Showing posts with label Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Show all posts

Thursday, February 5, 2015

In Defense of Being Offensive and the AIB Roast



“A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”
Mahatma Gandhi 

I watched the AIB roast of Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh in its entirety and finished literally minutes before it was pulled down from YouTube. I will admit that I laughed out loud, rolled my eyes and even cringed sometimes at the level of crudeness but more importantly I also swelled with pride. Yes, I felt proud to call myself an Indian; even thought I found some parts offensive and in poor taste. Not because AIB broke new ground with this roast (which is a copy of the US format) with crass, sexual, politically incorrect and offensive humour, but because we broke new ground against our own double standards. We lifted the veneer of hypocrisy and the superficial veil of so called Hindu culture that we pretend to defend. I for one have never been prouder of Karan Johar or Bollywood for doing something that was unselfish and helped lift the lid on issues that have long been buried inside every Indian home. Thank you all for your courage.

It is shameful that, due to the personal and physical threats that the participants have received, they have felt compelled to remove the video from YouTube.  Here is the official statement about why they felt the need to pull the video down from the internet. Even though this was an event organised by a group of adults who agreed to insult each other and it was viewed by a group of adults who willingly paid to watch it. Also, if it offends some people’s delicate sensibilities, then they can choose not to watch it. They have that choice, and a right to feel offended and even to be offensive themselves. Much like Ashoke Pandit, a censor board member was offensive with his tweet about Karan Johar; I personally think he is an idiot, but will defend his right to be one – this is democracy and what we need to protect.

I firmly believe that comedy should have no boundaries or restrictions, because it is meant to entertain, lighten our worldly burdens and be nothing more than a laughing matter. The only caveat is that the comedian dishing it out does so equally, and does not target a single race or stereotype. Also, I strongly suspect that there are not too many bitter, malicious, mean-spirited bigots who decide to pursue a career in comedy. Consider the fact that during this roast, all the participants made fun of themselves and each other, occasionally making significant others or family members also part of their jokes. Karan Johar's spending so many years in the closet was made fun off with equal vigor and crassness as Ranveer's being a slut or Tanmay Bhat’s obesity. Tanmay was not offended. Deepika Padukone, who is dating Ranveer Singh, was not offended. Even Karan Johar’s mother, who was sitting in the front row, did not take offence – so why are you? Ever think that maybe you feel offended because these things hit close to home? That we live in a society filled with double standards, one that is clearly sexually repressed and one where most men ascribe to dating the fun, wild women but yet want to marry only a virginal, modest bahu? Who in India has not heard worse language being used on the streets or in parliament?

Let’s spend a minute discussing the other elephant in the room – male, female and cultural stereotypes. Frankly, I cannot imagine anyone disagreeing with me when I say that ALL stereotypes are rooted in some reality and none pure figments of our imagination. So this issue, to my mind, is not so much that someone is making fun at my expense using a stereotype about being gay, male, Sindhi, or north Indian, but whether or not the intent behind it is malicious, or coming from a light-hearted place. Think about it. There is a fundamental difference here, and a hugely important distinction that every person needs to make. It is imperative we all make this distinction in our ever-shrinking global village, if we are to ever make progress and thrive. This is not about all of us hugging and getting along, but about the need to have a thicker skin in a heterogeneous world and being able to judge the context. Sticks and stones, people...

The easiest way to explain the difference in the context is to imagine Dave Chappelle (a very famous American comic) putting on Ku Klux Klan robes and making off-colour black jokes versus an actual Klansman telling the same jokes or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad making fun of Jews. There is a fundamental difference; one clearly comes from a place of genuine hatred, bigotry and anger, while the other is in jest, and therefore should be encouraged and protected since it is not intended to malign or incite hatred. If you cannot laugh at yourself, then you are the one who is not comfortable in your own skin. Most times feeling offended has nothing to do with culture or religion, only your own insecurity.

One final thought. If you are among those offended by comedians and movie stars making fun of themselves (while raising money for charity), and also feel you have been anointed guardians of some mystical, pure and holy Indian culture that you claim to defend - then why are you not outraged by the fact that marital rape is legal in India; that in 2015 we are still willing to treat fellow human beings as untouchable, and that Indian men routinely grope and touch women on every street, bus, and airplane in India?

Let’s start by fixing our own hypocrisy, in our homes and in our lives, before becoming judge and jury for our society.



Thursday, May 31, 2012

In Defense of Humour


“A joke is a very serious thing.”
Winston Churchill

I come not to defend racism but in defense of humour. I fear that people, particularly in America today, are finding it harder and harder to make a distinction between laughing at ourselves and feeling offended; and there is a difference.

