Welcoming Our New King: Review of Hasan Minhaj: “Homecoming King”

I will be honest, I wish I could have dived more into this review but I didn’t, at the risk of giving out spoilers.

When we think of the kings of comedy, we think of George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, or Bill Hicks however, Comedy has no racial boundaries. Arguably, it was Russell Peters, who broke the barrier for Brown comedians everywhere and showed that Indians could be funny. Subsequently, Aziz Ansari will do the same as not only a young, talented, house-hold name, and now anyone who doesn’t know him is considered living under a rock.

And now, we welcome a new Indian Comedian that is taking the world by storm. Though he is perhaps well known for his contributions to the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, he most recently, was the speaker for the White House Correspondent’s Dinner and did an impeccable job by speaking his mind. For those that enjoyed his 25-27 minute speech, I would encourage them to check out his hour long, Netflix special: “Homecoming King”. In this special, it’s a bit unorthodox in that it’s not like traditional stand up shows. For one, the show is more about his life and a specific story as opposed to observational humor and abstract thoughts.

Nevertheless, Minhaj dives deep into his memories and does his best to recreate those moments for the audience so they may empathize with his experiences as a descendent of Indian immigrants and struggling to maintain the culture he has been reared with and simultaneously try to fit in with others who don’t share the same culture and/or beliefs. It is evident early on in the special, how much he cares about his family, despite their disagreements. Moreover, he demonstrates that his family is almost no different than any other traditional family. Specifically, there is a generational gap of understanding between parents and their children in that they can’t seem to agree on how to handle discrimination.

For Minhaj, as a born citizen, he believes that Islamophobia should not have to apply to him because he has done nothing wrong. This is a fair and understandable perspective. On the other hand, his father (like most immigrants) believes they should take discrimination with a grain of salt; as this is something uncontrollable and inevitable when arriving to a new country. This is hard to grasp because, while we can acknowledge that there are terrorists that claim to commit horrific acts in the name of their religion, we do a disservice by associating other Muslims with them, especially since Islam has nothing to do with terrorism in the first place. Furthermore, that ordinary Muslim citizens should have to answer for their actions is ludicrous There’s an article where Aziz Ansari tackled this issue with Rupert Murdoch, perfectly, saying how unreasonable it is for Muslims to have to give press releases or publicly denounce terroristic acts when they clearly had nothing to do with it. In addition to that, Christians are never asked to publicly denounce horrendous acts that have been committed in the name of Christ.

Moving on though, Minhaj also goes on to talk about racism in two different forms: the first is when you’re put in a state of “fear for your own life” kind of racism and the racism “with a smile”. I’d like to tell the story here, but at the risk of it being a spoiler for the show, I’d rather not. Instead, go watch it for yourself to see the example he used. I would be remiss however, if I did not elaborate on what those two types of racism signify though. The former is self-explanatory: being constantly harassed due to your color, creed, or sexual orientation to the point where you are never sure if even the menial errands you need to take care of will be accomplished because your safety is at risk. For Arabs or South Asians, who are descendants from countries with a majority Muslim population,, often they will resort to changing their names in an effort to hide their identity and not cause conflict, so Mohammad will go by Moe, or Abdullah will go as Andy in order to not draw attention to themselves. I am guilty of this as well, personally, but this will be for another blog.

The latter type of racism, is a bit more complex, but when I say “with a smile”, of course I’m not talking about someone who will use a racial slur and grin. I’m referring to the type of people who will sit and laugh with someone “different” but will not announce it publicly or allow their children to associate with them out in the open because they are afraid of people judging THEM. This sort of thing happens when someone “acts” differently. For example, I would always get judged for my love for Bollywood movies and the music, speaking Urdu with my mother, or even eating indo-paki food. Therefore, people would laugh at me and think I was this foreign weirdo, despite the fact that I was born and raised in the U.S. and English was my first language. Thus, I became so ashamed of who I was, that I wouldn’t embrace it out in the open. Even being friends with other “brown” kids in school (where we were perhaps the only ones there) made me hesitant because I was afraid of people judging us or saying SOMETHING. And being Muslim, just added more things for people to judge me by. The thing is, I was not even a practicing Muslim either nor did I choose to be because I just didn’t want to give people a reason to say anything, pretty much.  So like Hasan Minhaj, I just kept it cool, tried to steer clear from danger. And just dealt with it because I figured that’s just the kind of things that happened and as a descendent of an immigrant, I had to deal with it.

