Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Rape Remark: Why Fans Rallied Around Salman Khan And Why Media Equally Culpable?


While the 'rape remark' controversy was raging on TV studios, #PaidMediaCan'tPullSalmanDown was trending high on Twitter for a considerable amount of time. It suggested that while media was seething in sanctimonious anger over Salman Khan's regressive comment, legion of his fans were solidly behind Bhai, registering their protest through social media and vowing to make his upcoming Eid release 'Sultan' the sultan of all Bollywood movies.

This presented a curious chasm. While a Bollywood superstar was rightly being criticized for trivializing violence against women, millions of his followers were taking umbrage at the criticism. For them, it was almost a personal affront.
Before we address this dichotomy, let's recall what the 51-year-old teenager actually said.

During an interview with INNLIVE, Salman made a 'casual' observation that the grueling training schedule for the movie made him feel like a 'raped' woman.
"While shooting, during those six hours, there'd be so much of lifting and thrusting on the ground involved. That was tough for me because if I was lifting, I'd have to lift the same 120-kilo guy 10 times for 10 different angles. And likewise, get thrown that many times on the ground... When I used to walk out of the ring, after the shoot, I used to feel like a raped woman. I couldn't walk straight".

Later in the interview, Salman even went on to say that he has left every vice, including cigarettes and coffee, except women. So this appeared to be a classic case of misogyny where a traumatic event with deep repercussions like rape was being compared to the physical exertions of a gym session. This is the first step towards 'making light of' and eventually establishing violence against women as a normative principle.

Now consider the way Salman's legion of dedicated fans have reacted. Far from being enraged that their screen idol has regressively and in a cavalier manner sought to equate the deep mental and physical scar of rape with the exertions of training in a gymnasium, they have (mostly) perceived the entire controversy as 'fake'.

The popular reaction can largely be divided into two parts.

According to some fans, their larger-than-life icon has been 'unfairly targeted by the media' for an entirely innocuous comment in search for easy TRPs. Bhai didn't mean it, of course. In other words, Salman here is the 'victim'.

In the eyes of the other, mostly male section, Salman's popularity is sure to soar even higher than before because only he has the balls to say what everybody knows is the truth. Doesn't a backbreaking session at the gym leave you feeling as if you have been raped?

In other words, far from being the perpetrator of a depraved comment, Salman Khan is that alpha male who has been wronged and victimized by a media eager to cash in on a controversy. And fans are ready to show solidarity with their victimized hero by flooding the theatres when the movie is released.

And we would be utterly wrong to blame the fans for their perception. They didn't descend from Mars. They are us, they might even be you.

In fact, by concluding that those who have to come to defend Salman are some sort of 'criminals' or 'hypocrites', the media is being part of the problem. It takes active part in propagating daily misogyny. It miserably fails to challenge the various ways in which patriarchy as a social system associates manhood and masculinity with dominance and control (consider the abundance of sexist TV commercials) because more often than not, men are the primary focus of attention in most cultural spaces.

And yet, the media takes a holier-than-thou stand when those internalized patriarchal mores are expressed in uncomfortable ways.

When Salman Khan made that blasé remark about 'rape', the 51-year-old superstar at the height of his fame was accurately describing the popular perception about the deprivation of women's bodily sovereignty that usually leave lifelong scars.

In their seminal thesis Rape Trauma Syndrome, psychiatrist Ann Wolbert Burgess and sociologist Lynda Lytle Holmstrom, as far back in 1974, showed how the psychological trauma experienced by a rape includes disruptions to normal physical, emotional, cognitive, and interpersonal behavior. Collectively called RTS, these are a cluster of psychological and physical signs, symptoms and reactions common to most rape victims immediately following and for months or years after a rape.

So just instinctively blaming the people who are defending Salman won't do. We should also challenge the innumerable ways in which male domination is pushed down our throats to such an extent that we have internalized it as the 'normal'.
Women are a joke, girls are a joke, rape is a joke, the degradation of women is perhaps the most hilarious joke ever.

If rape -which signifies male control over the sexual and reproductive uses of women's bodies as a central defining element of patriarchy - can be turned into a jocular remark by hero number one and if legions of his fans swear that it isn't anything but 'normal' then it points to a deep rot in our psyche that we must address. Merely blaming and shaming them misses the point by a mile.

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