One of many popular Natalia Poklonskaya memes.
What is it about Eastern Europe and bad internet humour? First we LOLd our way through Vladimir Putin’s (numerous and alarming) political misadventures because, haha, he looks a bit like a superhero sometimes, and now it seems the situation in Crimea isn’t all that concerning, because OMG the newly appointed attorney general of Crimea is, like, totally so cute.
I wish I were making this up: it appears the combined wits of Reddit and 4chan have decided Natalia Poklonskaya is a dreamboat worthy of a level of fan-art and obsession ordinarily reserved online solely for Benedict Cumberbatch. It all began with the uploading of this video of her first press conference, upon which it became clear that, as Buzzfeed's Ryan Broderick puts it, “everyone’s first reaction wasn’t that she was holding the incredibly controversial position of helping Putin’s administration amass troops on the Ukrainian border”, but rather, that Poklonskaya was “cute and hot”.
Cue: a veritable avalanche of fan art, depicting 33-year-old Poklonskaya as everything from simply a cute anime-style version of herself to some sort of cat creature and beyond. There is also fan fiction being written (one request posted yesterday to the subreddit dedicated to Poklonskaya longs for either fanfic or fan art that details “Natalia in all her powerful glory, crushing the bloodthirsty plebeian Ukranian scum underfoot”).
For her part, Poklonskaya has reacted with bemusement at her newfound internet fame, telling one reporter, “I’m a lawyer, not a Pokemon or something!”, and telling another that her daughter keeps her up to date on her various anime avatars because, as you might expect, she does not have the time to spend all day browsing the various online shrines set up in her honour.
At moments like this I feel a little like Donald Duck beset by his good and bad consciences. On my left shoulder, a tiny Clem dressed as an angel says “Regardless of her politics, can’t an accomplished woman catch a break?” On my right shoulder, tiny devil Clem says, “Yeah, but surely kawaii fan art of successful women is better than Photoshops of them in the nude or being dismembered.”
Look, the internet is weird: fanart and fanfic has been written about the strangest things since the beginning of time. X-rated fanfic about the various DAs in Law & Order: SVU is just the tip of the iceberg, friends; let me introduce you to interspecies Monsters University slashfic and Sherlock-adjacent anthropomorphised sex comics about otters and hedgehogs. In other words, all this nonsense is beside the point.
Whether or not Poklonskaya is cute (and, sure, she has a certain button-nosed charm), she is a woman in a position of power during an untenable crisis. (Before you get too misty-eyed for her, she has also referred to pro-Ukraine demonstrators as "zombies" with "Nazism in their heads.") The situation in Ukraine is grave; not for nothing has this been referred to as “the worst diplomatic crisis between the East and West since the Cold War”. It’s hard not to shake the feeling that the Poklonskaya fanart madness is just the amusing cartoon short that plays before the main feature, which I suspect will be decidedly less entertaining.