Our heroes beat up their enemies, and we applaud these ‘macho’ vigilantes. Why should the Whatsapp fuelled violence in our ‘real lives’ be surprising?
While the reality is that each ‘man’ and ‘woman’ is a distinct individual in himself or herself, we have come to adopt a lazy shorthand to characterise ‘men’ and ‘women’ as a whole. Aggression is one of those traits that have come to stand in for ‘male’ and this is especially true of aggression directed towards ‘protecting’ a man’s property (a.k.a family) or community.
This is where your modern-day male vigilante is born.
For example, if you have noticed, most riots or incidents of lynching that occur in this country are initiated by men; if not initiated, the men play a huge role in the violence of it all. And as time progresses, these incidents become more and more aggressive in nature.
Why does this happen? Well, if you teach an entire generation that the only way they will earn society’s respect is to take what they want by force or violence, it will translate to this kind of behaviour.
Let’s look at this at grass root level – we raise boys to be aggressive and unabashedly stubborn. Why? Because, if they don’t possess these qualities, “You have a daughter and not a son”.
We teach them from the very beginning that whatever happens, don’t do anything that may cause people to think you are weak – be it showing concern, emotions or even shedding a single tear – because women do this and women are considered weak. As these kids grow into men, their immediate reaction to confrontation is violence, especially when they’ve also been taught that true men will use violence to protect their families.
In the recent cases of the false rumours of child kidnappers spread through WhatsApp forwards, so many innocent lives have been lost, fuelled by this a combination of human mob mentality and fragile masculinity. This occurs when we join in on something because someone in our vicinity is doing it. This along with a sense of fragile masculinity is disastrous because then it becomes, “If he’s doing it (and it’s the manly thing to do), I should follow and do the same or contribute more.” This starts a snowball effect that eventually becomes too large for anyone to handle.
The kind of beatings and violence caused by the false WhatsApp forwards were horrendous. No one bothered to investigate or ask or verify. The men involved felt their space threatened, got worked up and did exactly what society has taught them to do: burn it down.
Our media and popular culture too, convinces men that they must be strong and aggressive at all times to be considered manly. How often have we seen these not-taking-no-for-an-answer, no-crap-taking, always-gets-their-way-through-violence men on our screens? Every other Indian movie’s – be it mainstream Bollywood or any other Indian state movie industry – male protagonist is out for revenge, and that too, a bloodthirsty and murderous revenge.
These men in the movies are depicted to be so overly manly that you can see patriarchy dripping from their ‘Dhai kilo ka haath’. Amitabh Bachchan’s most loved era is literally referred to as ‘The Angry Young Man’. This attitude was later linked to being the saviour of the family and the protector of the damsel in distress (doesn’t matter if the damsel is actually in distress or not).
By doing this, men feel the pressure to constantly protect their families and they feel burdened to go to any costs to protect/save something they love or are a part of. And what’s the easiest way to put an end to a problem according to our movies? Violence! After all, what sort of effeminate protagonist would have a sit-down with the villain, or even get the law involved and walk their way out with respect and zero bloodshed? They’re the vigilantes of society, of course!
If a child grows up seeing their favourite actor fighting people as a glorious act of manliness, they will eventually channel this learned behaviour in real life too. Which is exactly what is happening in modern-day incidents of mob violence.
There is of course space in art for all kinds of behaviour, including behaviour that has no space in civilised society, but maybe it’s about time we stopped glorifying it.
Top image is of actor Akshay Kumar playing a vigilante in the movie Gabbar Is Back
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