However, there is a happy little epilogue to Hasan Minhaj’s story where he ends up pursuing a dream and the dream comes true. He is a successful comedian, married the love of his life, works a great job, and is becoming a house-hold name, all the while he is a Muslim. He tells these stories and is unashamed of who he is. We can all take a lesson from his story, that life is like Biryani (Chicken and Rice but with indo-paki spices. Look it up. It’s fantastic!) where you move the bad stuff out of the way and bring the good parts closer to you.

In “Homecoming King”, all the scenes (i.e., jokes) are hard to distinguish what is bad because all the parts, in my opinion, are good. As a comic, Minhaj takes a kind of Christopher Titus approach in delving deep into his memories and connecting with the audience  with his experiences. Simultaneously, Minhaj does this with a giant, contagious smile and tells the stories as vividly as one can desire. Who can ask for anything more? Now go watch it!

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 27th of May, 2017

 

 

 

Explaining Emotions & Authenticity Properly: Amateur Philosophical Responses to Actual Philosophers of Film Alex Neil and Colin Radford

The following entry is from an assignment I did for a Philosophy of Film class that I took this Spring 2017 Semester. I really enjoyed this class and the movies and readings assigned with it. That being said, I hope my readers will enjoy this movie. And for those who have not seen the films: Mary & Max or Terms of Endearment you have been warned for Spoilers.

I am running through a series of emotions at this very moment contemplating the perfect way to begin this essay. Anxiety, because I have been staring at a blank document for the last twenty minutes with my fingers on the keyboard remaining unmoved and Frustration, because I want this essay to be perfect, despite my amateur philosophical approach to the issue of emotions felt as a result of films. Just like coming up with a proper way to begin this essay, these emotions I felt, are genuine because my aim is to capture the reader’s attention and convince them that I know what I am talking about and that I worked extensively on this essay on. With that confession, the reader may empathize with me of the emotions I feel thereby, perhaps even cutting me some slack and allow me to get on with the point I’m trying to assert: that genuine, human emotions, can without a doubt be felt from fiction, however only under the condition that the viewer genuinely cares about the film he is watching. Moreover, that the film created, was made with the absolute intention to move and entertain its audience.

Only an ignoramus would believe that what is seen on a screen is real, yet it should not take away from emotions being felt because they are that caught up in the narrative or the actor’s portrayal of a character. When watching the film, Terms of Endearment, the reality of Debra Winger’s character lying in the hospital bed speaking to her children (that are not biologically hers) is irrelevant when the younger son is trying his best to keep himself from crying and simultaneously, cannot help but feel frustrated with his elder brother who seems to show an apathetic and dismissive attitude towards their mother as she is slowly passing away. Understandably, one who watches this scene would feel something from observing this scene, but what emotion that would be and how come, will vary. Examining the back and forth discussion on what emotion (if any) are felt from fiction between philosophers, Alex Neil and Colin Radford, reaching a compromise in their responses to one another (from this outsider’s perspective) seem to be a chore. The one thing that they both seem to agree on though, however, is that emotions, in general, are felt. The conflict tends to lie within what emotions, per se, are being felt and if the authenticity in feeling those emotions. The emotion of Fear, for example, according to Neil cannot be considered authentic because “I cannot coherently believe that [feeling Fear] is actually the case that I am threatened by something I know to be fictional.” (Neil, 4) Radford on the other hand, states that we can indefinitely feel genuine fear of something, even if we know it not to be fake: “even the mere thought of spiders may elicit these feelings of panic.” (Radford, 72)

These arguments put forth by Neil and the laws of the Paradox of Fiction attest Radford’s view. Specifically, that genuine emotion requires belief that the objects exist; moreover, we do not believe that fictional objects exist. Referring to Neil’s statement in the previous argument, one could make the assumption that if he were to have seen Mary & Max, he would not feel fear when Mary is at the verge of committing suicide after not hearing from Max for so long, but at this point, the audience has seen that Max has already sent a letter and hopefully, it will reach Mary in time, before it’s too late. Although in subsequent pages, he states that we may not be able to feel fear, but may feel pity: “we should remember that not all fear is fear for oneself; we may also experience fear sympathetically, or for others.” (Neil, 5) Neil is called out for this sort of contradictory (perhaps because it is so vague) by Radford and contends, “if the ways in which we are moved, the various responses, including feelings and desires, are like those we experience in unproblematic cases of pitying, we do pity fictions…(But why then, does [Neil] argue differently regarding…fear?” (Radford, 73)

