Autopsied..

I read Patricia Cornwell’s latest Kay Scarpetta novel- Flesh and Blood.

It is really sad how the once Number 1 bestselling crime writer and mother of all crime-scene-investigation genre has lost the plot completely as to why her books became such a rage in 90s.

Kay Scarpetta- a chief medical examiner was introduced in late eighties. A 40-year-old divorced woman devoted to her work and justice- the books instantly won all awards and rose to stay at number one throughout the decade.

Scarpetta and Clarice Starling were two main reasons I got hooked onto new American crime fiction.

It was the ( then) unique concept of following the ( usually serial)killer using forensic investigation. Cornwell popularised autopsies, liver mortis, trace evidence, Luma-lite and other investigative terms. We read on with fascination as Dr. Scarpetta ploughed through smallest of fibers and dissected internal organs which uncovered the criminals. ‘The dead don’t lie’ is a term often used in the books. Scarpetta has reverence for the dead. She is tough but sensitive to injustice. She is meticulous and will not let go of any single inconsistency in her investigation. She is technologically suave and it was through these books that blockbuster shows like CSI gained credibility.

While we don’t have means to judge the technology or latest forensic science, Cornwell made it easy enough for us to feel smart by focusing on forensics.

Cornwell’s personal life was no less dramatic. She fell in love with a FBI officer whose husband kidnapped his wife and threatened Cornwell. Cornwell’s coming out as well as making once of the main characters in the series a lesbian was risky for the time. She married a neuroscientist Staci Gruber and they both were famous to ride helicopters and sue the fraudulent companies.

Scarpetta’s slightly stiff but ultimately kind character was central to the plot. As a woman chief in a man’s world, she maintained her clinical focus and never depended on her male colleagues or lovers for protection. She almost always was the most brilliant investigator of the lot. The series had the trappings of gun savvy, slightly right-wing ideology, Cornwell was after all a family friend of the Bush family. But the strong female characters- both heroes and anti-heroes were so unique and appealing, that we forgave them for being ‘one-of-the-boys’. Scarpetta also loves to cook and long scenes of her cooking elaborate Italian meals provided a sensuous relief to the bloody narrative.

And then somewhere she lost the plot. The personal anguish of Scarpetta soon became self-aggrandizing to the point of obnoxiousness. The oft repeated formula of the killer obsessing with her and getting vanquished turned comical as virtually every human being in the books started targeting her. Intricate twists turned into ridiculous conspiracy theories. Scarpetta’s heir-apparent, her brilliant niece Lucy Farinelli turned into a caricature. The helicopter flying, gun-toting, techno-wizard, ex-FBI-Agent Lucy turned absolutely repulsive and needlessly dark. Captain Marino- Scarpetta’s sidekick turned disgustingly annoying. The pop-psychology turned self-conscious. Scarpetta increasingly became paranoid. And the whole series lost its focus on forensic investigation and became a badly written chronicle of arrogant, judgemental, self-important people. The recent books almost read like a parody of noir-ish first-person narratives full of conspiracies and unbelievable criminals rising from their graves once too many.

I read some of the 90s Scarpetta books and while now they seem dated what with their obsession with technology, I think that is what Cornwell did best. And I wish she stops with her angsty pretensions and returns Scarpetta to dissect human bodies once again.

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Condomania- Do the Rex

I am sure I am about million years late on this one, but here goes the best India ad about sex I have ever seen.

It is not just because of Ranveer- on whom I have developed a special crush since RamLeela. I like me these overacting , slightly dumbish, cute boy toy heroes – and he is the freshest and the best of the category since Salman rode that cycle dressed in snug ganjee.

I really liked the ad because the mood and the tone is not that of ‘sex is a game and men are hunting writhing women’, which is normal for these silly deo and condom ads. Neither is it laughably steamy like your typical KS branding. Come on, why does the couple on the packet branding have sex on rough rocks is beyond me- can’t they just do it on the beach? More comfortable.

Do the Rex is a joyous, fun and energetic celebration of sex- without guilt, fake orgasmic faces and objectification. It is silly enough not to take itself too seriously- and treats sex as an enjoyable excercise. It is like good food ads- you feel good about yourself and you want to experience it impulsively.

Do watch the ad. And Do the Rex..

Pre- marital sex… chee…. chee

Additional sessions judge Virender Bhat is very very upset. And he wants all women to know that pre-marital sex is not only immoral, because duh, it is pre-marital, but also non-religious. If a woman practices it, naughty girl!!!, then “She must understand that she is engaging in an act which not only is immoral but also against the tenets of every religion. No religion in the world allows pre-marital sex.”

Hmmm, inter-caste/ inter-religion marriages should be banned pronto as they are definitely not sanctioned by religion.

Women should be married before they reach puberty and have sons and shave off their heads when their husbands die. Highly commendable practices blessed by religion and guaranteed to preserve the morality of women which equals morality of the religion/nation/ universe/ heaven/ dadadaadadada….

How about introducing a government sponsored campaign to relaunch Sati?

Mr. Bhat is upholding a very pious task of mixing judiciary with religious vows. I propose we perform an Ashwamedha Yadnya in his honour and slay horses to please the gods. Yeeeyy…

Sacrifice a handful of kids as well while you are at that.

