Song and Prank Culture

Bloom of Kitsch and Camp Culture in Kashmir
Song and Prank Culture
A screengrab from 'Downtown' songScreengrab/YouTube

Music as said has this quality of transcending boundaries and thus reaches a wider audience. It has become a popular way of artistic expression among Kashmiri people.

Nowadays a song titled, ‘Downtown’ was brought forth by a YouTube prankster Musaib Bhat. He has been praised to the skies in Kashmir as his rap video continues to unfurl magic among the people and media.

This song doesn’t present itself as a serious high-brow aesthetic but as an exaggeration where performance and performing are the focus rather than aesthetic. Its combined subversive nature refuses to abide by the rules of syntax or refined language. It doesn’t explore the reality of downtown aesthetically rather as a lived reality. Its dance structure and categorization of high Kashmiri and low Kashmiri, overloaded expressions of the protagonist mixed English and Kashmiri language, all tend to dissent against the traditional parameters.

The song pays allegiance to the aesthetics of 'Camp Culture'. The Oxford dictionary defines camp culture as an aesthetic style and sensibility that regards something as appealing because of its bad taste and ironic value.

The street language of Shehar-i-Khas hired in the song along with popular dance steps settle it in the Kitsch category. Kitsch is a German word for ‘trash.’ Oxford dictionary defines Kitsch as, “art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated ironically or knowingly".

Robert Scruton defines Kitsch as "fake art, expressing fake emotions, whose purpose is to deceive the consumer into thinking he feels something deep and serious."

Clement Greenberg in his essay in 1939, 'Avant-Garde and Kitsch' wrote, “where there is an avant-garde, generally we also find a rear-guard. True enough-simultaneously with the entrance of the avant-garde, a second new cultural phenomenon appeared in the industrial West: that thing to which the Germans give the wonderful name of Kitsch: popular, commercial art and literature with their chromeotypes, magazine covers, illustrations, ads, slick and pulp fiction, comics, Tin Pan Alley music, tap dancing, Hollywood movies, etc. For some reason, this gigantic apparition has always been taken for granted. It is time we look into its whys and wherefores.”

‘Downtown’ song pokes fun at everything and that is how the makers aspired to hold the public gaze and it would not be wrong to say that it has pass the test. The song accentuates various characteristics of Shehar-i-Khas with expressions laid on thick satirically. Kitsch art usually arouses the audiences and is prone to get popular and attract profits. Greenberg had long predicted the success of such songs when he wrote in the same article that Kitsch's enormous profits are a source of temptation to the avant-garde itself, and its members have not always resisted this temptation.

Though the genre of the song doesn’t allow for its serious evaluation, its technicalities can’t escape under the garb of satire. One can easily point out the tremulous camera work at different instances especially while moving the ‘Tanga.’ The song symbolically points at the culture of violence prevalent from decades in Shehar-i-Khas. That can be attributed to local people as well as to the acts of violence committed on street dissent. One may also argue that Shehar-i-Khas hasn’t been surveyed to its full potential. The makers should have cruised to different places and captured some shots to make it more relatable. Perhaps while taking the names of the bridges, it would have added another feather to this song, had the bridges been shown in the background.

But here we shouldn’t restrict the debate to this song but dive deeper into the content that the maker has been serving to his audiences. Millions across the world turn to social media to buy themselves some moments of laughter from prank videos across the globe. You will see pranksters anticipating their prey to make people laugh which inevitably earns them fame. And this genre of videos has grown into a full-fledged prank culture where people seemingly enjoy these videos at the expenditure of the prank victim.

For some pranks turn into abuses, however, a plethora of pranks on the internet serve abusive sermons to their audiences who either laugh it out or revolt if they find it challenging their conscience. For example, a famous comedian turned radio jockey was seen apologizing for his remarks during a prank. Though many jumped in defense of the radio jockey overall there was an outrage in the people against it. Some even called for responsible behavior on the prankster’s part.

Pranks are usually driven by the intent of manipulating the truth for laughs. They may be funny for the people watching but the story is parallel for the victim who has to go through unnecessary anxiety and fear. Pranks have travelled to Kashmir and much like the song are being liked by the people. Local pranksters out on the streets chalk out their scapegoats to dupe them. These prank videos are often used to legitimize barbarity and debase the targets of joking.

Renee Hobbesin her work titled ‘Youtube Pranks Across Cultures’ writes "because pranks are a form of interpersonal humiliation involving a three-way relationship between the one who humiliates, the victim, and the witnesses, typically, pranks involve people in unequal power relationships". Some scholars conceptualize pranks as a developmentally normal form of “dirty play”, a dimension of preadolescent and adolescent boys’ gendered identity that questions adult authority through a metaphor of playful terrorism.

Now let us take a look at some prank videos produced by the face of a Downtown song. There is a prank aimed at a truck driver where the prankster is seen with a cow. The prankster reveals that the name of his cow is Ishrat. Something the society should have questioned because this association of a female with a cow is a patriarchal notion prevalent in our society.

In another video, the prankster is seen calling a person, “Che chai shakal ti tichi" (you look like a bus conductor). This uncovers the element of classicism in his pranks. There are several other videos laced with rude and offensive things. In another one of his pranks, the prankster scares a person to death amid COVID-19 by declaring himself as Covid positive while asking for his phone. Then you find him hitting a person with a cleaver who is then on the verge of crying in a Butcher prank.

Hobbes further writes in his study that “scholars acknowledge that across cultures, jokes and pranks are often used to justify violence and to dehumanize targets of joking.”

We aren’t just sharing laughter but accepting a culture that might level up confusion in our society in the long run. As this culture recruits more people, we can be at liberty to imagine its future concerning our society. We would not have the power to restrict the phenomenon once it takes off.

Tomorrow when we or someone from our family runs into a vulgar prank, we would have to accept that as an evolution. Such ugly progression would then be inevitable and many would pay homage to it. Because we are addicted to entertainment now and we tend to search for it. The contradictory nature of both these trends with accepted ethics is pretty evident yet popular trends like roasting and pranking are finding a place in our society.

Kashmir is at the influx of various things being transmitted through different apparatuses. There is an urgent need for gate-keeping and the role of people having an eye for such transition has just grown in responsibility. They need to be aware of people smartly and sensibly. Our media also needs to stop being so desperate following popular culture and making news out of anything. The way such songs and certain roasters rule their headlines must be stopped. The media shouldn’t stoop low for such news merely for gaining more readerships. We expect better from them and from our society.

The writers are Media Graduates from University of Kashmir. They are the budding Movie Reviewers and Feature Writers.

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