Fandom and Misogyny
"How one of the leading Malayalam female actor was widely targeted by the fans of the star actor for expressing her freedom of speech"
January 6, 2018
Freedom of opinion also means we are all entitled to opinions and that we don’t necessarily have to share the same opinion about anything. The difference in opinion paves way for a debate which may or may not settle the root cause, this type of aggression and war of words are nothing unfamiliar but with the advent of social media things had to take a dive for the worse, a collective onslaught backed by anonymity.
Recently an incident caught the headline for all the wrong reasons and it was regarding how a Malayalam film actress is being constantly harassed on social media by self-proclaimed fans of a superstar of the same industry for speaking her mind. What she spoke was widely regarded as opinion aimed at disrespecting the star and the fandom went crazy. The incident happened during the IFFK film festival last year and the actress was addressing an open forum which was on role & portrayal of women in the films. She took the case of a masala entertainer film where the above-mentioned superstar is the protagonist and she described a scene in the film, which was filled with misogyny and the dialogues were of unwanted taste, as per her observation. The debate caught ire of many both inside and outside the film industry and finally rolled up as a social media hate campaign against her. The whole point of discussion was overshadowed by unparliamentary social media outburst and life-threatening threats against the actress. This was not the first time that the film had received flak for that scene and that too also a reprimand from the Women Commission for the same portrayal of female characters in bad light. A massive campaign erupted belittling the actress and her capacity to critique a superstar. There were nasty comments and rape threats and even after requesting police action against the fanatics the issue continues in the form of social media trolls and boycott campaigns. There were even discussions in criticizing the actress for filing complaints against these hooligans. The superstar issued a statement distancing himself from these so-called fanatics and actress has repeatedly issued statements clarifying that she did not intend to disrespect anyone yet the collective group of internet enforcers are not yet done with this act of social media bullying.
Behind the Veil of social media
Behind the screen we all feel assured of a certain anonymity and that gives some of us an adrenaline rush to hide behind this veil and act without thought and that’s what exactly social media has given us a billboard where we can scribble till our mind’s content. The platform it presents to each of us is huge and it has encouraged many to come forward and exhibit their opinions, ideas, art, talent and much more. Even revolutions, much recently, were initiated through social media hence the potential is enormous but similar potential has also created pockets for certain hooligans to collectively initiate hate campaigns and orchestrate social media bullying.
How mature are we towards freedom of opinion and how far can it be pushed with the new age?
This is an interesting question from the social point of view because opinions are supposed to distinct and hence friction is normally expected, when our constitution gave us the podium to freely express our opinions it also enlisted boundaries with respect to how far we could take the beacon. The debate regarding freedom of expression was reinstated a few years back with the JNU incident and that made everyone question the boundaries of free speech in a public space. With the advent of social media expression has gone from podiums to screen and the audience has also evolved to match this change. In the cyber space, imposing limits on expression is tricky, pseudo alias followed by untraceable IP addresses and loopholes in our nearly outdated internet laws it doesn’t take much time before comments turn into immodest behavior. The same happened in the actress’s case where police could not distinguish between who, what and when, first it was comments then they turned into foul language and once that got reported and after an arrest was made the self-proclaimed fanatics started organizing massive dislike campaigns which is even more difficult to counter. The opinion of this actress never got a chance to be debated upon because before it could a dedicated group of internet bullies rampaged all over it and literally ensured torture all through the veil of the cyber space.
The news media did not help either as they added fuel to the flame by providing minute by minute update on the topic instead of offering a platform for discussion. These incidents question the tolerance level of the community or at least pictures how brutal the bullies are.
The chaotic web of fanatics
This is not an isolated incident, a few months back a similar incident happened where the fanatic stronghold of a popular Tamil actor threatened a female journalist who compared the actor’s movie to a boring experience she had while reviewing another masala flick. The backlash was brutal and the lady posted a tearful video of how these internet bullies are not giving her a space to breath. The actor himself intervened and asked fans to back away. Internet bullying is not new, measures are being taken to tackle such atrocities but here the common muscle at work are these so-called fanatics who form a collective gang and attacks on anyone who dare threaten their idol who has provided them a reason to execute such vandalism. Their atrocities are alarming and it is even to be questioned if they really are fans or are they exhibiting weird perverse nature under a certain banner?
The uncommon hero-worship:
Hero worship is not something uncommon but in this scenario, it is, they are using social media as a platform to execute attacks. As if atrocities against women were not an alarming issue in the country already, they have resorted to modern techniques to execute attacks and all of them gang up over a celebrity or something that can almost be called a cult. Falling into groups is not a crime but using that muscle to further push patriarchy and misogyny is something alarming.
What happened to a chance at discourse?
Exactly this is what we are missing, a discourse. Opposing someone’s opinion must be civil and exactly that’s what was overlooked here. A massive boycott of someone over a collective vendetta which is hardly supported by the party involved or understood by yourself seems out of place. If we go through the comments against the Malayalam actress we can understand that majority of these fanatics joined to merely vent out personal frustration and hardly understand the issue or the cause. As funny as it seems, it’s equally disheartening to see all that mobilization top over something futile.
As mentioned before regulating expression is not possible and not healthy for our community but if the freedom of expression was executed as a two-way discourse then we could benefit from it other than building on cyber hatred. In the case of fans, the actors or actresses must take responsibility of their fandom as they are indirectly discrediting the actor’s/actress’s image.
First published in Counter Currents.Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian Writers' Forum.
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