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Clownin'

Remembering Myself, Travestying Time

Quote #120

Out of this evil, which was a dire kind of evil, because rape on the body of a young person more often than not introduces cynicism, and there is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic, because it means the person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing. In my case I was saved in that muteness… And I was able to draw from human thought, human disappointments and triumphs, enough to triumph myself.

Maya Angelou.

Quote #119

Paradoxically, a society that, in the face of starvation in great areas of the world, allows a large part of its machinery to stand idle, that shelves many important inventions, and that devotes innumerable working hours to moronic advertising and to the production of instruments of destruction — a society in which these luxuries are inherent has made usefulness its gospel.

Max Horkheimer. Eclipse of Reason. 1947.

DEXTER again: Post Script

This is a continuation of my earlier post about the American trend of creating narratives that feed into the popular serial killer crush. I mentioned the moral problem at the heart of the narrative (This is only about Season 1 of Dexter). I had occasion to give it some more thought and the way Dexter Morgan manages to justify his killing seems too crazy for comfort.

He is a singular sort of ‘psychopath’ (or ‘someone with irrepressible homicidal urges’, if the label seems to suggest a lot): he is a pathologically homicidal individual with moral principles. The ambit of his morality involves strict views on involuntary euthanasia, doctor-assisted suicide of the mentally unhinged, human trafficking and systematic murder, and child sexual abuse. He kills only those who “deserve to die”, and those are the ones who use their socially and politically (as in ‘power-related’) privileged positions to commit crimes, mostly killings. An especial sort of despicable killable is the one who misuses the trust and responsibility that people invest in him, or rarely, her.

I don’t know if this moral hypocrisy is challenged anywhere in the rest of the series. I think it gives a lot to think. Why doesn’t he just end his own life rather than go through his rather tenuous and illogical ethical justification for why he kills? To make a better world? By not showing the humane side of his victims, the series make it appear that this indeed might be the case.

Quote #118

Current toys are made of a graceless material, the product of chemistry, not of nature. Many are now moulded from complicated mixtures; the plastic material of which they are made has an appearance at once gross and hygienic, it destroys all the pleasure, the sweetness, the humanity of touch. A sign which fills one with consternation is the gradual disappearance of wood, in spite of its being an ideal material because of its firmness and its softness, and the natural warmth of its touch. Wood removes, from all the forms with it supports, the wounding quality of angles which are too sharp, the chemical coldness of metal. When the child handles it and knocks it, it neither vibrates nor grates, it has a sound at once muffled and sharp. It is a familiar and poetic substance, which does not sever the child from close contact with the tree, the table, the floor. Wood does not wound or break down; it is not shatter, it wears out, it can last a long time, live with the child, alter little by little the relations between the object and the hand. If it dies, it is in dwindling, not in swelling out like those mechanical toys which disappear behind the hernia of a broken spring. Wood makes essential objects, objects for all time. […] Henceforth, toys are chemical and substance and colour; their very material introduces one to a coenaesthesis of use, not pleasure. These toys die in fact very quickly, and once dead, they have no posthumous life for the child.

“Toys.” Roland Barthes. 1972.

Quote #117

Ignorance of evil is not virtue but imbecility: admiring it is like giving a prize for honesty to a man who has not stolen your watch because he did not know you had one.

Shaw, George Bernard. Preface to Misalliance. 1909-10.

Shaw is a problematic figure. His views on almost everything is iconoclastic. He calls the ‘family’ a humbug. Elsewhere he states that parents should be free to dissociate their relationship with their children, and just throw them out of the house, and the community should have moral responsibility to take care of all the children. It is not possible for adults to enjoy the company of children because the latter are cruel, selfish, and noisy.

Most importantly, Shaw approved of eugenics, the pseudo scientific theory that natural selection can be accelerated and manipulated to the advantage of the race by suppressing the reproduction of the genetically inferior races and classes. So his use of the word ‘imbecility’ is a loaded term; in a hierarchy of individuals based on intellectual capacity, the imbecile or the ‘feebleminded’ as they were called then, was a blot on the human gene pool.

Although I agree with the point of this quote, namely that innocence is overrated, I would replace imbecility with inexperience, perhaps.

