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Pornography and Prudery

Sex, Swat and Susan Boyle

by FARZANA VERSEY

One was touched by a man in an illicit relationship. The other has never been kissed. One is a teenager; the other a middle-aged woman. One was from a tribal area who went and did what she wanted; the other a talent contest participant from Britain who sang about a dream. One was flogged by clerics. The other was feted by an audience despite not fitting into the Britney Spears belly-button star mould.

Both women became public figures and public property. They were being judged by standards of prudery.

The covert exhibitionism of their fate made it to the headlines; they became symbols of repression and expression, respectively. The truth is that if we skim the surface, we were unwittingly made witnesses to the prosecution of both.

Every uploaded YouTube video gave us the power to watch and enjoy the absurd reality.

Chand became the ‘lucky winner’ to be shot on a cellphone camera. If those flogging her for the crime were the Taliban, then those who posted that clip everywhere were no better. It wasn’t about the rule of Shariah being imposed that was of much concern to the outside world; no one makes an exhibit of it in Saudi Arabia. This was pure and simple powerplay, and not only by the Taliban but each and every viewer.

The term "pornography of violence" is flashed around without really understanding how vile the idea is. Sexual pornography serves the purpose of self-gratification even if it starts out as a voyeuristic instinct.

The pornography of violence assumes that watching others being beaten up satiates our senses. This may work at the level of catharsis if one is abused or there is some internal turmoil. In most instances, it is clearly an exercise in impotent one-upmanship – the bravado of the spectator of, perhaps, a film with aggressive overtones. It is under cover of a darkened auditorium but with the solace of being part of a herd that such anger manifests itself.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the self-righteous indignation of those sponging off the Swat flogging video is really a release for their own fantasies. A young woman, illicit sex, sin, retribution at the hands of overtly virile men have all the elements of mental masturbation.

That it belongs to the tribal areas lends it rustic exoticism. For the Westerner it is also exorcism by proxy. Unable to respond with evangelical fervour to a teen who gives birth to a baby claimed by a 12-year-old as his (subsequent DNA reports disproved it, which means she had multiple partners) or the sordidness of an incestuous father who fathered his daughter’s children or the several cases of campus violence that is transporting the wild onto the charmed circle of the ennui of the educated, the alien contemporary stone age man provides relief from tedium and responsibility.

The "monster dad" sounds almost like a disciplinarian compared to those blind believers of a Bedouin faith.

Interestingly, the standards to judge religion do not apply to the rather becoming epithet of "Ballerina of god". Anna Nobili was a lap dancer in Milan. She later joined the Church and has performed before an audience of bishops and cardinals. One video clip shows her lying face down, arms outstretched in a Christ-like pose. Only, no one is flogging her. It is self-flagellation as she removes her nun’s habit to reveal a blood red gown and gyrates in what has been termed a mystical form.

It appears as the madness of one who is seeking legitimacy by buying it with precisely what she earlier sold.

The barter of voyeurism works along these clear lines. It isn’t Susan Boyle’s talent that has been appreciated; she was being given the patronising patriarchal nod, not despite her virginity but because of it.

This is the Western version of the Taliban. The flogging is emotional.

FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based columnist and author of A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan, Harper Collins, India. She can be reached at kaaghaz.kalam@gmail.com