April 25, 2019 11.54 am This story is over 36 months old

Barry Turner: Is Greta a modern Joan of Arc?

The poster girl of protest

Everyone is familiar with the story of the little French peasant girl who rallied the demoralized French army and defeated the English in the Hundred Years War. She is an icon of freedom and feminism, a simple young woman who broke through the exclusively masculine and brutal world of the 15thcentury to bring reason and light to the world.

At least that is how the story goes. The reality of the legend is far more sordid and nasty. For all her efforts, Joan was betrayed by her own, sold out to her enemies and barbarously executed. Real life is never like the movies.

We are all now also familiar with the story of Greta Thunberg, a sixteen year old Swedish schoolgirl now feted and lionized by politicians and the press together. Like Joan, she is a leading her army of environmental warriors and teaching today’s almost exclusively male global corporations the error of their ways.

The similarities do not stop there. Greta is a girl with Asperger’s Syndrome — in fact she is a vulnerable child with Asperger’s syndrome. Joan heard voices, which she attributed to God. There is little doubt what would happen to Joan today if she made such a declaration. So both Joan and Greta are people with mental illnesses.

Greta, like Joan, is surrounded by politicians and media types behaving like sycophants, and in some rather creepy commentaries references have been made to her demure shyness and her pigtails. The media hype up her maturity and insight, and of course are in raptures when she berates politicians and corporate giants alike. Like Joan, the religious icon Greta is becoming the 21st century version, the poster girl of protest.

This is not something we should be comfortable with — shall we remind ourselves that she is a sixteen-year old schoolgirl with mental health issues. How many teenage celebrities have been hyped up, dragged through the media mill and discarded at the first sign of them being difficult? When the press and politicians have finished with her, when they find another distraction, will she get sold out too?

There is one other consideration while we are on the subject. If Greta was a sixteen year old British girl who advocated that our government should listen to the majority of people who voted in 2016 to leave the EU; if she suggested that by ignoring that democratic mandate that the British people had been betrayed, would we perhaps be seeing in our media a rather less affectionate view of her and her Asperger’s Syndrome? Would our politicians and television presenters be hanging onto her every word as if it was deep and meaningful if she stood on a platform with Nigel Farage rather than Jeremy Corbyn?

Probably not.

Barry Turner is a Senior Lecturer in War Reporting and Human Rights and a member of the Royal United Services Institute.