The Karnataka government issued an intriguing order earlier this month. All parties where ‘foreigners’ are present will be videotaped by government-appointed videographers. It comes in response to some outcry over a rave party held in 2012 which involved drugs, nudity and making out. Videotaping, the order declares, will end sleaze and uphold Indian tradition.
This isn’t interesting because of the tired tropes of moral policing and cultural fascism that won’t rouse anyone from even an afternoon nap unless they are paid to do so or embroiled in outdated discussions.
What’s most notable here is the deep belief in video, our newest god, and the belief that the visual presents absolute evidence of truth. It implies that the camera eye, because it is not human, records objectively, things as they actually are. It thus confers on the one who wields this truth telling machine a kind of nobility — the knight of truth carries the sword of objectivity which will reveal with a dispassionate slicing of its electronic gaze, who is wrong and who is right and by extension, what is good and what is bad.
Illustration / Amit Bandre
The Karnataka government believes certain things symbolise Indian culture. ‘Foreigners’ in shorts and tank tops who are relaxed about PDA are morally corrupt in their view. The ‘objective’ eye of the camera, which can prove this, will automatically compel them to curb their immoral enthusiasm.
There’s no question that the videographer can impact this eye. So, what would happen if this same videographer were to film the Kumbh mela? There too, would be nudity and some truth-enhancing drugs; there too would be unrestrained behavior. What would the camera eye see there — good Indian culture or bad foreign culture? If the camera eye is objective then surely it should see the exact same thing no matter who does it or what the context.
But it doesn’t. Because looking is not only a physical act determined by the human or the electronic eye. It is determined by our point of view — the material reality of what we can see from a certain position. And the internal reality of how we interpret what we see. Hence “showing”, is an edited version of what we’ve seen — we retell an event or a history edited by our point of view, determined by the limited range of our vision and the various edited truths and versions of reality that have shaped our understanding of the world.
The belief in the visual as the bright shining light of truth and thus, the automatic harbinger of justice severely undermines our discussions today. It replaces showing with exposing. Showing, which considers the storyteller’s particularity, believes in light and shade, considers many facets, some visible, some invisible, invites tentativeness and doubt, and reflection. So, it helps us learn about the world and ourselves.
‘Exposing’ implies revealing an unvarnished, uncontestable truth, leaving nothing hidden, nothing unknown, obscuring all greys, imbuing the exposer with not only nobility but with authority. This moral certitude can be used to oppress the freedom of people. It can as easily be justified by the cause of bringing justice to the oppressed.
These narratives erode the complexities of satire, humour, humility, doubt, suggestion, questions and understanding, and reduce public discussion to the shrill, often Pavlovian polarities of Yes or No, Good or Bad, Adoration or Abuse, Must See or Must Ban.
It may give our exhausted arguments a new energy, liberated from the circular race of all or nothing, if we were to relax and accept that machines are human-made things, operated by humans to tell stories which are also made up by humans.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.