11 February 2015

Free speech, motherfuckers

Liberty. Let’s consider that word for a second.

“The state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's behaviour or political views.”

Liberty happens at several levels. There’s the personal: where you are free to come and go as you wish, to live a life you want to, free from society’s interference. There’s the political: where you are free to vote or not for whoever you like (democracy!) or stand for election yourself, or say anything you like about anyone without getting into trouble.

Now those definitions are already somewhat problematic. Consider this. What if living the way you want involves child abuse or something equally horrific? What if saying anything you liked about a political candidate meant that enough people listened to you and the person was not elected even though what you said wasn’t true? It’s a fine line, a delicate line, and all too often, we err on the side of caution. “As long as we’re not hurting anyone,” we say, as we live perfectly innocent but perhaps morally not-that-great lives in India. In the latter example, you’d assume the people you’re talking to are smart enough to figure out who to vote for on their own, but that’s why defamation laws exist, I suppose.

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom of speech. I had sort of complicated thoughts after the whole Charlie Hebdo thing—of course, no one deserves to die over a few hurt sentiments, but still; was it really necessary or just a print version of clickbait to put the images out there? It was a truly, truly horrific thing to happen, and somehow I think those terrorists were just looking for an excuse to slaughter, but I don’t think it was as cut and dry an act of denial of freedom of speech as people supposed.

Which brings us to the next thing: the All India Bakchod (AIB to fans and familiars) roast. A “roast” is a popular form of comedy where people take not very PC pot-shots at other people. I Googled a few before I wrote this column, mainly to see if there was an art form to it but apart from the quality of jokes, it’s pretty much the same format. A bunch of people get together and make fun of other people. It’s funny! It’s a roast! Granted, it’s probably more amusing if you’re actually there, but it didn’t stop millions of people from checking out the AIB roast online, and writing their own thoughts on it. I checked it out, it was not bad. Perhaps what made it the most worth watching was just people admitting Karan Johar had lots of gay sex (welcome out of the closet, Karan) or that Bollywood stars actually had sex at all. That bit was nice. A lot of swearing, not quite my thing, but okay, I could see the appeal. Mostly, I was pretty shocked no one had objected to it yet, and guess what, the Indian government lived up to my expectations and issued an enquiry, the videos got taken offline. My god, but the fine folk of Maharashtra either really totally resent everyone in Bombay for being in Bombay or they’re just the fun police. (Let’s not even discuss the songwriter who had to remove the word “Bombay” from his song, even though it rhymed.) (Lighten up, you guys, it’s not like Voldemort, it won’t magically morph back into Bombay just because a few people call it that.) (Bombay! Bombay! Bombay! Bombay!)

The gist of the matter is that there’s this guy on the Censor Board called Ashoke Pandite who is exercising his Brahmanical right to object to everything and called it “porn.” Because there’s no other porn available on YouTube? I’m not sure what what Pandite’s MO was in this case, but pretty soon everything became rather muddled with people filing police cases saying it offended religious sentiments (lots of sex jokes, no religious ones). Finally the Maharashtra police backtracking under a tidal wave of unpopularity saying that actually they were only checking licenses and so on, not moral fiber.

Is this going to be how stuff is now? Writers, artists, comedians, anyone who creates, first having to check a source of inspiration to see if it offends anyone? If that’s the case, stamp those passports, because we’re checking out. 

A version of this appeared in Financial Chronicle as my column last week. 

5 comments:

  1. I guess it all boils down to one's taste. But seriously some things are better left to remain in private. The basic difference between humans and animals is that animals do what they have to do, when they have to do it. As human beings, we exercise discretion. Perhaps the AIB chaps feel that when they have to fart, its fashionable and funny to do it in public. And the pity is, that folks like you are too scared to call a spade a spade, for fear of being branded as backward. 'Tis rightly said-common sense is not really common".

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  2. Amusing how a person hiding under the cloak of anonymity talks about fear of being branded.

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  3. Would you be happier it it had been Anamika instead of Anonymous. Try to focus on the discussion dude, instead of nitpicking on non-essentials.

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  4. All right then, Anonymous. You said it yourself - it boils down to one's taste. So what makes anyone the supreme authority on taste? Perhaps I am offended by your mention of 'fart' (I am not, but my grandparents certainly would be). This is a public blog. Does this mean I should file an FIR?

    And do you know Compulsive Confessor personally? Because how else do you explain your analysis of being too scared to call a spade a spade for fear of being branded backward. I might easily say you are an RSS stooge - that doesn't make it true.

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  5. To that ^ I would add: I actually DID think the AIB Roast was funny. :/ Does that make me a person with questionable taste in humour? Totes. But not a hypocrite surely.

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