As demonstrated with the two previous examples, it should be very clear that neither philosopher will deem Pity and/or fear as universal emotions felt by fictional films. Although again, they do admit that a viewer can most definitely be moved by something even by knowing it is fiction. I propose that one cannot simply categorize the feeling in one term, as interpretations of films are incontestably subjective. According to Radford, “we are irrational, inconsistent, and incoherent in being moved [by emotion] for fictional characters.” (Radford, 75) This means that we can feel emotions and we don’t know what they mean but because we are simply incapable of doing so. However inexplicably unsatisfying that reason may be for some who are unable to understand how fictional mediums can invoke genuine emotion, the main crux is that we can be moved by fiction. In order to make my argument more coherent for the reader, I will draw from a personal experience of how I genuinely am moved by fictional mediums.

Before this semester began (sometime in December 2016 or early January 2017) I purchased a book: The Simpsons and Philosophy by some author. My girlfriend, seeing what I had purchased, smiled because she is well aware of my obsession with this legendary, comical cartoon. She knew this not only because I watch it OnDemand each time we are at my house or that my mother pretty much spilled the beans to her (prior to us dating) of how much I loved this show as a child, even though she couldn’t understand how something so simple and childish (because it was a cartoon) could be so entertaining. It was inexplicable because I was well aware none of it was real and everything but I genuinely would smile and laugh at the episodes I’ve watched (repeatedly) even as an adult in his early twenties, I find myself laughing even harder because I am old enough to understand the little jokes I didn’t once understand as a kid. I am reminded of Blaise Pascal’s quote when he said, “the heart has reasons for its operations that sometimes reason does not often understand.”

With that, I hope I have been able to demonstrate my view, that we can genuinely be moved by fiction. Whatever emotion may be is dependent on the viewer. And in spite of a listener potentially not being completely convinced of why a viewer feels a certain way about a film, something entirely fiction and therefore, nonexistent, the reason for how or why those emotions are felt, any efforts in convincing may seem almost incomprehensible.

Therefore, I contend that it is not (nor should be) the responsibility of the viewer to have to explain to anyone, who simply does not understand, why he or she is moved by fiction. Moreover, by maintaining such feelings for fiction, we remain well aware that our strong belief in the medium will not miraculously “give life” to fiction but the very fact that we are defending our reasons for why we are moved by the fiction, should suffice well enough, that our emotions are authentic.

Works Cited:

Neill, Alex. “Emotional Responses to Fiction: Reply to Radford.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 53.1 (1995): 75. JSTOR. Web.

Neill, Alex. “Fiction and the Emotions.” North American Philosophical Publications 30.1 (1993): 1-13. JSTOR. Web.

Radford, Colin. “Fiction, Pity, Fear, and Jealousy.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 53.1 (1995): 71. JSTOR. Web.

Having What It Takes: A Critique On The Aesthetics of Sexy Bodies

A few years ago I attempted to give a response on the concept of Sexism in Art. I was 20 years old, had never read a book on Feminism or Aesthetics so in retrospect, I probably should not have written what I wrote. Nevertheless, I write this essay as a revision because with the knowledge I have now, I most definitely have grown as a writer and thinker. Therefore, as much as I abhor the language I utilized in my previous essay, I will keep it there because it will show how I am no different from other individuals who speak ignorantly of a subject and once we gain insight of said subject, we would like to take back what we said previously. It’s a natural phenomenon that a lot of people judge others for (including myself) and I think we should stop doing that. My views that I have on world issues or history, or things in general, I do not seek to condemn others if they don’t share my views, nor should I expect others to know what I know because if we didn’t get criticism for what we think we know, it will never inspire creativity; we will just be monotone zombies, blindly regurgitating the information we received from our peers. That being said, I hope my views in the previous essay do not offend anyone. And as of this day, this is my view. Thank you for reading. 