Quote #116

India does tend to be the last refuge of defeated systems of knowledge and lost causes. It has remained, by default, a cultural gene bank of the world. It is not so because it has a surfeit of defiant individuals ideologically committed to alternative visions, but because many of the little cultures of India, caught in a time warp, have somehow survived and, though under severe stress, represent and live out fragments of alternative visions of a good society, unwittingly and unselfconsciously.

Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy, 1983.

DEXTER: Capitalising on the Serial Killer Crush

(This rant is based on Season 1 of Dexter (2006). I have no intention to watch further.)

I hate to admit that a television show with a wonderful cast, a charismatic and compelling main lead, and great music, has a big moral problem at its heart. Now, art has a licence to be free of moral policing, I agree, but it is a licence to be used responsibly. In my recent posts, I have been frequently using the morality card to criticise films and ideologies. It could be just a phase, perhaps, but the phase is now and here, so I well might smugly shred popular objects of questionable moral content galore.

What exactly is problematic about Dexter? As lieutenant LaGuerta remarks to a convict/suspect, “fascination with serial killers is an American pastime.” How hypocritical, double-faced of the filmmakers to exploit this fascination by creating a serial killer with a moral code! What strikes me most is the empathy the show evokes for its protagonist while depicting his victims as the unconditionally wicked who “deserve to die”.

Continue reading “DEXTER: Capitalising on the Serial Killer Crush”

“To kill or not to kill”: A ‘Psychopathic’ Problem

The standard and conversational test for psychopathy is a trolley question, in fact, two sequential questions. A train is going to smash 5 people on the track to smithereens unless you flick a switch and divert the train. But this alternative track has one person on it. Will you flick the switch? Again, suppose the only way to stop the train and save the mad five is not a switch but pushing down a huge person in front of the train. Will you do it?

You are supposed to answer yes to the first question, and have moral qualms in answering the second. Only psychopaths would answer yes to both. An unflinching, unhesitating yes.

I asked this question around. The first question got mixed replies. One person said, “of course, to save the five, it is okay to kill one. The majority rules!” Two other persons said “The hell, no! I have no right to make the decision over someone’s life and death. Besides, why should I save 5 strangers by killing off one stranger? I have no personal connection with either the five or the one. I’d call the police and show them the accident scene instead.” One respondent expressed fears that he would be guilty of homicide and face prison time if he flicked the switch, let alone push a person to death.

Continue reading ““To kill or not to kill”: A ‘Psychopathic’ Problem”

MOOTHON (2019)

Dir: Geethu Mohandas
Language: Malayalam and Hindi

A film that addresses a myriad of taboo issues pertaining to gender and sexuality, such as homosexuality, sex work, and transgenders, as well as the “seamy side” of Bombay’s red light district, Kamathipura, Moothon is a gem. Having said that, it is also a fact that the film falls short of what-could-have-been and has a number of incredulous tidbits. How, for example, does Mulla reach Mumbai all the way from Lakshadweep? The boat, the storm, the mermaid and the fishing ship are stretching the credibility radar quite a bit. Then again the dependence of the film’s premise on the unspoken, the phrase left out, the hidden identity and other lapses in communication weaken the plot.

This is my first Geetu Mohandas film but I knew this was a film festival kind of film; still I was surprised by the direction. The acting, the excellent cast, the visuals (loved the camera), and the atmospherics are the graces of the film. On the script side, apart from the use of the sweet native language of the islanders, I felt it was too stiff and unnatural.

As for Nivin Pauly, he is remarkable in the role of a drug addicted, sad man of a dealer and gangster (the makeup job is commendable). At some points, he evoked personas of a Kuttan, Kurien, or a Jerry Jacob from his earlier films, but that might be just for me. I’m not going to go on about the rest of the cast except for one character: Latheef the transgender.

The biggest flaw of the film, to me, is the under-representation of Sujith Shankar. Who gives an actor of such immense potential a screen time of less than ten minutes? However for all the lack of screen time, he acts so wholeheartedly and movingly that he outweighs Pauly’s acting transformation. He has played only a handful of roles in Malayalam cinema, most notably as the antagonists Jimson in Maheshinte Prathikaram and Hari in Njan Steve Lopez. I hope he does a film in the main role, he’s a truly amazing actor.

In conclusion this film gets a 4 out of 5. I wish the plot and script were stronger.

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