Firstly, I firmly believe that comedy should have no boundaries or restrictions, because it is meant to entertain, lighten our worldly burdens and be nothing more than a laughing matter. The only caveat is that the comedian dishing it out does so equally, and does not target a single racial stereotype. Also, I strongly suspect that there are not too many bitter, malicious, mean-spirited bigots who decide to pursue a career in comedy.

Let’s spend a minute discussing the elephant in the room – stereotypes. Frankly, I cannot imagine anyone disagreeing with me when I say that ALL cultural stereotypes are rooted in some reality and none are pure figments of our imagination. So the issue, to my mind, is not so much that someone is making fun at my expense using a racial stereotype, but whether or not the intent behind it is malicious, or if it is coming from a light hearted place. Think about it. There is a fundamental difference here, and a hugely important distinction that every person needs to make. It is imperative we all make this distinction. It is a distinction each of us, in our ever-shrinking global village, needs to make in order to progress and thrive. This is not about all of us hugging trees and getting along. It is simply about having a thicker skin when we require it.

The easiest way to explain the difference is to imagine Dave Chappelle (a famous American comic) putting on the Klu Klux Klan’s white robes and hood to tell off colour black jokes versus an actual Klansman telling the same jokes. Or Ashton Kutcher making fun of gay people (or Jews), versus Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doing it. There is a fundamental difference. One comes from a place of genuine hatred, bigotry and anger, while the other is in jest, and therefore should be considered par for the course and fair game since it is not intended to malign or incite hatred.
Consider the idea that if you cannot laugh at yourself, then you are the one who is insecure or clearly not comfortable in your own skin. Period. 

Ashton Kutcher recently did an advertisement for Pop chips where he played various different character stereotypes ranging from a American redneck to a gay German (who is clearly modeled on Karl Lagerfeld). One of his characters was a Bollywood producer named Raj, for which he put on makeup to make himself look brown, as us Indian’s tend to be (frankly, most being even darker than brown). What offended me about this whole thing was not Ashton Kutcher putting on brown face makeup but the fact that some self-aggrandizer called Anil Dash decided it was offensive to me, and my fellow countrymen; all one billion two hundred thousand of them.
A still of Mr. Kutcher as Raj, from the Popchips advertisement, which has since been removed by the company.
Firstly, Mr. Dash was born and grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (not Hariana, Punjab) which would make him about as Indian as Bobby Jindal. It matters less to me where he or anyone else was born, but much more with what shaped and influenced him; the culture and surroundings he imbibed. Growing up in America shaped his outlook and sensibilities in a vastly different way than it would have growing up in India. The reality is that American kids born to first generation Indian parents are often pushed and pulled between the realities of growing up in America, while being imprisoned by an alien Indian culture, and way of thinking that they know nothing off, at home. This is driven by their Indian parent's misplaced and misguided desire to stay in touch with their Indian roots - one that is totally alien to their children. These kids are not Indian in any manner or form, because India never had the opportunity to shape their first steps, their upbringing, their schooling or their adult outlook. America did. It is that simple. So how can a man who has never lived in India speak for more than one billion of us? Not one Indian I know felt in the least bit offended by Mr. Kutcher’s portrayal, in fact they found it hilarious and shared it with their friends on Facebook.

Secondly, after reading Mr. Dash’s blog post titled How To Fix Popchips' Racist Ad Campaign", I had the impression that it was less about taking offense than about seizing an opportunity for self-promotion through controversy. Mr. Dash comes across as someone who is uncomfortable in his own skin. I sensed he was more offended by the fact that Mr. Kutcher, a mere actor, has been far more successful in the same start-up business, presumably because of his celebrity, and possibly the colour of his skin. This, I suspect, is what offended Mr. Dash about this rather funny commercial. I don’t know Mr. Dash but reading his blog post and especially some of his responses to comments, he comes across as self-involved, and much less a defender of the helpless and downtrodden. At one point he responds to a reader comment by saying: “Believe me, I fight many different kinds of injustices (see my post last week about my old high school)…”  Frankly, if the Popchips affair counts as an injustice in Mr. Dash’s world, then he seriously needs to get out from behind his computer a little more often.

There is also a larger issue at play here, a worrying one: that the definition of racism in America seems to be have been hijacked by a political agenda, leading it to become so diluted and watered down over the years, that it has reached an almost comedic climax. The trivial and ludicrous things that people cry racism about, and at the drop of a hat, never cease to amaze. I guess it is not called the “race card” in America for nothing; and it seems to be played much like the Joker or Wild Card. Don’t get me wrong. There are many things worth fighting for, and yes, racism does exist, and it is nasty when you experience it first hand, as I have a few times in my life. However, I suspect that many Americans of this recent generation (Mr. Dash included) have never experienced real hatred. Otherwise, they would know that it is much more serious than having one’s delicate sensibility offended by a humuorous advertisement meant to sell a bag of potato chips...