There was a flap recently at NYU, my university, about a student group staging an "occupation" of the student center to protest... well, something. The group, Take Back NYU (TBNYU), had presented the administration with a list of 13 demands and threatened to occupy the cafeteria at the Student Center and stage dweeby hipster freak-ins until their demands were met. The list of demands (which you can see here) went from things such as disclosing NYU's budget and the investment strategy for its endowment to scholarships for 13 Palestinian Students and the donation of surplus University supplies to the Islamic University of Gaza*. The University authorities quite magnanimously allowed the students to stay in the cafeteria overnight on the condition that they not break anything. Incensed by this condition, no doubt, the protesters broke open a door leading out to the balcony and started haranguing passers-by on the street below. Amazingly, the University allowed them one more day at the student center before moving in and expelling the protesters from the cafeteria (although not, regrettably, from the University). A protester (who as it turns out, is not even from NYU!) captured this footage from the last moments of the "occupation": (CAUTION: Video NSFW due to loud swearing. Also make sure you are not drinking a liquid while watching this video, spit-takes are likely)
Regrettably, the protesters could not reach their beloved consensus and were ejected from the building. The NYU students were suspended and stripped of student housing and financial aid. The non-NYU protesters (of whom there appear to be many) were politely show out. Order and sanity was restored to the campus.
I think there are lessons in all of this for aspiring student protesters. First, think your damn demands through properly. The thirteen demands TBNYU presented not only had very little to do with each other, but some of them actively pissed off the student body (opening our already crowded library to the general public, for example). Second, if you are going to make wide-ranging demands that will actually cost this University, make sure all the protesters actually are stakeholders in the University. Many of the TBNYU protesters were students from other schools bussed in to swell the numbers of the occupation. Kids, this isn't rocket science. If there is one thing that is almost certainly guaranteed to piss of the entire student body, it is bums from Muhlenburg College telling us how our University ought to be run. Thirdly, do not come between NYUers and their quesadillas. Surely TBNYU could have thought of a better place to occupy and deny to NYU than the NYU student cafeteria. I mean, you couldn't have pissed off more ordinary students if you were frikking trying to do so. And finally, if you are going to ignore all these things, please, please do not make videos of your dweebiness and put them up on YouTube. This video is now publicly available to anyone who searches YouTube for NYU. People might look at this video and think we're all like this. You are allowed your douchebaggery, but please, we did not sign up to be associated with you consensus-using non-corporate-water-drinking morons.
I have decided to form a new NGO dedicated to a cause dear to my heart. I shall call it The Society for the Promotion of Beards and the Prevention of Shaving.
For too long, my brothers*, we have been in thrall of a pernicious fashion that forces us to deny the truth of our hairy visages. For too long, we have bowed to the power of the Razor regime, the evil Gillette empire that seeks to enslave us in order to secure a permanent market for their infernal blades. (Incidentally, did you know that King Camp Gillette was a Socialist?) Too long have we denied our masculine instincts at the behest of dweeby pretty-boy celebrities and bogus claims of high technology. Far too long have we participated in a bogus tradition designed to avoid beardless sissy Alexander the Great undue embarrassment from comparison to real men.
Enough, I say. No more. Cast off your chains and throw away your razors. Follow the inspiring example of Joseph Palmer, and defy you smooth-cheeked persecutors. Obey the precepts of Leviticus, Mohamed (p.b.u.h.) and Guru Gobind Singh. Rebel against the Man, that clean-shaven bastard. Be different. There are many, many reasons to grow your beard. Embrace one of them. Stop shaving. Join me, and be what you were meant to be.
[* I do not mean to be sexist, I'm just going by probabilities here. Any woman who can meet our entry requirements is welcome to join our Society.]
A couple of years ago, I started reading Ashok K. Banker's Prince of Ayodhya. I couldn't finish the book for various reasons, not least of which was that I did not like it. But I remember the introduction Banker had written to the book, which spoke about how there are many, many versions of the Ramayan, and its silly to uphold one version as canonical over others. Furthermore, we do not have an original written copy of Valmiki's Ramayan and surely much of the story has changed as the story was passed from generation to generation through spoken retellings*. In such a situation, it is a little silly to say that a particular version of the story is wrong and promote, instead, another version of the story that might differ from what actually happened. It is a little like dissing 300 for its un-historic depiction of the Spartans and praising instead The 300 Spartans where the "Persians" have blond beards and the "Spartans" are clearly wearing Roman legionary armour (as a friend of mine once did). But I digress. Basically, Mr. Banker basically said that there is no reason for our epics** not to be retold in a more modern way. It is not necessarily disrespectful*** to the epic to come up with a new version where the characters behave a little more like modern people. And I totally agree with him. It would be cool to have a version of the Ramayan where we can identify a little better with the characters, where they speak our language, so to speak.
Well, while I agreed with Mr. Banker's sentiment, I just didn't like his story. It is true that I did not give it enough of a chance, and perhaps I should have at least read the first book through. And perhaps, some time in the murky future, I will (yay NYPL!). But what reading the introduction and first half of that book did to me was leave me wanting a modern, non-bowdlerised**** version of this quite frankly amazing story.
Which sort of brings me to what this post is all about. Sita Sings the Bluesis an animated film based on the Ramayan, from the point of view of Sita. SStB is the work of Nina Paley, an American animator, who made this amazing full-length movie single-handedly over the course of five years, working from her personal computer.
(The Trailer for Sita Sings the Blues)
The film tells the story of Sita using Flash animation alongside several other animation techniques, including rotoscoping (which I personally find very cool). There are song sequences set to songs by the 1920s jazz singer Annette Hanshaw (copyright problems due to the inclusion of the songs have so far kept the movie from a commercial release, but the movie just would not be the same without them). The film has a hilarious narration by three Indonesian shadow puppets, who tell the story of the Ramayan, and illustrate the various (sometimes conflicting) versions that many Indians grow up with. It has segments that tell the story of Nina Paley's break up with her husband, and how it perhaps parallels Sita's abandonment by her husband. It has perhaps the coolest Hanuman in the history of animated Hanumans.
There is, in fact, no reason not to watch this movie. Unless you're one of those uncool people who thinks that any non-Ramanand Sagar/Amar Chitra Katha version of the Ramayan is disrespectful, or that it is "against Indian culture" for an American to make a movie about a great Indian epic. In fact, Pramod Muthalik would be very happy if you did not watch this movie. You wouldn't want to make Pramod Muthalik happy, would you? Then watch the movie.
Sita Sings the Blues can watched online here. If you're living in New York, you can watch it on WNET/NY Channel 13 on the 7th of March at 10:45 pm. Unfortunately, due to copyright issues, these are currently the only ways of watching the movie. * As Neha Vishwanathan once wisely put it, it is "incredible how [Indians] managed to reproduceso much despiteouroral tradition".
** I detest, detest, the use of the term "mythology" to describe the stories of the Hindu Gods and works such as the Ramayan and Mahabharat.
*** Doubtless it is possible to write a disrespectful version of the Ramayan; I remember several bawdy jokes based on Ram and Sita that my friends made while we were at school.