing than the effects of car bombs in Baghdad and when he rolled about with that soccer ball, well…it was like I'd never heard of the Third World. So, "hooray" in all honesty and authenticity for Knut.

It says much for the state of the world that a cuddly polar bear cub can demand so much attention when there are so many uglier things going on. Knut's arrival on the planet has had much more impact than 9-kilograms of arctic predator should realistically have. Sure, he is unbelievably cute; yes, his story of survival is a heart-warming one, and of course, death threats aimed at the bundle of razor-clawed fun by activists should make headlines. But front page news? Annie Liebowitz photo-shoots? Imminent Vanity Fair cover stardom? Read my lips: IT'S…A…BEAR.

Nasty current affairs pushed to the sidelines

Deutschland Berlin Zoo Eisbärenbaby Knut
Image: AP

The UN Security Council debate on Iran, the Russian Supreme Court's ban on one of last political parties left which opposes President Putin, the 50th anniversary of the European Union: All these stories were replaced on the front pages of the international press on Saturday by cuddly Knut. And while he is much more appealing than Comrade Vlad, one has to ask why?

Is it because, as Germany's opportunist Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said as he nervously interacted with the bear in front of the world's media, Knut is a symbol for global change? Is the cub a beacon of hope for an ailing planet? Is his survival against the odds a message that the human race should champion? Possibly. But I think there's more to it than that…

Humans, like polar bears, are pretty hardy creatures. We have to be to live in the world that we do. If we were to actually sit and think about all the things going wrong around us and all the events which appear to be out of our control, there would be mass panic and chronic depression. Thankfully, we are blessed with the ability to crawl under a warm, mental blanket of denial when things get too much.

Knut the savior in a world gone mad?

Deutschland Berlin Zoo Eisbärenbaby Knut
Forget your troubles by indulging yourself in some KnutImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Nothing helps more in the creation of denial than a distraction. Why worry about the state of the planet, when you can read about a cuddly polar bear cub discovering that sand doesn't taste very nice? Just as those pictures of Knut taking his first drink from his enclosure's moat pushed harder news to page four, so his big black eyes and innocent journey of discovery can push the realities of life further to the back of your mind.

The current cult of Knut, while it throws up many interesting questions, is really nothing to worry about. His elevation to superstardom and worldwide fame is just the latest in a long line of respites which we should all embrace and enjoy. Knut's time in the sun should be celebrated for as long as it lasts because before you know it, the front pages are going to be full of death and destruction again.

So once again, "hooray" for Knut for making the world -- even for a short time -- a fuzzier place.