Even ironically, it’s not my fault

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Last month, All India Bakchod (AIB), a comedy collective, released a video called It’s Your Fault.  As the video begins, we immediately get the premise; it is going to be an ironic commentary on victim blaming. It is obvious and the references popular enough for us to recognise them immediately — clothing, being out alone, chow mein, mobile phones. We find ourselves laughing at the police officer who is ridiculously insinuating in his vernacular that it is Koechlin’s character’s fault. Next, we laugh at these naïve smiling women who are clearly being silly in buying into the stereotype that we (women) talk too much, titillate men on screen, that our place is really in the kitchen and that we are incapable of simple math.  We are so above this sort of misogynistic victim blaming, we can laugh at these women being violently attacked while ironically mouthing “It’s my fault”. At what point during this joke, that we are all in together, do some of us begin to feel that this is not a joke? It is not a joke simply because it is literal. It’s so shocking and ridiculous that it’s almost funny, much like the situations being mocked in the video.

So why, then, is this video not receiving the same flak that the people who originally said the quotes did? Is it in the same way where it is unacceptable if a police officer implies you’re a prostitute because of what you’re wearing but completely alright if your friend calls you a slut for the same reason? Is the cop telling Koechlin’s character that it’s her fault less insulting than her telling us that it’s our fault? Is it funny in the same way that we can make and laugh at jokes about women talking too much but at the same time blame Indian culture for dismissing female expressiveness? Is it simply an ironic tone then that will eradicate rape culture?

Again, this is not a case against “rape jokes”. This is a case against a failed attempt at one. The problem with this video is that it sets up a strong premise for what could be a rape satire and then just doesn’t deliver.

Just like the joke in the video about godmen’s prescription that calling your rapist bhaiyya equals “rape cancel”, the writers seem to be under the impression that by simply adding quotation marks and a sarcastic tone to terribly sexist statements people have made, they can brush off its misogyny and reclaim it. Sexist Quotes + Ironic Tone = Patriarchy Cancel.

One of the biggest drawbacks of irony is that it makes us believe that because we can laugh at something, we are above it and free from it. Such as when Barkha Dutt asked Juhi Pandey about how victim blaming is not something just assigned to the khap panchayats when in fact friends of ours have similar thoughts. Pandey accepts this for the “educated lots with stable jobs” but quickly asserts that she’s “thankfully been cocooned with friends who think exactly like me”.  So we say, we know sexism exists all around but we really think it exists all around except in our tight circles. And while this is comforting it is exactly where the danger lies. Because like racism in the west, sexism in educated India is more subtle, more nuanced and more veiled. But it still exists.

In an earlier article, Nishita Jha defends the AIB video from people’s assumptions that it is preaching to the choir, saying that there isn’t a “certain kind of person” that rapes. But this is, in fact, an instance of preaching to the choir. Not because this group of people does not rape but because this group of people are more evolved and have a different set of “things that cause rape”. The English speaking, satire appreciating potential rapists are the kind of people who will laugh at and post this funny AIB video on their wall and at the same time defend a good looking actor accused of raping his maid saying, “Why would he rape anyone? He’s good looking and rich, any woman would be happy to have sex with him and if he really wanted to have sex with his maid he could he could have just paid her to.”  Because according to many in this group of people, it is a privilege for a woman if a good looking rich (married) man shows an interest in her and all lower class women’s bodies are available to upper class men at a price.

Lazy jokes about a controversial subject without any insight may still find an audience in comedy clubs. Social commentary, on the other hand, is made with the specific intention of triggering a reaction that will have an intended effect. And for the AIB to have attempted to join in the serious rape debate with an underdeveloped idea is extremely arrogant. There’s nothing subversive about writing a script that makes women and men participate in the very stereotypes that keep sexism and rape culture alive. Young English-speaking, satire-appreciating crowds don’t blame chow mein, they are smarter than that. They blame alcohol (“she didn’t say no, so it wasn’t rape; she was so drunk she just lay there”), they blame the demystification of purity (“she’s slept with all the guys in our group; it’s not like she was a virgin”), they blame the notion of the male’s role as pursuer, (“they did everything else, so even though she was saying she didn’t want to maybe he thought she was just being shy”), and of course, they blame sexual freedom (“they’ve slept together before, so I don’t know why she was pretending like she didn’t want to again, she was just being a tease”). So if you want to make a joke, let’s laugh about how it’s supposed to be funny when an acquaintance tells you to let him drop you home because he’s not going to rape you because he’s not into “fat chicks”. Chow mein and mobile phones are too just too easy.

This video does nothing to forward the discussion of the rampant sexism in this country. It simply allows us to appreciate something we already knew: the fact that a large number of people around us reject absurd, mindless and violent beliefs.

On a more optimistic note, That Day After Everyday, a short film written by Nitin Bhardwaj and directed by Anurag Kashyap, released online on Tuesday night. It deals with the sensitive issue of everyday sexual harassment. It sets up the premise much like in It’s Your Fault: the ‘man of the house’ is telling the ‘woman in the kitchen’ about the chow mein news and how it causes men to rape. She has been teased by men in her neighbourhood, which contains three chow mein shops. “The more quiet women are,” he advises her, “the better it is”. In the second house, a mother-in-law is telling her daughter-in-law that she doesn’t need to work and put herself in danger as her husband sends enough money for them to manage. All this, while the news is blaring with gruesome details about recent rapes of women and children.

