Monday, January 14, 2008

The Thin(?) Line

I finally got my hands on the elusive Tintin comics, "Tintin in the Land of the Soviets" and "Tintin in the Congo". Now, I agree that the comics were written in early 20th century, by a 20-century author. So, one on hand, I am happy that these comics won't ruin the umpteen re-readings of other comics for me (and I am still looking forward to the movie). But on the other hand, one of my sensors will always be looking for racial tones in the comics which I earlier dismissed as racial quirks.

This has also raised an old question to the front of my mind: When do the racial caricatures turn bad?

Those familiar with the writings of prominent Marathi author Pu. La. Deshpande will remember one of his most memorable characters, Pestonkaka. The story captures the tones, the language, the quirks of a typical Parsi gentleman in post-independence India (capturing such quirks is a typical characteristic of Pu La's writing). And yes, the story uses these quirks and accents for humour. Yet, even the most sensitive individual will find himself chuckling along, and nobody will find anything derogatory in the caricature.

On the other hand, is the "desi version" of "12 days of Christmas" doing rounds on the net. Personally, I found that particular video bad, if not in bad taste.

So, is this a subjective question to such an extent?

Every group, race, nation, people have their own characteristics, customs, accents, language (I am not talking about english, hindi etc. here), which define them as a group. Personally, I think any true to life portrayal of a particular person will have these, giving the person an identity. There are so many differences, that you are bound to find one or more of such characteristics funny. Just to give an example, every Bollywood (and even Hollywood) film watcher will have a plethora of characters to mind, which portray a particular identity in good, cheesy, all the way up to bad and pandering to popular perception way. And personally, I don't think writers using such devices for humour is bad, till the time it is in "good taste".

But at what point does the funny turn into bad? Is overuse the line to cross here? Do we perceive the "intent" of writer to be offensive (or think we perceive it) based on our sensitivities (and sometimes, our mood at the moment)?

Or, is it just a case of us v/s them, and everything is funny till we are at the other end of the joke?

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken


SiD said...

well.. complex topic that one...
what is racist... specially when u consider humor is definitely subjective.. and to keep it subtle with everyone enjoying it (Pu La) is worth applause..
May be we can send some of the writings down under..

P.S: Liked the Quote!!

Amey said...

@Sid: Oh yes, this is a very subjective topic, especially given how sensitive people are becoming now-a-days.

Down-under? I don't think they get angry over anything unless they are losing the match. ;)

Amrita said...

Yes, i do remember this one! And in fact, reading this again reminds me of this other story I've been following - some guy in Bombay sent Barack Obama a giant hanuman statue after hearing that he had a monkey charm or something. Except, monkey in America = racist term for black people. Hee hee, the world is so complicated.

Amey said...

@Amrita: Oh yeah, I heard Obama has hanuman figurine for luck or something. And now people are asking if he is a secret Hindu ;)