Django Unchained & On-Screen Morality

Source: (Universal/Weinstein Company)

Source: (Universal/Weinstein Company)

Over the past months, one of the most talked about controversies in Hollywood has been director Quentin Tarantino‘s Django Unchained. A lot of people from African American and other communities objected to the depiction of slavery in the film and the franchise action figures. Director Spike Lee has refused to watch the movie out of respect for his ancestors. I respect their opinions.

For those who have not watched it yet, it is a story of a slave freed by circumstances, who embarks on an adventure to free his enslaved wife on the plantation of a racist and sadistic landlord with the help of an unlikely accomplice. It is an almost fantasy western, loaded with everything that Quentin Tarantino has a reputation for. Well, almost, if you know what I mean. But recommended.

The film has particularly come under fire for Tarantino’s excessive usage of the word “nigger” on the screen.

Of course, I can’t speak for the African American community, and I would welcome all those who would tell me to shut up on this, but I still could not understand what the problem was about after watching the film, which I would consider anti-slavery overall.

It actually seems to be a part of the incomplete trilogy of “Tarantino’s Frustration on Historical Atrocities”, starting with relatively mediocre Inglorious Basterds, in which (spoiler alert) a Jewish girl avenges the murder of her family by shooting the Nazi audience with the military leadership in a theater and setting fire to it. Django unleashes his wrath on his Caucasian “masters” in the most violent manner as well.

But what’s so new about it all? First of all, Tarantino is known to go over the top with his vivid and shocking non-linear story-telling, depiction of violence and abusive language. That’s not news. Secondly, it is a film that seeks to depict slavery, and you would think that a milder portrayal would not have done as good a job. Maybe its timing was perfect to set the audience’s mood for Spielberg’s Lincoln.

So using softer language would only have made the usual Tarantino audience die of laughing fits. Furthermore, it would have taken away the realism and believability, despite the absurd and exaggerated action sequences and fountains of blood.

While I would like to review the film separately, I am glad Tarantino won Oscar for best screenplay, his second since Pulp Fiction for the same category, though I guess movies like Amour looked like having a better choice. But it is a statement for the freedom of speech and an apt answer to the moralist critic. I would have preferred to see Samuel L. Jackson at least nominated for his part though.

Now coming over to the matter of on-screen morality, political correctness and appropriateness.

What you are showing on the screen depends on what you are talking about and it must. When storytellers mold their narrative to meet the moral standards of the audience or the critics, they cease to be storytellers in the first place.

You could reject it, criticize it, condemn it and even boycott it if you want to. However, calling for bans would be inappropriate in itself. But let us move on with the assumption that disagreements about on-screen morality do not take place at such a primitive level.

A motion picture is after all, just a motion picture and nothing more. It can be used for propaganda, but I would always prefer to see it used for art and entertainment.

I am not denying that the content and visuals and sound of the motion picture do not affect people. Indeed, they do which is the entire point of their exhibition in the first place.

However, it is up to the audience what they take home with them on watching a particular motion picture.

Depicting a torture scene loaded with racist slurs from a Nazi concentration camp could be seen as both sympathetic to the Jewish people and antisemitic.

If a person with sadistic tendencies who does not consider rape wrong and sees its depiction on screen, no matter how painful, then the chances are that person will take sexual pleasure in it. However, the same scene can affect another person to be moved by the portrayal of the trauma and pain and could develop sheer disgust and contempt for rape or anyone who commits it.

Shifting the onus to film and entertainment actually diverts attention from the responsibility of the educators. You cannot really expect every entertainment oriented medium to lecture people on morality all the time, whatever be the cause. That won’t happen because not only is it unrealistic and absurd, but too authoritarian in terms of moral policing.

Such films would be propaganda, not art. I know some directors try to do that all the time and I can’t begin to tell you how bad they make it look.

The trouble with our world is that it does not constitute of just good and considerate people. The darker side of humanity is far more apparent every other day than its empathetic one. It is a rather pessimistic way of looking at things, but ignoring it altogether would be idiotic actually. Besides, hardly any moral ideology is complete without an evil to fight.

Furthermore, if you believe in the correctness of your moral stance, then you should consider it strengthened by the depiction of its violation. A war movie could always be seen as anti-war, no matter how much it is glorified in it, especially if it is a realistic depiction. Movies depicting female objectification, rape and exploitation will always support the feminist argument, not otherwise. Films with racist dialogue would only prove how wrong and illogical racism is.

Someone finding inspiration from it to commit crimes would most certainly not have a problem with these evils in the first place.

Bad people do not need films to strengthen their wickedness. Good people need not be worried about the loss of their virtue by what is depicted on the screen.

Making a Living Through International Days

Source: (Vanderlei Almeida for AFP/Getty)

Source: (Vanderlei Almeida for AFP/Getty)

Never thought of it before but you could actually make a living coming up with International Days for things and coming up with new ways you can observe them. Oh well, almost, and I guess some people are already at it and doing alright.

