Thursday, July 12, 2012

On what counts as humour, being disappointed in strangers, and remembering my own advice

After a disastrous morning at work, I logged onto Facebook this afternoon to read this post by @daddy_san, which was the first I heard of the Daniel Tosh episode. Having duly tweeted it, I then looked at my Twitter timeline, and spent the next half hour or so in increasing levels of bafflement, disappointment, and fury.

I've said before, and I'll say it again, to me, "rape jokes" are not funny. I have never been sexually abused. I've been eve teased, and on one or two occasions, been very, very frightened about what might happen next. But no, I haven't been raped. Yet it's a topic I feel strongly about, and I'm known to get on my soapbox about it and the way it's discussed. And cracking "jokes" about it is something I have never understood.

So when I read those tweets this afternoon, I was upset - I suppose that's the best way to put it. I follow several Indian stand-up comedians on twitter, a large number of whom were going on and on about how Tosh's joke was a "stupid joke", or a "shitty comeback". But almost all of them insisted that there's nothing wrong with making "better" jokes about rape.

And then others, mainly women but some men too, started expressing their anger and disgust over what these comedians were saying. And then folks defending "rape jokes" got upset over the reactions they were getting. And the whole timeline turned into a battlefield for a while. I didn't say much beyond one or two generic tweets, which as someone said in an equally generic manner, was no more than tut-tutting, really. But I wasn't sure how to articulate what I wanted to say, so I didn't. At the time.

Now, some hours later, I don't know why I was disappointed. I don't know any of these men personally. I've followed them on twitter for some time now, and exchanged a few tweets with one or two of them. But by and large, I'm pretty sure they don't know I exist, and I don't think of them beyond the moments when I see their tweets appear on my timeline. But I think at that moment, seeing them, in one voice, defend "rape jokes", and insist that it was simply the quality of that joke that was poor, made me feel like there really is no hope for changing the mentality of how women are perceived and how rape victims are treated.

And then I went out for dinner with some colleagues, got thoroughly annoyed by one of them, sat through the evening with a migraine pounding my head, and eventually blocked out their voices and started thinking. And remembered something I had written on @tantanoo's blog more than a year ago:
I tend to get outraged if jokes are cracked over rape, or violence against women, or issues like that – because these are issues I feel fairly strongly about. It’s a completely personal sentiment.
But I don’t think my outrage has ever led to an unfollow or even debate – because there would have been other occasions, where similar jokes by the same people on a different issue may have been equally “inappropriate” but I have still giggled. Would be rather hypocritical of me to object now, simply because one is an issue close to my heart and the other isn’t.
Everyone has issues they get outraged over. Everyone has jokes which they will stretch till every bit of funny-ness in it vanishes. People need to chill, is all.
My two cents. :)

I didn't unfollow anyone today. I didn't engage in a debate with anyone either. I sat there, infuriated, and decided to go off Twitter till I calmed down. And then remembered that I need to chill a bit.

I came back to my room, logged back onto Twitter, and saw this post. I see her point about using humor to cope with a situation, and points to her for being able to do so. It's not something I think I would be capable of. 

So maybe jokes about rape are funny to some people. I still don't see it, but maybe they are. I also don't think the comedians defending the "sub-category of humour" that rape is part of were using it in the sense of being a coping mechanism, but maybe that isn't as important.

I tweeted a few days ago that either I'm not following people who perpetually outrage, or people now see outrage in everything. Every other day, I seem to see people cribbing about how other people are outraging over something that doesn't deserve the outrage. Well, today, I was part of the outrage. And I'm still not convinced that outrage wasn't deserved. But I do think we could have all done without it. I know I could have.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

A dash of self-analysis

The last few weeks have been somewhat... stressful. A variety of things has happened, most of which I can't get into the details of**, that pushed me to the point of completely shutting down and going into a funk last weekend, till finally a few conversations with two or three dear souls got me out of it.

What I realised over this period, however, is just how much my upbringing, for lack of a better word, has influenced the person I am, for better or for worse.

Both the parents, especially the father, are incredibly private people. They've never liked the world knowing what's going on in our lives. It's our problem, we deal with it. And some of that has rubbed off on me. I have never been able to call a friend and say, this is going on, I need your help or even just talk about it. It takes me ages to reach out to anyone for even the smallest bit of help. And the problem is, being this way completely conflicts with the person I am, who, well, talks a lot, quite frankly. And who needs to tell people what's going on.

So there's always this urge to tell friends back home what I'm stressed about, but at the same time there's also this hesitation because, well, I can't. Or shouldn't. Sometimes I rationalize it by telling myself they're busy anyway. Or stressed about things themselves. Or don't want to hear me keep whining about things. But all makes for a fair amount of misery. And loneliness.

And then sometimes it all gets too much and I send frantic, misery-filled emails to people. Or furiously and/or tearfully type out a huge rant on Gtalk. Or just call and pour it all out. And always feel so much better. And wonder why I didn't earlier.

The other thing the parents have always drilled into me is that you really can't ever take anything for granted. We were always fortunate, growing up, that we never really lacked for anything we wanted. If the parents had to figure out ways to give us all of that, they never let on. But they always reminded us that a lot of what we had was thanks to the father's job, and you never knew what could happen when.

So when I started working, while there was no doubt in anyone's mind (particularly my mother's) that I could be extremely extravagant and impulsive with how I used my money, I also saved a fair amount. And frequently went into panic mode if I found my bank balance going below the magic number in my head that was the minimum I should always have. There was no rationale behind this number, and no amount of arguments presented by dad along the lines of how my investments also counted could make a difference. If the cash in my bank account was not a certain amount, I would be constantly palpitating.

And that continued when I came to the US. Despite living on student loans, I have by no means been the most frugal person around. But I make sure that there's always that minimum balance in the account. If not, I hit the panic button. Which usually involves calling the father and asking what I should do.

Among the various stressors of the past few weeks was the fact that there was a problem with my paperwork for the internship. And as a result, I hadn't been paid for nearly a month, despite the contract stating that I was to be paid every two weeks. And while this was troubling, it was a minor ripple compared to the tidal wave of everything else going on, because truth be told, I have enough savings at the moment to last me a while, if necessary.

At dinner with the other interns some days ago, it came up in the conversation that I hadn't been paid. And almost everyone's first reaction was to ask me if I was fine financially, or if I needed money. And I found it interesting that almost everyone at the table was completely startled when I assured them I was fine. I seemed to be the only one there who wasn't living from paycheck to paycheck.

When I would hear this from friends and colleagues back in India, I always assumed I was at an advantage because I lived with the parents and didn't have much in the way of household and living expenses. But here, as students - most of us international students, at that - I would have assumed we're all in a similar position. And it struck me, for possibly the first time, just how glad I was that I had been brought up the way I had.

**UPDATE: Two years later, I went into the details. Here.