Friday, February 20, 2015

On AIB, Censorship and the Freedom of Trashy Speech

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while now, but the words haven’t been coming, or they have been coming way after someone already said it. It’s not like I have much to add to the conversation, but there seems to be a culture of extremism creeping in on both the pro and anti-AIB advocates, that’s missing the point entirely.

I haven’t seen the AIB roast, because I never found them that funny. I have seen enough roasts to know that without truly insightful and brilliant roasters, it gets monotonous very quickly, and nothing I have seen from AIB indicates that they are insightful or brilliant. Witty yes, but little else.
So why am I commenting on something I haven’t seen? I’m not. I am commenting on what I have seen, which is a wave of frothing-at-the-mouth guardians of “Indian Culture” (The same culture that burnt widows at the stake and decided a person’s worth depended entirely on his or her profession. No, you don’t get to pick and choose the parts of the culture that don’t embarrass you) going on and on about how AIB should be incarcerated for what they said. That’s scary. That’s dangerous. And if these people are allowed to win, it’s a slippery fucking slope.

They sold tickets that people willingly bought; making it clear it was a show for adults. They got up on stage. And they told jokes. Poor jokes, maybe. Trashy, crass, classless, clueless, disgusting, perverted, sick, debauched, decadent, unwholesome jokes. Maybe. If your tastes don’t swing that way.  But at the end of the day they told jokes, and now they have been slapped with legal action for it. They can go to jail for it. And that’s very, very wrong.

It’s wrong, because there is truly no accounting for taste. Those who are champing to see them taken down today certainly do things that some other group, somewhere believe goes against “Indian Culture”. Of that, I am certain of, because if there is one thing human nature excels at, it’s in being offended. Those former moral guardians of taste, or at least some of them, would bristle when the other group comes to take THEIR freedoms away. “But there’s nothing wrong in what I did! I am not a bad person”, they would say, and they would be right. I am sure the good people of AIB believe the same thing today. But if those moral guardians turned victims are in the minority, those very reasonable rights would be taken away from them, because they didn’t fit the majority’s idea of what’s good and pure. Suddenly, “standing up for good taste” would turn into “oppressive censorship”, because not enough people believed in the freedom to tell jokes without the threat of prison.

“Taste” has been used throughout history to quell dissenting voices. To destroy freedom of speech. The defenders of the Charlie Hebdo killers point to the fact the cartoons were in poor taste. Perhaps they were, but no one deserved to be killed for them. Speaking out for people like them are not political correctness – forcing them to be silent because they don’t fit your idea of what “good taste” is, is. Moral policing and political correctness are old friends, and it’s the politically incorrect, brash, tasteless assholes that drag society ahead, inch, by agonizing inch. It was politically correct to say that race mixing was not right. It was the done thing. Until some assholes came in and changed the equation. It was politically correct to say that women shouldn’t vote, long before it was a controversial opinion, and then, a ridiculously archaic one. Until some asshole women wouldn’t hear of it.

I am not saying AIB to social reformers. More likely, they are brash, edgy kids who saw the comedy central roasts and wondered “hey, if they can swear at their stars, why can’t we swear at ours? Swearing’s funny, right?” They thought they could take the jokes they cracked in the privacy of their living rooms (the tamer ones actually), make them out in the open, and what was the worst things could get? But the same arguments that can be used to silence or incarcerate AIB today can be used to do the same to people who speak up on more serious issues. Who make fun of India’s real problems, not to mock them, but to raise awareness. Comedy has the power to change the world. Not AIB’s roast, certainly, but it does, and it should not be silenced. So I don’t stand up for AIB’s roasts, or the jokes, or the humour. But I certainly stand up for AIB’s right to make them to their hearts content.