I spent close to three months in India last year, the first time I’d visited the country. When people ask me if I enjoyed my time there, I tell them that I’m glad I went, but I didn’t particularly like the place.
One reason is that I found the country to be very sexually repressed. I don’t think sexual repression would be so bad if it wasn’t for other things that are deemed acceptable alongside it. Violence for example. Watch a few Bollywood movies and you’ll see plenty of violence. But sex? Please. You rarely see two people kissing on screen. Apparently it’s fine to depict extreme violence, but not passionate romance. In my view, that’s pretty messed up.
I don’t mean to pick on India though. You could say the same about pretty much any country. I was watching this interview with the legendary Louis C.K. recently. I’ve linked directly to the part where he talks about an episode of The Shield. The episode is about an investigation into the rape and murder of a woman. They show her dead body and give a close-up of the rapist’s ejaculate on her stomach. But they won’t show her breasts. To paraphrase Louis C.K., apparently it’s fine to show rape jizz on the stomach of a dead lady, but show her beautiful, life-giving breasts? Hell no. Viewers might complain.
My point here is that we’re often offended by the wrong things. All of us.
Stephen Fry puts it well…
“If I had a large amount of money I should found a hospital for those whose grip upon the world is so tenuous that they can be severely offended by words and phrases yet remain all unoffended by the injustice, violence and oppression that howls daily.”
What’s even crazier though is how we tend to obsess over the things that offend us. We devote significant energy and attention to things that make us angry. I’m reminded of a scene in the movie Private Parts: When shock jock Howard Stern was experiencing his unlikely rise to prominence, a survey came out revealing that people who disliked his show actually listened to it far more than people who liked it.
I get caught up in this kind of thing pretty regularly myself. Recently I noticed that I was devoting far more mental energy to people who annoy me than to people I actually get along with. I seem to take perverse pleasure in thinking about someone I don’t like and all the ways they’re wrong and I’m right.
Let me wrap this up. Two points I want to drive home:
- We tend to be offended by the wrong things, often confusing what’s actually right and wrong (very few things are absolute like this) with what we personally believe to be right and wrong. My general rule is this: If nobody’s getting hurt, I really have no grounds to be offended. Thus I have no problem with something like homosexuality, but take issue with the likes of child circumcision.
- We have a tendency to devote way too much time and energy to things that make us angry. Like trolls on YouTube. Next time you find yourself complaining about something, pause and consider how much time and energy you’re wasting. Bitching and complaining doesn’t help anyone, especially not ourselves.
UPDATE: An Indian-American reader named Radhika sent along the following by email.
What movies did you watch to give you such an impression? Perhaps if they’re from the 70’s, yeah, there’s no kissing and a lot of violence, but the modern movies have kissing, non-nude sex scenes if they comply to the stories, and a lot of general vulgarity. Then again, if you saw an action-genre film, there’d be a lot of violence, but in the other 90% of the movies, the maximum you can have is one (realistic) fight scene.