Self Expression Magazine

The Emperor of All Social Maladies

By Aravindan Ingersol @iaravindan
Pop culture and movies generally tend to be easy targets of the bullets of public criticism for having a bad influence on the society and in particular on children. So when a 14 year old kid stabbed his school teacher in Chennai a few days ago, there was much public outcry and anger, expectedly, and most of them were directed against the evil influence of movies and pop culture; absolving, seemingly, parents, teachers, administrators and the society at large of any responsibility for such untoward behavior. A popular Tamil critic on social issues blamed the movie critics for being too soft on violence in movies; “children are inspired from movies and they naturally carry what they see in celluloid to their lives”, many others say.  Movies and Censorship
All this aggressive posturing against movies, their content and their supposedly bad influence on children exposes patent misunderstanding of the medium. Excessive violence in our movies is symptomatic of the cultural milieu in which they are conceived. They are merely a reflection of the collective psyche of a society at a particular moment. Question arises, then what of movies detached from reality, overstating violence, with scant or no regard for bodily parts that are chopped like a meat facing the butchers axe? The answer to that lies in our limits of tolerance and acceptability for violence in movies. In the marketplace of movies, only those commodities (read ‘themes’) that find acceptance are sold;  except of course if the seller is stubborn and goes by the name LarsVon Trier, the laws of behavioral economics don’t apply.
The emperor of all social maladiesIt is for this reason that themes like child sexual abuse and homosexuality find no place in our movies because of the kind of moral revulsion and disgust they evoke in our collective psyche. It is hypocritical therefore to publicly ridicule violence in movies, when required, and to have a conscious or subconscious acceptance of them in the private space of the mind.
There is a larger threat that looms over the climate of voices that demand restraining portrayal of violence in movies. Dictating what should entail from a piece of art, by the self-appointed custodians of the society, is outrageous and outright contemptible. There is a legitimate forum- the Censor Board of India (CBFC)- to regulate movies and appropriate methods available, such as by means of granting Adult (A) rating to movies that are violent (say) to dissuade creators from entertaining violence in their movies. It is then left to the authorities and parents to limit access to such movies to children. 
It is only when the censor board overreaches, playing the judge, judging appropriateness of the content in a movie and censoring content they find undesirable, the problem arises.  The problem is two-fold. Firstly, it directly violates an individual’s right to free thought and expression, resulting in the production of only movies that reinforce norms & stereotypes and abstain from themes that don’t find popular acceptance. [I have argued elsewhere and more elaborately on the same in- ‘Muzzling the heretics’].  Secondly, the flexibility of choice granted by the censor board for a director to edit out a few unacceptable scenes, to gain a favorable rating for the movie, lets the director to sneak in content that is incompatible with the granted rating. Hence the easy access to sexual innuendos and double entendres to children in ‘U rated’ movies.Misguided priorities  and Infantile fixations
The significance of mass media, internet, popular culture or movies apropos children is not clearly understood. Schools with their misguided sense of purpose in placing discipline over appropriate conduct, end result over process and arbitrariness over reason, suck the joy out of learning; parents, on the other hand, most often misplace priorities and expectations: holding marks, faith and societal acceptance over knowledge, ethics, and self realization.

The emperor of all social maladies

In a 'Teacher-Centric' world of education

Parents and schools both foster, what I call- ‘commodification of conduct’, wherein every activity of a child is bargained for a price; hall of fame (read ‘Ranks’) for acing exams, rewards for proper conduct or completion of an activity, deeming one as a success or a failure based on the ability to meet targets. This engenders the quality of expecting tangible rewards for every activity, when an activity should actually be pursued for the inherent joy in pursuing it regardless of the rewards that would entail.
In such a climate of constant evaluation, with the threat of success or failure lurking behind constantly, pop culture or movies offer an easy frame of reference for children to cling on to and construct identities; acting as the only pathway to answers adults wouldn’t provide. And identities, for all we know, cannot be challenged or tackled merely by censorship. It is therefore absurd to expect a movie maker, for all his responsibility towards his society, to act as the owner of a child day care facility. Schools and parents, by passing the buck to mass media and movies to deconstruct myths and values in a society for their children, they are slowly but steadily building a very unpleasant world. 
A frail old man, walks cheerfully in the midst of huge assembly of people who are waiting anxiously to listen to what he has to say. A young man, out of nowhere, walks up to him and shoots him point-blank. The old man capitulates, instantly, to death. And this is how several Facebook walls reacted to the incident, several years after it took place: they were genuinely confused about the criminality of the murder, and the culpability of the man who pulled the trigger. The old man was Gandhi, and his killer Godse. This is how fuzzy our moral convictions have been reduced to.
And while we discuss more pertinent things like birthplace of lord Ram, permissible skirt size of young women, admissible sexual orientation, cosmic blasphemy, inter-clan rivalry of spaghetti monsters, etc, in the meantime, let’s ridicule movies- the emperor of all our social maladies!   

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