Thursday, January 31, 2013

On censorship

So, yeah. The fringe Muslim elements are trying to clamp down on Kamal's artistic freedom. It's cleared by the Censor Board and therefore has clearance to be played in cinemas across India. And it is absolutely ironical that the individuals who protest the movie on allegations of being labeled as terrorists, are committing acts of cultural terrorism and intolerance by targeting an artist and his creation. Nobody would have come to the conclusion that the movie is trying to label all Muslims as intolerant or violent; they would have enjoyed it and lauded or criticized the film as usual. But now won't people think that some local Muslims are intolerant because of these protests? It's ironic that the fringe elements who did not want to be labeled as terrorists and intolerant bigots have fulfilled that prophecy through their needless and unwarranted protesting. I honestly wish Mr. Kamal's film would be released soon in Tamil Nadu. Sadly his hands are tied and the scales are high: either remain true to your artistic ethics and don't compromise and risk the film's indefinite ban in TN or allow appeasement and the film to air soon, but at the same time set a precedent for artistic freedom to be further undermined by any group that finds something offensive.

That shifts my attention to television. Seth MacFarlane's American Dad (the intelligent counterpart to the cringe inducing Family Guy) airs on Z-Cafe on weekdays at 11pm. Last night they aired an episode titled "Irregarding Steve". Now, I'm not a fan of the censor board. I don't like that a group of people view a movie and decide for the rest of us that words like ass, fuck, shit, screw, prostitution and so forth are against "culture" and that they can erode our moral values and violate our delicate and pristine souls. As an adult, I think I speak for a lot of mature men and women that I'm not going to take offense on hearing the word 'ass' or 'sex' for that matter. We all understand the definition (and are cognizant of the presence) of prostitution. Bleeping a word out isn't going to make me any less aware of the fact that the word was uttered. And here's something really moronic. They bleep the word, but the censored subtitles give it away. Seriously, what the hell? Hearing the word is heresy, but I'm allowed to guess at the word by reading the subs? Doesn't that defeat the purpose? Unless someone can understand English and not read it, I don't see how this even works!! And to make things even more ridiculous, they leave things uncensored that ought to be censored (if you see things through  censor-tinted glasses). Let me give you an example. Take the word 'rape'. Clich├ęs aside, Oxford Dictionary defines 'rape' as "the crime, typically committed by a man, of forcing another person to have sexual intercourse with the offender against their will". Surely this is a painful thing to hear and it offends the sensibilities of an audience and should be censored. But it isn't.

On 'Irregarding Steve', a conversation between John Stewart (the character) and Steve Smith (emphasis and italics my own):

John Stewart (character) : Gold. Okay, uh... well, let's take the first sketch. I believe that one's entitled "Quantum Rape."
Steve Smith: Come on! It's brilliant!

John Stewart (character): It's about a guy who gets thrown into a jail cell, and his cell mate is in there because he just raped Scott Bakula.

Steve SmithYeah, and then the rapist spends eight pages explaining the premise of Quantum Leap to the guy, but the guy just doesn't get it! (laughs maniacally, slamming the table with his fists)

Steve Smith at the New York Stock Exchange: Clearly, Jon Stewart was raped as a child. What other explanation could there be?

That last sentence should have been bleeped if the premise was hurting sensibilities. But it isn't.

Here's another example from earlier in the show to illustrate my first point of guessing what's censored. Steve is browsing the Internet for information on fossils for his school report. The word 'porn' is bleeped, but the subtitles allow you to guess the word easily.

Now to just type "fossils" into the search engine. And now to just separate the fossil sites from the p*** sites.

"Tyrannosaurus": fossil.

"A Symposium on the Pangea Theory of the Permian Extinction..."

 Wow, that is some nasty p***!

 I am of the opinion that shows should be viewed by an audience in its original form. I believe that people are mature enough to handle criticism, ridicule, vulgarity and violence and don't require coddling and protecting via censorship. The problem with censorship as always is where one draws the line. What is okay and what isn't and who decides that and furthermore who gives them the authority to do that? How much of an artist's freedom is curtailed by censorship? Sometimes the original work itself is mutated or the audience loses the right to watch a picture (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comes to mind) simply because the censor board and the director clash over a scene that is integral to the theme of the movie. People scream about artistic freedom. But why can't I watch Seth MacFarlane's work in its entirety the way Seth intended it?



Vyaas said...

"But now won't people think that some local Muslims are intolerant because of these protests?"


The muslim community stands to lose much credibility when their representatives threaten to ban anything that scrutinizes their religion. The most jarring aspect of this episode is the denial of many truths, principally that of the practice of militant jihad. I saw Kamal at the premier here in Los Angeles; he said that "this movie makes the good guys look good and the bad guys look bad." Its a pity that those words were not uttered on Indian soil.

The current agreement with the 20+ muslim organizations is the censorship of about six or seven scenes, scarring the institutions of free speech and secularism. But the event compels us to go deeper into the problem. What is the state of the average of muslim in our country? Is their religion compatible with secularism? Is Jayalalitha disingenuous when she classifies this as a law and order problem?

Nikhil Rajagopalan said...

No. No religion is compatible with secularism. The key tenet of a religion is faith in its doctrines with no ability to question its tenets or tolerance to those who do so. The only question is where the "moderates" fit into all this.

As for the law and order problem, that will always exist in every aspect of society that is as heterogeneous as India's. If a butcher shop opens in an area with many vegetarians, there could be protests that could turn violent. If viewed that way, people of different religions shouldn't be allowed to live in the same building because scuffles could occur at some point and that could result in a "law and order" problem. It's nonsense. The police exist to squash any unruly elements that disrupt the peace. With rampant corruption, appeasing minorities for vote-banks and now the freedom of speech dying in front of our eyes, our country is heading down a dark path of irrationality, fear mongering and threatening violence on account of becoming butt hurt.