I mean, it’s a brilliant way to create awareness about things, as well as have fun.

There are international days for a lot of things you know. International Days for peace, non-violence, health, children, prayer, Palestinian people, clean drinking water, radio, communications, population, poverty, hunger, planet earth, tolerance and whatnot.

Then there is also the Earth Hour campaign by WWF, which I count as another International Day. I mean it does not necessarily have to be initiated by the United Nations to have that kind of impact and popularity.

It’s a good example actually because it is activity oriented. Not sure if there is a lot of point in celebrating, or more appropriately observing, these days if they were not activity oriented. Not something to belittle the cause, but to actually make people look forward to it.

For example, making it customary to plant a tree on International Day for Tree Plantation, or sending flowers and stuff to your loved ones on Valentine’s Day or go trick-or-treating on Halloween. You know, we could even treat these days like festivals. I mean, why the hell not?

I know that most international days involve a new theme and varying activities each year. That’s cool, but I believe that these days can really be popularized if they involved fixed activities and rituals. Something like Groundhog day or involving the festivities of the Carnival, or even some kind of pilgrimage, say to Sirkap or Moenjodaro on International Archeology Day.

This way people would have a better idea how to associate with them, and if they are depicted in a motion picture, that would do wonders for popularizing these events.

So I was wondering how many more international days could we come up with without burdening our minds much.

We do have an International Day of Hunger. This day everyone could skip a meal all around the world in solidarity with the starving of the world.

I know you could give to charity to help, but that’s not the point, you see. You could possibly save more power by turning your lights off all day long all week, right? But that’s not what the Earth Hour thing is about, right? I hope you get it now.

So you could skip a meal on the International Day of Hunger. And you should go without drinking water for a whole day or just a few hours on the World Water Day.

The list could go on and on really and you are free to add to it in comments. I mean, did you really think they had an International Day for virtually everything? Right? Wrong. It sure looks that way but there is a lot to cover yet.

A random criminal or a bunch of them who have committed minor “crimes”, like smoking pot, committing adultery or attempting suicide, should be released on the International Day of Crime, if only for a day.

There could be one for antitheists and atheists as well, as some friends often talk about having a festival for the community, just like the religious folks. No, not Isaac Newton’s Birthday, that’s already a feast day, isn’t it?

The International Day of Secularism, in which they can openly and publicly speak ill of religion. Not that they need a day for that. But it’s a brilliant idea and particularly theocriceis of the world would or should be pressed by the rest of the nations to observe it.

Countries officially or unofficially banning the books of Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins would be required to make them available just for a day. Similar would be the case for the works of Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen, Christopher Hitchens, Martin Scorsese and Luis Buňuel among many others on the International Day of Blasphemy, or International Day of Freedom of Speech.

On the International Day of Internet, Pakistan government and judiciary could be forced to lift the Youtube ban for the time duration of exactly 00:24:00:00:00.

You could go without using a toilet for a day on the International Day of Sanitation. Or at least just relieve yourselves in the outdoors once in the day to express solidarity with millions without access to toilets. Just to feel their pain.

How about International Day of Honesty? One exists on a limited scale but woah, this could really be dangerous. I mean this International Day could have some serious consequences if properly observed, such as telling at least one person a day what you honestly feel or think about them. So perhaps it is better to abandon this idea altogether.

Speaking of which, we could have International Day of Lying. It could be a fun festival on so many levels, depending on the sense of humor of people celebrating it. However, the right consultants could always offer better ideas for it.

Look, I don’t really want to be cynical over here, but given how much our lives and existence depend on lies, we virtually live this day everyday. But if you are in the mood for self-deprecation, then fine, you could go ahead with observing this one.

A dumb and morally correct way of observing this day is telling someone a white lie. Though this one is rather difficult to have fun with no matter what you do. A more creative way is to joke about emergencies etc. But wait, don’t we have the April’s Fool Day for that? But that’s a little different.

On the International Day of Obscenity, everyone could be required to cover every inch of their body except for their genitals, while everyone would be allowed to display a creative personal obscenity in public, without jeopardizing another individual’s safety. The one with the most and least offensive acts would be awarded prizes. But not sure if we are ready for that yet.

International Day of Hypocrisy could be celebrated by everyone recording short messages, confessing how they have been hypocrites in various areas of their lives and displaying them openly. However, the catch is that no one would be held accountable for it or prosecuted under law. All of this must be done in good humor, or there is no point.

I know this one could be rather controversial, but it really is up to the sense of humor of the people observing it that could make it a success. They could always settle for boring ways to observe it such as writing articles about how hypocritical everyone and all the politicians are. We already know that, don’t we?

Another nice but not as fun way of observing it is sending “The Hypocrite in My Life” card. This would be a rare opportunity for Oriental wives to vent too, with a lot of jealous and possessive men receiving it, even in the West. Also, no surprises if a lot of people would end up sending them to their parents.

But don’t get too excited about it, we already have days reserved for them.