A dollar bill, whether it is torn or wrinkled, never loses its value. On the other hand, a crisp, clean looking dollar bill (even if it’s value is $1) is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Similarly, a perfect looking man or woman is more valuable to others than one that is not well put-together. As harsh as that sounds, it is incontestable that determining one’s attractiveness, or in this case, sexiness, has become the norm. People are constantly fed images of “perfect” bodies in popular culture and lauded for their appearances. Simultaneously, we can take the view that cringes at the thought of someone judging us and/or finding a flaw in our bodies. Nonetheless, there are constantly individuals who attempt to or search for ways, to alter the appearance of their bodies at the risk of us being perceived as un-sexy to someone and therefore, invisible. Furthermore, this issue seems to remain trivial for those who remain ignorant to the pressures of what it means to be “sexy”.  However, by citing inspiration from the following aestheticians: Sheila Lintott, Sherri Irvin, and C. Winter Han, I will examine that change is necessary (and hopefully probable in the distant future) for the concept of “sexiness” to no longer be a form of aesthetics, because in spite of the constant reminders of the lesson taught to us as children, we remain judging books by their cover.

Beginning with C. Winter Han’s essay entitled: From “Little Brown Brothers” to “Queer Asian Wives”: Constructing the Asian Male Body, the author touches on a number of excellent points. Specifically, Han points out the ongoing, albeit unchanged, racism towards Asian men. This discrimination extends towards the gay community, where the issue of femininity as a stereotype for Asian Men particularly slurred among Homosexual White Males. Although I do not identify within the LGBTQA Community, this was something I personally felt was surprising. Simply because I was unable to picture a group of oppressed individuals discriminating against another group of people. Somehow, I felt that the silenced gay community could empathize with the voiceless Asian community, yet the evidence Han provides, clearly state otherwise. Unsurprisingly to a number of friends I have in the gay community, shallowness in general, is normative. More specifically, shallowness based on appearance i.e., obesity or lack of muscles. As explained by Han, “unlike media outlets aimed at heterosexual male audiences, gay media plays a dual role in that male bodies on display promote an image not only of what one should be but also of what one should desire. Male bodies in gay media outlets are meant to be not only emulated but consumed.” (Han, 64) And in the case of Asian bodies, they are often portrayed as lanky, infantilized or comically unappealing. Thereby, “depicting [Asian bodies] as androgynous or exotifying them with feminized features, dress, or manners.” (Han, 65)

 

As bad as shallowness is, I would have to argue that discrimination based on racial inferiority is much worse; in other words, it is adding insult to injury to maintain that White bodies are more aesthetically superior to “Colored” bodies. To reiterate, the irony is uncanny to say the least, that a group of men who were teased for their femininity (even to this day) are capable of such grotesque behavior is almost hard to wrap one’s head around.  Han utilizes the example of an “Us Weekly article titled ‘Sexy shirtless [Hollywood] stars!’…When readers click…the article, they are treated to a photo gallery of sixty-three shirtless male starts, sixty of whom are white. Predictably, none of the sexy, shirtless hunks are Asian.” (Han, 70) To say that White Males are perceived as more aesthetic is, in other words, to pretty much state that White Males are ethnically superior. And for it to be nonchalantly portrayed in the media makes it the norm.

 

I would be remiss however, were I not to voice a criticism for this piece, and that is, I felt Han should have specified more on South Asians as opposed to just a bit, as if their struggle is minimal compared to the East Asians. Perhaps I’m being biased in my judgment, as a South Asian male, however there’s actually a short film that touches on this issue called “Yellow Fever” about a young Asian man who is baffled when he sees more and more Asian girls ending up with “White Guys” and not the other way around. He then receives advice from his Indian friend who essentially mocks him and says, “how often do you see an Indian guy with a white girl? It’s like one in a million. Literally.” I will give the author credit for mentioning the examples in TV shows like The Big Bang Theory and Rules of Engagement (Han, 71 & 74) where although, South Asians are portrayed despite being are less popularized in Hollywood in comparison to East Asians. And when South Asians (Indians, mainly) are portrayed, it’s often perceived as a simple-minded person, with a very thick accent (that is often feigned or exaggerated). Moreover, the actor portraying them is usually not even South Asian (e.g., Apu from The Simpsons and Fisher Stevens in Short Circuit 2) an issue pointed out by Indian-American comedian Aziz Ansari in a New York Times article.

