Just bad taste

The rapper and entrepreneurial musician Honey Singh has been denied a performance venue, but it would have been more civil to deny him an audience instead. The Gurgaon hotel where he was to perform cancelled the fixture following an uproar on social media and an FIR lodged in Lucknow. The campaign called for a ban on the singer, while the FIR sought punitive measures. They were well intentioned but regressive moves.

It would take courage amounting to foolhardiness to defend Honey Singh's taste, with the trial beginning in the most horrifying rape case ever in Delhi. The songs in question are nothing like Singh's work for the movies. The lyrics are unprintable, the sentiments they express unspeakable and the body parts they reference unmentionable. Reproducing the text in a newspaper would invite obscenity charges, but it is freely available on the internet and readers can arrive at their own conclusions. Indeed, making up one's own mind is always better in these matters.

With the placidity of a bullock harnessed to an oil press, the debate on censorship treads the same tired path every time a cultural product gets someone mad. Conservatives demand a ban, insisting that the slightest exposure would defile the national mind and destroy our precious civilisation. Liberals shake their heads and wag their forefingers. If it turns you off, turn it off, they say. Both solutions are broken.

The government has become so ban-happy, and stay orders are so easily procured from the lower courts, that it would be criminal to support censorship, no matter what the provocation. It is bad enough that films are censored, but other media should be defended from the contagion.

The argument that everyone should be their own censor sounds convincing, but is actually impossible to achieve. Individualism rightly valorises the autonomy of the human will but in order to switch off, the individual must not only reject the offending product, but also switch off the world altogether. Commercial culture does not exist in standalone form. It is an ecosystem of arts and ideas in constant flux, all around us. You can switch off a film or video that offends you, but if you thereafter meet people who have seen it and been deeply affected by it, and they try out its ideas on you, did you really manage to switch off?

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