Miley Cyrus and Oooh Laa Laa

A change of image for a female star usually involves sex. If she wants to be seen as cool and edgy, she has to maintain a balance- be a sexual object but still look like she is in control on screen/ stage. Take last week’s Miley Cyrus’s controversial VMA 2013 performance that is blasting the Americans in a dizzy.

Our own Vidya Balan, for example, turned her image of ” sweet, traditional Indian woman ” to ” edgy, cool, sexually confident” in Dirty Picture. Balan was hailed as gutsy, bold, a new face of Indian woman not afraid of her sexuality. She suddenly went from behenji to edgy modern woman by.. by what?

There is no doubt that Balan is one of the best we have. But to call the movie and her character Silk as ‘female empowerment’?

balan

Silk is not sexually empowered, rather she plays on every sexist stereotype with gusto a la Rakhi Sawant. She uses her body in a way expected by ambitious women, and her character goes through no arc when she starts failing in her career. It is always her body that is on display for the movie’s deglammed male characters and male viewers. The fat hanging on her is simultaneously supposed to arouse and disgust at the same time. No amount of witty dialogue and bold gestures can actually erase the message of the film, perfectly articulated in the climax. Silk, a tragic figure lying dead in a red saree and Sindoor, we viewers mourning the essence of Indian womanhood that she missed: marriage!! This comes after enjoying 2 hours of unabashed sexual objectification cloaked in female aggression.

In similar but less shocking vein , Ishquiya also plays on the femme fatale trope and while far more subdued, Balan’s character impresses us with her manipulation of male characters using her sexuality, again in a very stereotypical manner.

I am all for sexual expression and being bold. But then it should be equally performed by men. When it comes to female stars, why don’t we determine coolness and edginess of the artist by performance and story arc? I know you will say, Kahani and yes, there is zero objectification, she is an active agent through and through. But the film had far less cultural impact/ popularity than Dirty Picture.

The point I am trying to make is not that of a critique of Balan, who I adore. And who does pushes the boundaries of what a female star is supposed to be without fear. Point is, how she instantly became ‘cool’ only when she started getting bold about her sexuality, even while the characters she played were totally dependent on men for survival and character growth.

An Irrfan Khan or a Ranbeer Kapoor or a Nasseruddin or an Amitabh do not need to use the tired old coin of ‘sexuality’ when changing image or climbing coolness ladders.

Coming back to former Hannah Montana fame Miley Cyrus’s MTV VMA performance that is being criticised and ridiculed all over American media. Hannah Montana was one of the popular girl characters even on Indian TVs. As someone closely associated with kids media, I am fascinated by her transition from ‘ america’s Disney sweetheart’ to ‘ america’s latest female child star gone wild’. Move over Lidsay Lohan and Amanda Baynes!!

There is the usual expected slut shaming- especially Cyrus’s twerking to Robin Thicke, who is 16 years older than her, and sings his famous song ‘blurred lines’ that is borderline rape apology. “How could this sweet girl do this? Every virginal girl has a slut hidden in her after all!! What would the kiddis think?” Nobody is saying anything about Thicke, of course, since he is a man and can not be a slut.

Miley’s offensive appropriation of black culture for shock value has been rightly criticised.

And last but not the least, the type of sexual objectification in the video has drawn widespread criticism from feminists. Her constantly stuck out tongue, giggling face, slightly out of control body language, choreography that positions her as a sexual object, stripping on stage, twerking at spectators etc. do not suggest any sexually empowering performance: but that of being an object for male eyes, symbolized by the older performer Thicke, who hardly looks at her even when she is performing vague sexually submissive poses with him.

Miley is no Balan or Lady Gaga, who manage to be sexual objects while maintaining agency and control. There is also difference in talent. Miley Cyrus’s performance is cringeworthy.. even more than Shahrukh Khan’s in Chennai Express. She comes across as desperate and wannabe. So it could just be the fact that she did something she couldn’t carry off and that is why she has attracted so much disgust.

But the fact remains that Female performers’ bodies are invariable parameters of judging them. Cool, behenji, modern, edgy, international, traditional and what not.

Male nudity..

If you have ever been to Bhutan, you will see walls of homes dotted with decorative images of Penis with a squirt of semen.

We are so not used to seeing male nudity or male genitals depicted in public place in any way, that this image evokes either shock or nervous giggles in Indians.

The other day, a friend was telling us how she was looking for a nice artwork of a male nude and was finding it difficult to get one. Female nudes are of course the norm. Since women are objects “to be seen”, and men “see”, it is easier to see female nudity around us: art, advertisement, media, pornography.

Shiva Ling is perhaps the only mainstream example of depiction of male genitals in our culture and is present in all parts of India. But in modern times, it is always the female sexual organs that seem to be displayed to stand in for anything sexual or related to reproduction.

Why is it that male frontal or general nudity embarrasses us so? Why is it rarely associated with romance or artistic depictions of erotica?

I think it is because women are conditioned to not ‘see’ male body with desire And thus very few women would admit lust for a random male body. Also men who control what is seen and shown in the world are not comfortable being seen as sexual object, and so male frontal nudity is considered either vulgar or funny across the world, most often than not.

What do you think?