February 04, 2010

Celebrating the return of the Precipice and musing on MBs

One of my favourite blogs is back again, with fascinating takes on life, literature and much randomness. I made the mistake of leaning over the Precipice into one of the places recommended here, and promptly lost an afternoon in hitherto-undiscovered poetry.
I also end up wasting way too much time commenting on the posts at the Precipice.

So I saw this post today on Indian MBs, the Kama Kahani series, apparently, and as usual, I couldn't help but respond. Before I realised it, what should have been a simple 3-line comment ballooned out of shape into a diatribe, an apt reflection on the distances I must travel before I consider myself an adequate writer. At any rate, I decided to pick up the scraps of my comments and post them over here (another apt reflection on my drive as a writer, the literary equivalent of serving leftovers instead of cooking a fresh meal).

I suppose I should provide you with some context. I'm specifically addressing the last paragraph of the post, which asks if we're making altogether too big a deal about the sexist cliches in MBs when all of television advertising is nothing more than a gigantic universe where scantily clad women lean at awkward angles over compression pumps and stare lustily at camera lenses. I can't help but agree more regarding TV advertising. However, I still think there is a massive difference over being exposed to stereotypes in books and on TV. The primary difference is that TV is a passive choice, where a person is bombarded in the middle of their favourite tv show with jokerfaced smiling Mas doling out kurkure. All this has to be endured by the viewer irrespective of their choice of show, or of its redeeming qualities, if any. A decision to purchase a book, on the other hand, is an active choice, where a person is choosing to put down money (or utilise human capital by loaning a book from a friend). When such books are MBs, however, this decision translates into an active choice to use money (or human capital) towards the ends of consuming formulaic writing about gender stereotypes in luuuurve.* This active decision-making usually implies a greater deal of openness to the ideas within the book, as opposed to the ideas presented on TV ads.** Of course, in the end, there's no denying that an MB is pulp, as is the whole 'Conan the Barbarian' series or the entire genre of noir fiction. But there's also no denying the impact of pulp fiction on our thought processes and our attitudes towards the world and its inhabitants. I could get into a whole other diatribe about this, but I should probably sum up because I'm beginning to lose your attention. Basically, it worries me that smart, progressive women who would rarely (if ever) snivel and give way to simple brute force (whether applied to the body or the mind) are choosing to read about smart progressive women who snivel and give way to charismatic, primal male stereotypes. It almost feels as if this is some sort of dark, repressed fantasy.

Of course, in the end, everyone has their guilty pleasures. Mine is probably reading comic books about anarchist revolutionaries who challenge the status quo.*** In the end, such literature allows the reader the illusion of revolt and non-conformism without all the fuss and muss of actually going out there and changing anything. I still love it though, and I cannot deny myself such escapist pleasures, guilty as they may be.

* - A side rant - I personally find the male stereotypes in the few MBs I have read about as offensive as the female ones. The totemization of physically and mentally aggressive men who believe in and practice force (whether physical or mental) as a means of achieving their ends is a problem that is not merely limited to MBs. In some ways, I believe that it lies at the root of the charisma that surrounds violent people throughout history.

** - A side note - I suppose this wouldn't apply to those people who decide to try out an MB for simple experimentation, or those who have one foisted upon them by a well-meaning friend. That may go without saying, but it was worth clearing up.

*** - More sidey-sidey - Consider V for Vendetta or Grant Morrisson's 'The Invisibles' series. In fact, it was the latter, in a brilliant twist of meta-commentary, which alerted me to this harsh reality, in Vol 2 Issue 13.