Monday, December 31, 2012

Of Rape and Honey Singh

The word "culture" is thrown around a lot these days. Culture shapes individuals, builds communities, defines a people and, if people are to be believed, breeds misogyny, molestation and male-privilege.

Unfortunately, just like the words "Strategic Decision" and "Bro", the word culture receives its fair share of abuse by the masses. Its used far too often for comfort, and often in the wrong context of things.

Given the events of the last few weeks, I've had a lot of fodder to think about, particularly about my culture. I say "my" and not "our" because I don't think I can impose my understanding of what my culture is on anyone else.

What is culture, then? How does one go about finding this culture? Is my culture as good as anyone else's?

I hear culture is inherited. Its the hundreds of values and principles that passed down to us from our learned elders, the infallible, sacrosanct beliefs that are the perfect solution to any moral dilemma.

The thing with inheritance, however, is that it can't be altered in any way. In the same way one inherits undesirable physical characteristics from one's parents, values, too, are far too difficult to be interfered with. The problem begins when the culture we inherit loses its relevance in a dynamic world.

We have a long, global history of sexual double-standards, fierce patriarchy and male-privilege. From medieval witch-burnings to tests-by-fire for chastity in Indian Mythology, the world has not been fair to the fairer sex. The times, they are a changin', however, and we must change with them.

The world may have a long way to go, but one cannot deny how far we've come. We have, in a lot of places, moved on from obsolete, ridiculous concepts of Sati, Homophobia, Caste-discrimination. I know these problems are existent still, but there's no denying the fact the decline in the widespread belief in them.

It can safely be said, then, that culture isn't an inherited characteristic. It can be altered, changed and created.Hence, blaming our problems on "The Indian Cultural Mindset" is simply taking the easy way out.

The other side of culture has received its own share of criticism for promoting sexual biases and misogyny  This is the culture that changes with every successive generations, sometimes in time spans even shorter than that.

This is pop culture.

As with the culture we claim to inherit, the culture that manifests itself in the mainstream of any generation has its own pros and cons.

Honey Singh drew a lot of flak for his misogynist lyrics and demeaning views on women in the music he makes. I suppose when you make a song titled "Balaatkari" you kinda have that one coming.

But is Honey Singh the problem? Is Kareena Kapoor the problem in "Fevicol Se"? Is Mahesh Bhatt the problem? Is Emraan Hashmi?

From Snoop Dogg to Lil Wayne, Hip-hop, more than any other genre of music, has had a "glorious" history of sexism, male-superiority and "bitches n'hoes". Even when a Missy Elliot (or Hard Kaur) find their way into the limelight, they cannot compare to the acclaim received by their male counterparts, even at their best.

In an industry ruled by men, women are expected to "be in their place", which mostly ends up being "on the pole" or "on her knees".

But have we not perpetuated this culture? In its very essence, pop culture is CREATED by the people. It may borrow elements from all sorts of places, but its born from nothing.

Honey Singh wouldn't talk about raping women if we didn't all download it and giggle as we played it on phones in the bus. Objectification wasn't invented by 50 cent, nor will Honey Singh be the one to end it.

Companies wouldn't create virtual rape games if there wasn't a market for it.

In a very good example of irony, we're all crying foul over a culture we've all created for ourselves.

So here's the deal. Banning Honey Singh isn't the answer. Banning Fevicol Se isn't the answer. Shutting clubs down early isn't the answer.

The answer is realizing the demand we've created over the years for this stuff, realising that this content exists because we want it to, that instead of asking for this content to be thrown away, we may need to think about why we're being fed with it in the first place.

So here are a few things we can do:

Stop downloading/buying/sharing music that is repressive, regressive and misogynistic.

Start questioning the validity of our inheritance in a world that may not need it anymore.

Stop using the world "culture" for anything that we're too tired fight against.

Yes, all this is largely abstract, its not all specific, its also extremely slow and painful to execute. I don't have the answers, I don't know how exactly we'll get there.

I do know this though:

You are not your parents. You are not the images on your TV. You are not the song on the radio. You are not creepy video-games.

You are not a product of the culture around you, your culture is a product of you and everyone you know.

Get out and make your own culture. A culture where Hip-Hop doesn't HAVE to be all about "Bitches and Hoes", where item numbers with regressive lyrics don't HAVE to be a part of a masala movies, where deodorant doesn't HAVE to get you a lot of girls to sell.

Don't ban what you've made. Learn and recreate.

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