A Torn Poster

A TORN POSTER (1)

When discussing the work of disgraced artists, separating the art from the artist becomes harder than ever. 

By Pranjal Pande. 

I started watching House of Cards in 2016 and since then I’ve had a poster of Kevin Spacey portraying Frank Underwood, the protagonist and anti-hero of the Netflix show House of Cards, stuck on my room’s wall. I’ve spent hours discussing the show inside and outside with friends and even teachers. When I first heard the sexual assault allegations against Kevin Spacey, I was nothing less than shocked. I never would’ve never Spacey thought Spacey, the recently knighted Emmy winning actor, would be caught up in the ongoing #MeToo campaign. But after hearing these allegations, and Spacey’s attempts to soften the blow by coming out as gay, I not only became disgusted for Spacey, but also started feeling differently about a television show that I called my favorite.

When an artist is accused of sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era there are strict guidelines to punish the accused and there is mostly an exact step reaction: shock, condemnation, and reconciliation. In most cases the first two steps are near-universal, everyone is shocked that an artist who many saw as god-like (take Morgan Freeman for instance, acclaimed for literally playing god or a genius) could commit such an atrocious crime. Next comes the condemnation: high profile celebrities and people close to the accused come out to condemn the crimes committed and call for justice. The third step is the hardest, reconciling with the artist after he/she has committed a form of sexual misconduct.

Reconciling doesn’t have to mean explicitly forgiving the person for their actions, it could also mean watching a movie featuring them or listening to their music. Two distinct examples of this are the comedian Louis C.K. and actor Kevin Spacey. Louis C.K was accused of heinous sexual misconduct nearly a year ago, he apologized for his actions and was publicly condemned, everyone said his comedic career was over. However, nine months after the allegations, C.K. has made a comeback show, received an extended ovation and doesn’t talk about his past. Many people have chosen to reconcile with his actions and continue to watch his stand-up shows, thereby promoting him. Now we contrast this with Kevin Spacey who was accused of sexual misconduct, with a minor, and was subsequently condemned (Spacey even tried to apologize and come out as gay in an attempt to divert attention, trying to pull a tab from the conniving Frank Underwood). He was fired by Netflix, removed from a fully filmed movie, and has not appeared in any new role since,. This is the correct way to deal with a case of sexual misconduct.

Now many argue that the art itself doesn’t promote discrimination and hence you can enjoy the art without considering the artist’s actions. But separating the art and the artist are simply impossible, regardless of how loved or critically acclaimed it is. One reason for this is that by continuing to watch, read, listen, or view the art of an accused artist you are implicitly supporting them monetarily and not punishing them for their crimes, which sets a moral burden which you remember every time you enjoy their work. The moral burden being that you are supporting, explicitly or implicitly, the actions of an accused. The second reason is that feeling you get when you consume art created by somebody who you know has committed a crime, I know I’m not the only person who feels unsettled by this, the internet is littered with people saying they can’t look at an actor the same way after they know what they’ve done in real life. The example of Bill Cosby, who went from most loved to most hated, is apt here. Comedian John Oliver once joked, “Bill Cosby walking through walls was creepy in the show, but now it’s a whole new level”, and this perfectly summarizes how not only your feeling towards art changes when your view towards the artist changes, but on a more overarching level, how you can’t have an objective view of the artist’s art if you know certain truths about them.

In many cases, the punishment may not occur through legal or criminal proceedings due to the overwhelming publicity that cases like this often face and how old the allegations are, but that doesn’t mean the accused should be allowed to go scot free. The artist, and his art, has to publicly condemned and shamed for his crimes which includes not supporting them through their art.

I return to my Kevin Spacey poster. One day a friend came to my house remarked how that once powerful poster now has a whole new meaning. That night while looking at the poster I realized I no longer saw Frank Underwood, ruthless anti-hero, but instead, a disgraced actor. I took the poster down, and while doing so tore it, because it no longer represented the show I loved, and it was an accurate representation for my new feelings to the actor and the show.

