Deepika talks about #MyChoice and the stream of opinionated op-eds, articles, Facebook statuses, angry YouTube comments and comment wars begins. Everyone’s out to prove their point, as usual. Nobody really seems to be listening — either to the video itself or to each other’s opinions about it. Pause.
Listen. Think. Rethink.
A great professor once said something in a literature class that has stuck with me, and it is great advice for anyone: “Forget about what the author meant.”
Yes, it is important to try and understand what a storyteller is trying to say but it is more important to see what you are taking away from the story. And no two individuals are going to take away the exact same message or walk away with the same feeling. They might be able to relate but their experience of that story will be different.
Yes, there are many aspects of the #MyChoice video that may be important to talk about whether it be the irony of the fact that a publication like Vogue is sponsoring it, or that the people involved contribute in some way or the other to the objectification of women or the perpetuation of a dangerous consumer culture, body image, so on and so forth. But, please remember that every story, every video, every message by a celebrity/famous personality is benefitting someone materially, or contributing to a larger agenda, somewhere.
That agenda may not be a very good one (or a clear one, or a planned one) or the story may be contributing to multiple agendas, some of which may be positive, some not so much.
Focus On The Good
Criticize the negative, highlight the negative consequences, discuss the negatives, and contribute to a healthy discussion that looks towards constant improvement. But focus on the good.
If you want to get into the nitty gritty of the video itself, while keeping the external factors aside, there is a huge outcry over the video’s suggestion that a woman should be free to have sex outside of marriage. “My choice: To marry or not to marry; to have sex before marriage; to have sex outside of marriage.” Personally, I don’t think that the message is supposed to be that adultery is a good thing. I don’t think the meaning is literal at all. Cheating is wrong, period. Whether a man does it or a woman.
I think the bigger idea behind that particular line is that one should be able to choose their own mistakes and not forever be branded/judged for them. And where judgement has to be passed, it should have equal tangible and intangible consequences for both men and women. However, hypothetically speaking, maybe this particular line is meant to be very, very literal and is in fact saying that infidelity is empowering. Then condemn that part of the message, not the whole message and certainly not the messenger. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
These days everyone has to have their say, and they have to have it said immediately, before they even have enough time to think over what they’ve seen or read. And it needs to be black or white. And of course, scathing negative criticism is always “cool.” How many commentaries on a topic do we read on a daily basis that discuss grey areas or weigh both pros and cons in a reasonable, enlightening manner?
I don’t blame individuals much but I do blame the larger system. Where everything is a rat race, everything is about getting there fast, having an opinion so sure and so strong that one is not even allowed to pause and be unsure. Quick money, quick fame, quick “expertise”…it’s hard to hold back. Sometime it is even a matter of pure survival. Everything is a business first and anything else later — be it social message laden videos by NGO’s or big corporations, novels, textbooks, films, even individual conversations at time. Art takes second place, it has to take second place.
Work that comes from the soul also needs the finance and marketing to get anywhere in this mad, mad world. It’s sad, but there’s no escaping it. The concept of “genuine” has really been given short shrift, not because genuine has stopped existing but because everything is plastered in layers and layers of what sells.
In a way, people who can tell the story they want to tell by leveraging this business aspect, by using it as a resource instead of a hindrance, are very smart indeed. Unlike the rest of us who only rant and rave and curse the system, these individuals make sure that stories that need to be told stay alive. Messages that need to be sent across, are sent out in some way or the other. Often, they need to be sent out in multiple ways because different audiences, different sectors of society, different mindsets are going to absorb the message differently and will act upon it differently.
Videos like the #VogueEmpower series may be a case of preaching to the converted. I don’t know, I can’t tell you if they affected anyone for the better in a substantial way or changed an individual’s mindset. But, at the very least, they serve as a reminder to keep the conversation going, and the faster we start making such conversations and debates healthier and more productive rather than just zoning in on one juicy point and using it to shout about “I”, the better. For all of us.
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The original version of this post appeared on http://thedramathatispak.