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The Big Ban Theory

Rather than take offence at western sitcoms, we must understand their culture

india Updated: Jun 02, 2013, 22:54 IST
Nilesh Pinto
Nilesh Pinto
Hindustan Times

‘Fear is a friend misunderstood.’ Inspiring lyric, written by American musician John Mayer. Incidentally, he also penned ‘Your Body Is A Wonderland’, whose lyrics go like this — ‘Swimming in a deep sea of blankets’ and ‘never letting your head hit the bed without my hand behind it’. Too many sexual connotations there; we should ban the song.

Recently, the Delhi High Court temporarily banned TV channel Comedy Central for airing a show in which a comedian used ‘suggestive gestures’, which were ‘offensive’ and ‘denigrated women’. (The order was later stayed).

A couple of days later, civic officials in Mumbai banned lingerie-clad mannequins to prevent ‘wrong acts’, as they apparently polluted young minds. Needless to say, both incidents are an offshoot of the paranoia that seems to have gripped the national imagination ever since the December 16 gang rape in Delhi. But the ban also highlights the fact that when it comes to Indian society, there’s just no winning. And when it comes to the country’s top decision-makers, ‘ban’ is quite possibly their favourite safe word. Western sitcoms have been on our TV screens for over 20 years. Globalisation has made several aspects of western culture central to our daily lives.

So for a ‘conservative’ society, this western invasion understandably takes some getting used to. But things are starting to get out of hand. By now, an entire generation of young Indians has grown up watching the US sitcom Friends. The show was wildly popular because young professionals could associate with the camaraderie, relationships and experiences of the characters. The USP of the show wasn’t its sexual connotations. And there were indeed hundreds of them.

One of the funniest lines in The Office is the lead character’s catchphrase: ‘That’s what she said.’ Sexist? Quite possibly. But it’s obvious the line wasn’t written to offend and bleeping certainly isn’t a solution.

There also lies the argument that children could be influenced by these ‘lewd and suggestive’ western influences. Well, the kids are smarter than we give them credit for. The same can’t be said of the rest of us.

That said, the virtual vasectomy performed on TV shows by the information and broadcasting ministry could lead one to believe that Friends and The Office were created to offend. They weren’t. They’re just misunderstood. And when the powers that be start imposing bans, it only gives more wind to intolerance.

No matter what you do in this country of more than a billion, there will always be someone who gets offended. And people do have the right to be offended or even scared by this ‘western barrage’. But the answer isn’t telling them not to get offended. Rather, that fear could be channeled into something constructive. And that’s where a John Mayer re-enters the picture. While some of his lyrics could be construed to ‘denigrate women’, the words of some others, oddly, are rather apt to this situation. For fear is indeed to be embraced, treated as a friend to gain better understanding of the world around us. Even if it’s fear of the unknown.

There are hundreds of Indian songs and films that could be construed to objectify women. And then, for example, there are the nude sculptures that adorn the walls of Khajuraho. But those aren’t offensive, because they are part of a culture we understand, or at least claim to. We need to apply the same logic to our friends on the other side of the globe. Shed the fear and understand their side of the story.

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