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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 21 New Delhi May 14, 2016

The Dilemma of Freedom of Expression and Transgression

Monday 16 May 2016

by Fayezah Iqbal

Today we are surfeit with the entertainment of sundry kinds from the digital world and social media in addition to the regular means of television and movies. The dimensions of entertainment have widened and expanded like never before. Especially for the youth there is no particular mode or programme when it comes to entertainment; as they can always jump on to various diets/stuffs being offered on a platter, ranging from classic Hollywood teleseries to movies to reality shows, to debates on the contentious issues afflicting the nation.

While the middle-aged and old-aged working women, and homemakers still gorge on the soap operas and fortnightly released Bollywood movies, the children and adolescents are the most susceptible ones who confront a deluge of choices ranging from the home-grown shows to the influx of obscenity, thrill and adventure available at the click of a button in the digital world.

Thus as enetertainment goes on to become more accessible, cheaper, abundant and ubiquitous, it spawns a generation of an addictive, whetted and capricious appetite to consume more and more of it without guaranteeing a commensurate productivity or value addition to the society as a whole.

Though entertaining long back turned into ‘a commerce with a verve’, now it thrives and breeds primarily on vulgarity, commodification of women, sensation and thrill of the basest kind and raunchiest presentation of all the pervert and condemnable things.

Entertainment seeks refuge in the overarching entity of art and aesthetics and freedom of expression of art, which guards it against every opposition, confrontation or dissaproval. It looks up for validation and justification for every kind of stuff shown in the name of art.

This ambiguous umbrella of abstract and open-ended concepts (art, aesthetics, liberty of expression) acts as a shield where the most contentious and sensitive of issues, controversial themes, intimacy, privacy, sexuality and immoral prevalence are brought to the fore in such a way that most of the times it leaves the sound and mature minds disturbed and agonised, and impressionable and young minds more prone to the wrongdoing and evil, instead of serving its claimed motive of enlightening, reviving and reforming the hearts and minds.

This argument is not to deter art from its rightful expression in the desired way or curb its expression in the name of lofty ideals, but this is to remind that the entertainment industry can hugely serve humanity by a more sincere, refined and guarded, and less crass and commercial manner. This is to say that it owes a responsibility to the society and its people on which it sustains and thus has to come up with innovation, subtlety, development and deep reflection of the contents and its final execution, with full consideration of the crowd it is targeting as its prime audience. Otherwise it would defeat the very purpose of its existence, that is, of a heartfelt and healthy amusement and imparting needful information, awareness and empathy of the happenings far and wide.

While the entertainment world, both in television and films till date, has produced some of the remarkable and awe-inspiring works like Balika Vadhu, Shanti, Ganga, or Pinjar, Chak de India, Taare Zameen Par (to name a few), which have helped to unveil the social evils and underlying and unaddressed grief of certain sections to the fore, at the same time it has generated and promoted a replete of pompous, lascivious, and promiscuous and depraved substance in the name of rawness and originality in the cinematography and storytelling while merely toeing the line of the Occident.

Paradoxically enough, all of this is presented brazenly defending the imperatives of a so-called free society where everything should be permissible and moralising and where didactic discourses have no place. 

No wonder a higher crime rate is being reported among the juveniles and youngsters who are getting ‘inspired’ and emulating the dramatic and dynamic moves of reel life to assuage their unrestrained impulse and are commiting some of the most heinous and bizarre crimes everyday. This stray entertainment needs to be reconsidered, rechecked and toned down in order to save the young minds from going astray. It’s high time now that not everything is taken down the throat and accepted as entertainment, and the frivolous, superfluous and licentious contents are discarded at the outset to ensure the prevention of imperceptibly infiltarting evil in every bit of the society by this medium.

It’s time that we question ourselves that all these trappings of a modern, tolerant and liberal society are not breeding at the cost of eroding our bare humanistic values, inclination towards goodness, and turning us into merely ‘overly defensive mortals’ reacting to every social norm with utter disregard. It’s time we ponder over the conditions we are creating, whether it isn’t more intolerant, vulnerable and fragile than the one we intended to do away with.

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