Nation of Beancounters

The “Dekh Le” video is award bait crap

Posted in Culture, Gender, Reviews & Critiques by Navin Kumar on December 23, 2013

Here is a pro-tobacco advertisement:

cig 11

A sexy macho man doing sexy macho man things, like science. While smoking and gazing into the distance in a sexy macho way. This ad was meant to sell. Here is an anti-tobacco ad:

cig anti

The image is gorgeous, and the message is subtle. Too subtle. Hospital beds aren’t scary. The number of people actually persuaded to not smoke by this ad is probably zero. This ad was meant to demonstrate how clever the ad firm was, with it’s “creative” copywriters, and artists who have a highly developed understanding of negative space. It is meant to win awards for the firm. This kind of ad usually crops up around a few weeks before the Cannes deadlines, and has a very small circulation. There’s nothing wrong with these ads, insofar that they contribute to making the world a place full of beautiful things, but it’s foolish to pretend they have any impact on smoking.

Here is the new viral video that is sweeping through social media:

Let’s start with what the main thing the video doesn’t do – it doesn’t persuade lecherous men to not stare at women. Men aren’t women, and if they received overt sexual attention, whether from their reflections or from other people, they wouldn’t feel uncomfortable – they’d feel flattered. The response of these men to their reflections is inexplicable, and weirdly abrupt. Contra what some say, it doesn’t even send out the message that “You look ridiculous and creepy, and we can see you” – the men look neither ridiculous nor creepy, and two of the four women don’t notice that they’re being stared at (one is asleep and another has her back turned to the gazer). It’s not clear what harm the gazers are inflicting in the latter cases. The film will definitely not have any impact on those men who publicly engage in overt sexual behavior (whistling, singing, making lewd comments) in order to induce annoyance in, and thus extract attention from, women.

Another thing that films and ads can do is demonize people who behave in a socially harmful way. People internalize these depictions and, eager to avoid seeing themselves as “bad” people, desist from acting in this fashion. Unfortunately, the ad fails at this. The men aren’t particularly repugnant – some are objectively good-looking (sharp angular face, dark blazer, macho stubble.) The expression on their faces wouldn’t strike most men as particularly leery. If you want to demonize men who stare, you need to portray them as disgusting, foul villains; the kind of people you wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. I never thought I’d say this, but this film humanizes the men too much.

There’s a difference between looking at someone of the opposite sex – which is not only acceptable, but necessary in any society that doesn’t rely exclusive on arranged marriages to generate pair bonds – and staring, which can make people feel uncomfortable. The film could’ve highlighted the difference. It could’ve helped distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. It didn’t. Two of the stories – the one on the scooty and the one in the cafe – didn’t seem to involve prolonged staring at all. This fact is, I think, what annoyed many of the viewers.

If the film didn’t do any of these things, what did it do? Well, it allowed Whistling Woods International – an expensive private film school – to gain some free publicity by latching on to an important social issue. It allowed some of it’s alumni to showcase their film making skill – look at how creatively we can use reflective surfaces! Look at how tight our screenplay is! It will give a bunch of film geeks the masturbatory pleasure of abstraction – ten to one says that, before the week is up, some prominent film critic will talk about how the video “reflects the male gaze back on itself” and includes two other mirror metaphors in a 500 word column. The video is naked award bait.

As a student film, the video is excellent. The use of reflective surfaces is actually pretty clever, and the editing and direction are very good. The soundtrack is fantastic. But let’s not pretend that it’s anything more than a work of art that has little impact on the behavior of lecherous men. “Public Interest” films should raise awareness about a problem, suggest social norms to combat it, help define where those norms begin and end, and penalize individuals who violate them. This film did none of that.


One Response

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  1. Stumbler said, on December 30, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Haha, finally, somebody says it.
    The first comment on the YT video, when I saw it, btw, was “chick on scooter is so hot xxxx”
    Seems like a whole other kind of public interest, haha.

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