The Problem with Reactionary Legislation by Pranjal Pande

The Problem with Reactionary Legislation.jpg

In the backdrop of the protests over the violent abduction, rape, and murder of Asifa Bano, an eight-year-old girl from the Rasana village of Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir, the government released fresh guidelines regarding the rape of minors. The case, popularly known as the “Kathua rape case”, touched a nerve- leading to widespread protests from the public, along with multiple discussions about the prevalent yet sensitive issue of rape in the country.

On April 22nd, 2018, the Union Cabinet assented to an ordinance- a temporary law signed by the President when Parliament is not session- which would allow the courts to sentence any person(s) to death in the case of rape of a minor below the age of 12. When taken at face value this seems like a perfectly valid, even justified, action to take against perpetrators of such heinous acts. But dig a little deeper and one can see the action was not only taken in haste, but may also have adverse effects.

The ordinance came amid shock, outrage and protests all over the country. People were furious with the mishandling, politicization, and communalization of a brutal crime and demanded justice. The government needed a strong response to such a crime and this response came in the form of the ordinance, which serves as a prime example of “reactionary legislation”- when a government enacts laws hastily in response to a pressing issue. While reactionary legislation looks great on paper (who would ever argue that the rape of a child below the age of 12 shouldn’t be punished by death?) it has many detrimental effects, seen only in the future, that may be more harmful than the event which caused the legislation itself.

If we examine the ordinance in detail, we come across many fallacies. Under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, anyone who commits murder is punishable by the death penalty meaning that the Kathua rapists were always eligible for the death penalty, regardless of this ordinance. This subtlety proves to us that the legislation is definitely reactionary, because it makes no difference to the sentence tied to the specific crimes committed in Kathua, as that included murder.

However, what’s nevertheless important to focus on is that this ordinance means that now, the crime of rape of a minor below 12 carries the death sentence, regardless of anything else. This means that any perpetrator of such a rape would have no incentive to leave his victim alive, knowing that they would eligible for death. This takes away significant evidence from the case as the perpetrator may now hide or destroy the body, taking away forensic evidence and more importantly, the testimony of the victim.

While the ordinance opens the door to the death penalty, it is still the judges who decide the sentence. In any case of the rape of a minor below 12, the public will demand the harshest possible sentence, regardless of case facts, placing the judges under extraordinary pressure. This may lead judges to decide against conviction, knowing that convicting the person(s) will lead to immediate, and strong, calls for the death penalty, leading to them to even possibly acquitting the accused.

Looking beyond the legal aspects of this ordinance and instead at its social ramifications, it is seen that the ordinance, in the long run, remains detrimental and ineffective as a tool of meting justice. This is because many rapes of this nature take place within the family, perpetrated by close relatives. It is already considered common practice to hush-up abuse of any kind, including rape, and to never report it to the authorities. This is because reporting abuse is seen as threat to the family name and its honour, and also leads to the victim’s family becoming party to protracted legal battles. The idea of turning a family member in when they could be sentenced to death, effectively killing them, is incomprehensible to most families in Indian and this ordinance will only guarantee that the number of cases that already go underreported will only rise.

This is the problem with reactionary legislation. This is not the kind of article we will see in the headlines, this is not the writing we will read in the papers and this is not what the government wants to promote. But this is the truth. This ordinance is a response to heinous crime, one which should have never occurred, but it’s not remotely enough. It’s the equivalent of fixing a bullet hole with a band-aid. Rapes are a prevalent and pressing issue in this country and one we are constantly linked to in international circles. The problem of rape is an underlying one, and until the government addresses that issue, instead of reacting to the problem at hand, and starts taking proactive measures, we will see more of these rapes and more outrage and in turn, more reaction from the government. It’s a vicious cycle, where ultimately, we all lose.

Credits to Shraddha Chaudhary, whose Facebook post provided vast legal backing to this article.

By Pranjal Pande