While the internet has given us the freedom to say what we want, poke fun, roast others, and be social media stars, what it has not given us is the right to package sexism and personal attacks in the name of 'content'. The worldwide web is a place for us all to question, debate and voice opinions but not seek pleasure in shaming people's looks and choices.
I am a social media addict and my job is to spend hours reading through everything 'viral'. And so I do watch a lot of what they call roasts. In a few recent ones, YouTubers Elvish Yadav and Lakshya Chaudhary made fun of Kusha Kapila's looks, claimed that women who love to 'smoke, drink' are 'against our culture' and called 'pseudo feminists' and also questioned choices women in general and Kusha in particular makes.
"Rakhi Sawant ko Kareena Kapoor nahi kaha ja sakta”
"Itna ch**tiya kaun hota hai jo apni aadhi salary se kachhe baniyan khareedta hai?"
And he even fat-shamed one woman, comparing her with Tata 470.
The Elvish and Lakshaya roast of Kusha has many problems. Statement by statement the two YouTubers shamed Kusha and other women of their choices, their make up, derided them about their lipstick and how young or old they looked. This wasn't roast. This was a vehicle of misogyny without its brakes on.
I did some digging up to find how the idea of a roast came about. In 1947 (yes that's how long it goes) the American Friar’s Club hosted the first-ever public roast and their motto was, “We only roast the ones we love”. The guests willingly gave their consent as they knew what they were signing up for. Roast needs consent.
Normalization of Transphobic Jokes
What these young dudes do with their videos is normalising jokes, slurs and commentary that can be queerphobic, and anti-feminist. They use transphobic terms like ‘Meetha’, ‘Chakka’, ‘Mithai ki dukaan par le jaaunga 200 mei bik jayega’. The creator while using such terms lets go of the fact that millions of viewers out there will start to use the same terms in a casual manner.
‘Moti’, ‘Bekar Shakal’, ‘Tumpe kuch nahi hai attitude dikhane layak’ etc. reek of toxic masculinity. Elvish Yadav’s video titled ‘Roasting Fake Feminism’ was infested with these.
One must ask why these content creators can't raise issues that can focus on some real problems. Problems that boys and men face everywhere in the country. Whether it's about the pressures of toxic masculinity or the fall out of society's expectations of men as a boisterous and big chested 'mard' . There is enough research to show that many men suffer in silence because they aren't expected to share their feelings - these content creators could think of so many subjects that men need conversations on. Why just pick feminist issues to mock all the time?
Who is watching it? Everyone
If the internet is about democracy, the flip side of the coin is mobocracy - the notion that people will make widespread content they want to, a bit like a mob. The Elvish Yadav video has over 3.3 million views. CarryMinati’s video with homophobic content had 71 million views with 10 million likes. It broke 12 records and gained the young YouTuber 5 million subscribers. By the time it was removed from the platform, the message and its damage carried itself wide and far.
#RoastNahiFryKarunga say these young roast masters. But do they realise what kind of influence their words have? When misogyny, bias and queerphobia earn you money and fame, it not only puts forth a statement but also sets an example for young impressionable minds. Such content is emulated by other emerging content creators who want to be the next Carry Minati. Which is why we can't just blame the consumers and their choices, we must also put some onus on those creating the content. With unlimited adulation from fans, comes the responsibility to not set the wrong precedent. That's how it works, whether they like it or not.
Also, with the popularity and the power these content creators have, it is down to all publicity is good publicity. So even with such intense backlash, can we really say they are at a disadvantage?
Roast culture is now an excuse for shaming others. What we need is more content that questions this misinterpretation, that goes out there to carry messages that stand up for all genders and respects personal spaces and opinions. Let's not make this about humour that rests its laurels on gender, weight, humiliation, sexuality, caste, class or any of that. In the name of roast, or content creation, let's not forget how we all need to be responsible for our words and actions.