'Benny Lava' and the buffalax-ing of Indian songs: A weird way of keeping India's perceived exoticism alive
'Allegedly Problematic' is a monthly column by Kuzhali Manickavel, which takes a cheeky look at literary/cultural offerings from the past that would now be considered, well, problematic — and asks, 'But are they really?'.
Read more from the series here.
Read part 1 of this column.
Rightly or wrongly, we are going to try and figure out why some people think buffalax videos are racist or as our original question posits, “That whole buffalax thing — were they really making fun of Prabhu Deva and Daler Mehndi, or nah?” This led me to another question: Does it matter? Do we lose something if someone thinks the lyrics to one of our songs sounds like ‘your booby poopie makes me so gaaaaay’? I’m not sure it does, especially when it was never the intention of these videos to nurture a deeper understanding of other cultures in the first place. We watch Prabhu Deva dance the way Prabhu Deva does while the subtitles tell us that whatever he’s singing sounds like ‘Now poop on them Oliver’ — it’s hilarious, and that’s it.
But I think this is one of the reasons why buffalaxing makes some people uncomfortable.
Not only is the source material taken out of context (not that context would always help), it doesn’t seem to matter what is actually being said in these videos; what is important is the meaning that is assigned to them by someone who has no idea what is going on. Let’s not forget, India is still massively hungover from that whole colonial rule thing and it manifests itself in earnest and sincere ways online. In the face of all those "Crazy Indian Videos" you will find a legion of brave people, falling all over themselves trying to explain all those crazy, crazy Indian things.
There seems to be a real need to present ourselves and our culture as harmless and understandable, especially to Western audiences. We desperately want the white people to like us and turning into a history-cum-tourist guide for all things Indian on any online platform available seems to be our unspoken duty on the internet.
With buffalaxes, it quickly became clear that most people didn’t care about the original source material. More often than not, no effort was made to find out the names of the artists or what they were actually saying. All that was needed was a Crazy Indian Video!!!!! with lots of words that sounded like boob, gay and poop (and there’s a lot of those when you think about it). The more over-the-top the source material was, the better, and we as a country do over-the-top very, very well.
Buffalaxing simply made these already “crazy” videos even more crazy.
We can’t deny that our songs can be pretty ridiculous. But perhaps there is something uncomfortable about unintentionally being a big part of a joke created by someone else. With buffalaxes, the original content is plastered over with a rich mix of gibberish and words that are sexually suggestive, things which render practically anything laughable. Content that already looks unfamiliar becomes even more strange. It’s almost as if there is an insistence to keep the source material as weird and incomprehensible as possible.
If we’re honest, we do this to other regional and foreign languages ourselves. And what about when we buffalax ourselves? What about the Bollywood gifs that basically do the same thing, except with no sound? For some reason, it seems funny when we do it to ourselves and uncomfortable when someone else does it to us. When we do it, we feel we know what we are dealing with. But when someone else does it, it feels like the weirdest aspects of us are taken out of context in order to render us even more weird.
With English, we can’t really do the reverse. The language has too strong and complicated a position in our lives for it to sound like some strange, obscure language that we can superimpose our gibberish meanings on. We don’t watch English songs or trailers for the reaction value because they are not strange, exotic things to us. But I guess all things India continue to be “crazy” and exotic for some parts of the world. Buffalaxing seems to be a weird way of keeping that kind of exoticism alive. And while that’s not necessarily racist, I guess it is one of those well-intentioned things that are problematic because it makes people write tiresome columns about it.
Next, we will look at some of the allegedly problematic nursery rhymes that one comes across in India.
Kuzhali Manickavel is the author of the short story collections 'Insects Are Just like You and Me except Some of Them Have Wings' and 'Things We Found During the Autopsy', both available from Blaft Publications
Updated Date: Jul 13, 2019 07:54:22 IST