One of the channels of outrage in the aftermath of the brutal, inhuman violation, assault by six men and subsequent death of the 23-year old lady in Delhi was directed at an unexpected target: The Indian Punjabi rapper Honey Singh (Yo! Yo! Honey Singh). It started on the internet first and on the ground later by unknown sources. The protestors alleged that the Rapper’s music contained misogynistic and explicit, sexist lyrics glorifying rape and abuse against women, and demanded that his New Year night concert at Hotel Bristol in Gurgaon be cancelled and some people even demanded a ban on him and his music. After some online “petitions” were circulated and more people joined the noise, the Hotel gave in and canceled the show. Someone also filed an FIR against Honey Singh for recording “extremely vulgar and indecent songs” (source). The drama continues, though, with Singh denying charges against him and threatening to file defamation cases against those who started the campaign. There was a silver lining however. As it is with all controversies, people flocked to YouTube to see what the hoopla is all about resulting in Honey Singh’s new song “The Party Gettin’ Hot” notching up a million views in just a couple of days. Meanwhile, people on Twitter were still outraging and calling for bans. As if Honey Singh and some of his lyrics entice people to go out and rape?
I haven’t seen the controversial video or even listened to any of Honey Singh’s music, precisely because it is not the kind of music that I enjoy listening to. I am not familiar with his music at all, and don’t want to be. Anyway, Rap Music is known to contain misogynistic lyrics and visuals since a long time, and last year Rapper/Hip Hopper Kayne West got into a major international controversy about a song and video “Monster” which is absolutely horrendous and Honey Singh has a long way to go if he wants to catch up with West.
The question here though is: do these “bans” that our country is so famous for, solve anything? There have been other people calling for a similar ban on Bollywood and Item Numbers. There is no doubt that popular culture influences how people think and behave, and as I myself have said before, Bollywood plays a huge part in shaping the mentality Indian men have towards women, especially the “guy on the street” (I am not using “common man” because there are too many people vying to be identified by that term). So should Bollywood/Musicians desist from showing what they do now? Should screening of such movies be stopped? Should Twitter mobs force cancellation of shows? Should other mobs “force” cancellation of shows as we have seen before? No. None of these is the answer because all of these amounts to some kind of ban and intolerance. And banning anything will not solve anything as we have seen so many times in the past. If bans are not the solution, what is to be done? For perspective, I would like to direct your attention to some events that happened in Norway during the early 1990s.
Black Metal, the Norwegian Church Burnings and Aftermath
Norway is particularly known for its Black Metal scene which developed during the early 1990s. For those who don’t know, Black Metal is an extreme form of Heavy Metal music which deals with all kinds of evil scary stuff like satanism, anti-church themes, general evil-ness, devils and such espoused through music that is generally very fast, loud and dark and evil-sounding, with highly distorted guitars, blast beats, high pitched, screeching or growling vocals recorded in very low fidelity. In all, the entire scene is surrounded by general gloom and doom with artistes competing to outdo each other in evil-ness and scariness. But things came to a head in 1991 and 1992 when Black Metallers in Norway started burning churches and killing each other. Several churches in Norway were burned to the ground and Varg ‘Count Grishnack’ Vikernes a right-wing nutcase of the one-man Black Metak band Burzum, who was also accused of the church burnings, went and murdered Øystein ‘Euronymous’ Aarseth of the band Mayhem in some of the most infamous incidents in music history. So what did the Norwegian authorities do? Did they “ban” Black Metal? No. They did what they are supposed to do, they arrested Vikernes and threw him in jail for 21 years. The people were left to decide what music they should listen to, with the warning that they will pay dearly if lines of the law are crossed. The government did not meddle with the right people have to listen to Black, Death Metal or Christian (White) Metal. And that is the way to go. Banning anything, be it alcohol or music has always been counterproductive and caused immense problems that could never be solved, because it is human nature to try and circumvent bans
The Banning Culture and why it will Not Work
Banning something amounts to the old adage of “cutting off the limb to cure the illness” and “treating the symptoms rather than the cause”. The cause for the crime has to be identified, treated and cured. And at the same time, active Policing and making people fear the law (not the Police) which says “you will pay if you break the law” will supplement this nicely. Imagine for a moment that Honey Singh’s particular song was banned. People would still have the songs in their computers, MP3 Players, Phones et al, and I don’t think the Police is going to launch a “Honey Singh Song Deletion Drive” to nab these “offenders”. Same goes for “Item Songs”. These things cause enough harm while in the open, but will cause multitudes of harm more if they are wrapped up and pushed underground. The rest of the World learned is lesson from the biggest ban in the World, the Great American Prohibition from 1920 to 1933, which banned production and consumption of Alcohol in the Unites States. It just pushed the liqour industry underground and gave birth to the American Mafia, the Syndicate, and many problems the USA faces today including their notorious “Gun Culture” can be traced back to prohibition. Banning Honey Singh’s music will not stop rape in India. Only one thing can, which is a change in mentality. There have been calls for bans on Mobile Phones, Google, RIM, Facebook, the Internet in general, pornography, skirts, jeans, music, “western stuff”, chow-mein, alcohol, tobacco and every other imaginable thing, all of which is absurdly ridiculous. All this is the result of a foolish, uneducated, misled and misinformed populace, not to mention uneducated.
How long will you go on banning things? What will happen after you pave banned everything and crimes still don’t stop? The way out is not to ban, but to educate. That is how the issue can be tackled at the root itself, how the cause of the disease can be treated and not the symptoms. But the state, which is supposed to take care of this, seems to be least interested and resorts to babysitting the people, telling them: “You can’t have nice things because you don’t behave”. But who taught them what the good behavior is? Nobody. Imagine if people are taught something like: “You can listen to any musician but understand that he is just an artiste out to make music money and fame, and nothing he/she sings/says is real life nor is to be implemented in real life which could break any rules. If you do, you will be put inside as per law without mercy!”
The Role and Responsibility of Popular Culture
On another note, the producers of these movies and so on should also realize that we, the Indian society is not really advanced and developed enough to understand the difference between the fantasy delivered by popular culture and the reality that is real life. People here not just idolize entertainment figures but worship them, no matter what they do. So it is not much of a wonder that people try to emulate in real life what these “stars” do on-screen, which includes violence and misogyny. “Good” messages are often lost in the noise, and it is anyway easier to ape the bad things than the good ones. Movie makers seeing that the society is happy with the tripe they produce, keep feeding them with it, which the public readily accepts, forming an infinite loop which never ends. How else do you explain the continuous stream of nonsense that Bollywood keeps churning out? Compare a movie from 2000 with one from 2012, and you can find that almost nothing has changed except the technicalities and scenery. That is how much we have progressed. The popularity of Black Metal in Norway did not result in all churches in the country being burned to the ground, and the perpetrators of the 1991 crimes were Vikernes and others themselves and not their listeners. Why? because the people know how music is to be kept apart from life. Emotions running high over popular culture and being influenced by it are signs of an immature society, whose kneejerk reaction will always be to ban.
Once a society is matured enough, they will know how to take what is how. Even the Twitter mobs who demanded a ban on Honey Singh’s concert are part of the problem and not of the solution.