Who would have imagined that within one week, the song 'Aunty Ki Ghanti' would snowball into multiple planned, then cancelled, gatherings of young people, with no purpose other than to shout out its lyrics in public in several cities across India?
Who could have foreseen that a YouTube performer, who spent two years in almost complete anonymity jostling for attention among the gems that litter the hallways of cringepop, would suddenly amass such a dedicated audience that merely objecting to the lyrics of his song, for its suggestions of sexual violence and celebration of misogyny, would result in death and rape threats for a reporter?
Fans of the self-proclaimed 'Rap King' Omprakash Mishra, creator of 'Aunty Ki Ghanti', are enraged that a media report led to YouTube pulling down the video from the site. Even though YouTube's decision to take down the song was due to a copyright infringement claim, such cold, unexciting facts are rarely a deterrent to reactionary herd mentality.
The song's popularity and the mania it has engendered might be unexpected but hardly surprising.
It is perhaps far more important to understand why scores of people are amazed by both, the scorching criticism and the violent defence of a terrible piece of music.
Cringepop isn't exactly new — it's been around since 2011 — and we've all, at some point or the other, marvelled at our collective indulgence of tacky art. The conversation around cringepop rarely moves past 'it's so bad it's good'.
It is equally unsurprising that a woman with an opinion is being threatened on the Internet for having the temerity to condemn something that a large majority have happily accepted as light-hearted fun. Never mind that the foundation of said 'fun' is threatening a woman with rape. It is sickening, undoubtedly, and every time such an incident happens it makes one worry for our moral fabric, but it's not unexpected.
Calling out the misogyny that allows entire groups of people to dehumanise women enough to issue violent threats and hurl abuses at them is important, but it's equally important to understand why scores of people continue to be amazed by both, the scorching criticism and the violent defence of a terrible song.
When HuffPost India pointed out the crassness and sexual violence implied in the lyrics of 'Bol Na Aunty Au Kya', we weren't surprised that the invective flew thick and fast on the comment threads of our article.
How do you argue with those who believe that flinging "au kya" in the direction of a woman is as good as asking permission to have sex with her? True story: many commenters felt that the use of 'au kya' meant "consent was written all over the song".
An increasing number of people defended the "harmless" nature of the song, saying that they would never actually go and do anything to an 'aunty'. That 'Bol na aunty au kya, sot lagau kya' was just a silly line set to a catchy tune that people were good-naturedly chanting.
It's quite likely that most people who gathered on the roads and hollered the offensive lyrics were doing it unthinkingly and for fun, not with any sinister intention to turn the world into a woman-hating universe. It's also likely that most of the 500 people who gathered on Connaught Place in Delhi to shout out those lyrics, those that were planning to attend a similar event in Mumbai and the ones who intended to show up at the three cancelled events in Bengaluru would say they respect women and are appalled by the act of rape.
And yet, they were willing to loudly sing those lyrics on the road, unthinkingly and with palpable glee. It's worth examining how we got to a point where such a song came to be widely accepted as a youth anthem. There was no mistaking the intent, or the meaning, of the lyrics in Aunty Ki Ghanti, and yet, a staggering number of people were simply willing to play along.
How did this happen?
Part of the blame for this phenomenon must lie with a few influencers and platforms on the Internet. Over the last few days, a media website scrubbed all evidence of memes about the 'SOT guy' (as Mishra is called in them) that it had previously shared. The Facebook page of a popular comedy collective features at least half a dozen memes about Mishra. Ironically, this group is known for its avowed feminist leanings, and is currently in the news for a pathbreaking video calling out sexism in the film industry.
There is nothing wrong with changing one's opinion on a song after others point out the troubling message underlining it. Us in the media should do it oftener, instead of hoping no one will notice the mis-step in the first place.
Two of the biggest national dailies in the country, while reporting on the gathering at CP and the proposed mega 'Bol Na Aunty' event in Mumbai, did not deign to slip in even a throwaway observation about how vile its lyrics were. One of them, in a statement that's now been deleted, congratulated the crowd for "making history in their own sweet way".
In an ideal world, young people ought to hold themselves to higher standards, think for themselves and take more responsibility for their actions — just as the media should not shirk from steering them in the right direction.
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