Song and dance

It turns out that television screens are going to be the site of a great moral cleansing. The government, seemingly concerned about a sexist culture, has decided that one way to fix the problem is to snip out item songs from movies and trailers. The Central Board of Film Certification, popularly known as the censor board, is now going to make sure these songs are labelled "adult content", and as such, out of bounds for TV. It would also discuss "mutually agreeable" cuts with filmmakers, if their content suggested any kind of "direct or indirect violence against women". What this means for TV watchers is that, in addition to all the confusing bleeps and clumsy edits in TV shows, they will now have to watch movies without some of their most popular songs.

The item number is a paradox, and at worst a crime against taste. While most of these songs cheerfully commodify female bodies, with camera angles and lyrics designed to appeal to the crassest common denominator, they cannot be read exclusively in those terms. They can also be uninhibited, life-affirming, celebrations of erotic possibility. Even if it is for self-serving reasons, these dance numbers frame women sure of their sexual power, and in control of its uses. The gender politics of item songs is more complicated than simply "indirect violence against women". Though most item songs are formulaic and blur into each other, many are campy, playful and aware of their own stratagems. Besides, a song that seems to plumb the very depths of raunch culture and makes women uncomfortable in certain settings, may mean something else entirely in a safer, private space. People are not passive recipients of images, but readers and participants who critically evaluate what they see, choose what they don't want to see, or ironically deploy it to their own ends.

The censor board, of course, does not appreciate that people are discerning consumers of media. Its very existence is invested in the idea that all eyes and ears must be covered, and people must be kept far away from anything "offensive". But where will the purge end, if it starts deleting everything that directly or obliquely disrespects women? When it starts banning pieces of harmless music that kids dance to, it's truly losing its head.

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