The film then goes on to document, in vivid unsettling detail, the everyday harassment that the three women in the film — and most women in this country — face. The casual comments that begin the moment you step out of the house, the aggression you have to deal with the moment you speak up, the constant “accidental” touching.

The film gives us, and the characters, some respite with a short laugh. But here we are laughing at the potential perpetrator, not the potential victim like in the AIB video. Unlike the video, this short film takes the audience on a journey that actually leads up to a climax. It reminds us that sexual violence is real; we cannot casually distance ourselves from it by being ironic.  It reminds us of the importance of continuing to be critically aware of the widespread presence of rape culture and our own complicity in it.

That Day After Everyday is not a pathbreaking film and the story is not exactly enthralling, but it is empowering in that it takes rampant stereotypes and flips them around. We’ve been told for ages not to make eye contact and keep silent so we may pass through life unharmed and unnoticed. Finally, this film offers a different path.

If you want to watch a subversive empowering film that is also funny, watch Jessie Kahnweiler’s Meet My Rapist. Like the AIB video, it may trigger ugly memories for survivors of sexual violence and not all people may find it funny or interesting. However, it is sincere and offers a different perspective on the lived reality of rape. More importantly, it has an intention — and culminates with a punchline.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Every paragraph of your article made me squirm. The primary problem with people who impose a creative mandate on humor is that you’re telling people what’s acceptable by your standards of judgement. Was the AIB video funny? Yes.

    Does it reinforce patriarchal values of our society or does it sarcastically depict those values? Should humor be mandated by the social narrative of what’s acceptable or is it even more necessary that the creative liberty of people not be impinged upon? Your idea of a better attempt at film-making is equally at fault if you think that ‘That Day After Everyday’ is a better attempt at re-constructing the social narrative. TDAE 1) almost equates weakness with working in the kitchen, 2) advocates the use of force without having gone to the law enforcement agencies first and 3) justifies anarchist behavior when the state fails to deliver.

    So did you cherrypick the mistakes and point it out? No. Why? Because you probably understood the central theme, which is that you can exercise your power if and when needed. I, for instance, identified the central idea as that of feminism – standing up for your rights without any fear.

    So why persecute an attempt at comedy by being overtly judgemental about how it’s misogynistic and shit when all it does is attempt to make fun of the level of stupid stereotypes who are part of our social structure today?

    Your values of female empowerment belie the essence of what it means to be empowered. Your parochial attempt at describing the idea of comedy to be supremely flawed simply because it plays into patriarchal tones is not just incredibly stupid but disappointing as well.

    “There’s nothing subversive about writing a script that makes women and men participate in the very stereotypes that keep sexism and rape culture alive. Young English-speaking, satire-appreciating crowds don’t blame chow mein, they are smarter than that. They blame alcohol (“she didn’t say no, so it wasn’t rape; she was so drunk she just lay there”), they blame the demystification of purity (“she’s slept with all the guys in our group; it’s not like she was a virgin”), they blame false modesty, (“we did everything else, so even though she was saying she didn’t want to I know she was just being shy”), and of course, they blame sexual freedom (“we’ve slept together before, so I don’t know why she was pretending like she didn’t want to again, she was just being a tease”).”

    Also, there’s a difference btw not being able to give consent and regretting consent the next day. Can you even begin to start delineating where the line possibly lies? How flawed is it in the current scenario that the power rests with women who on one hand, can assert their sexual agency and then the next morning just say that it was rape because they got drunk? While I’m categorically stating that there’s no excuse to violating a woman and providing any excuse for it which includes but isn’t restricted to the examples you’ve quoted, how is it fair that this form of incessant male-bashing is employed to threaten males who just want sex. If it’s equality women seek, should they not be able to handle the fact that inebriation will cause temporary lapses of judgement and if they wake up the next morning regretting the sex they had the previous night, it’s their prerogative to ensure they don’t get inebriated till the point where it can cause promiscuity to be such a problem?
    Rape is the inability to give consent to sexual intercourse on absolute terms while having sex while drunk just shifts an inappropriate amount of blame to the male because the girl wakes up in the morning and regrets having sex with a guy she doesn’t remember. Fair?

    Sexual agency, promiscuity, empowerment, culture etc are tough things to comprehend and when mixed, even more so. However, blaming people for using a POV for a comedy routine is just stupid.

    • The fact that one can conjure up with absolutely no context that a woman got too drunk, made a bad judgement call, regretted it the next day and then falsely cried rape out of a hypothetical and ambiguous situation (“she didn’t say no, so it wasn’t rape; she was so drunk she just lay there”) is symptomatic of the victim blaming culture I have spoken about.

      It is so much easier for a woman to deal with a drunken sexual encounter than rape. It is so traumatic to report or even talk about a rape that many often prefer to think of the incident as a drunken mistake and not the other way around.

      In a country where a majority of the rapes go unreported and the number of false accusations (AND unfounded accusations) are so low, talking about sexual agency and the right to report a sex crime as some sort of privilege that is being abused will continue to stigmatize and deter people from speaking up.

      As for the video, I was assessing it as a social commentary. As a comedic routine, I am not inclined to say anything negative about it. I am not the prude police here to censor people’s jokes.

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