 

This essay could not be complete without mentioning two specific philosophers who do a wonderful job in illuminating the struggles women have in attaining a specific body type that  is both “sexy” and gives them reason to be relevant. Their relevancy however, is limited to them only being regarded as objects despite overcoming numerous efforts in the workplace as well as educational gain to be able to “sit at the grown up table”. These philosophers, Sheila Lintott and Sherri Irvin, in their essay, Sex Objects and Sexy Subjects: A Feminist Reclamation of Sexiness, of do a wonderful job by shining a light an issue that perhaps some people notice, but no one sidea of women having to be “sexy” to be relevant. But their relevance is limited to them being regarded only as objects; and this simply won’t do.

 

Primarily, the authors attempt to break down the idea of the word “sexy” and relate it to how women were seen as objects of reproduction. In subsequent years, feminists will rise up and reject this notion of sexiness as “women are more than reproductive machines, even when considered as sexual beings.” (Lintott & Irvin, 303) The latter definition of sexiness “has to do with sexual pleasure and satisfaction” (Lintott & Irvin, 304) To clarify, the authors contend that “the prurient conception of sexiness classifies pregnant, disabled, and elderly women as asexual, as unable or unfit to engage in sexual intercourse and give or receive sexual satisfaction.”

Another point the authors touch on is how we can challenge these notions of sexiness with ethics: “to find someone sexy, in the respectful sense, is to recognize the sexualized subject animated in a body and to respect the subject in part for how they choose or choose not to infuse their own version of sexuality into their own body.” (Lintott & Irvin, 306) In other words, we mustn’t place our own interpretations of sexiness as universal terms but rather, look for the particular characteristics of the individual that makes them sexy; i.e., in their own way.

With that said, Lintott and Irvin seek to determine whether or not notions of sexiness can be considered aesthetic. According to them, it is possible, however “attributions of sexiness…should be responsive to the person as they actually are, not merely as they seem to us.” (Lintott & Irvin, 315) It seems like because individuals are unable to make fair judgements on what is sexy and what is not, make the idea of sexiness as aesthetic very problematic. Particularly, because for Lintott and Irvin, we cannot simply “say ‘He is sexy, and by that I mean I would experience sexual desire for him if I were attracted to fat men’; ‘She is sexy, and by that i mean that a person who finds it possible to experience desire for elderly women would desire her.’” (Lintott & Irvin, 310)

Though Lintott and Irvin’s empirical vigor through their examination of Feminism cannot be overstated,  I do begrudge that heavy emphasis on sexual objectification on women (which is understandable, considering this is supposed to be a feminist piece). Though not often as women,  it should be noted that men are capable of sexual harassment. Furthermore, being a feminist is seen as a “man-hating”, radical movement.  Historically, this may have been the case in the 1960’s but that is besides the point. Also, this article of course, is an obvious exception; plus, usually the ones making that critique are men. But it does not change the fact that some men are objectified and deemed unsexy if they do not have certain appeals (i.e., the six pack, “tall, dark and handsome”). I say this, not to drive attention away from the overall message in the essay, because it is an issue that needs to be resolved but for some reason, has not; my intention is only to bring up something which the author(s) may have missed.

These two articles share in common the desire to challenge the status quo of discriminatory views and stereotypes. And in this essay, I have attempted to demonstrate that judgments of bodies considered “sexy” should not be considered aesthetic due to the nature of constant pressure with societal norms plaguing individuals in attaining a particular appearance, at the risk of not being accepted. Moreover, further examination of the works by Aestheticians: Lintott and Irvin, Han attest the arguments I have made here. The concept of “sexiness” and “masculinity” is irrefutably perplexing and incontestably, subjective. Therefore, members of society must grasp that we do not all have what it takes to be the epitome of either characteristics in this world.

Furthermore, it is incomprehensible as to why individuals should particularly care or judge anyone based on their appearance.  According to both articles, perceptions of “beautiful” and “sexy” are ingrained in our minds and what we define as a “sexy person” is this artificially shaped subject of a specific race or color; and perhaps our reason behind why we do this, is because we are continuously exposed to images or advertisements in the media that is, especially in today’s popular culture, the standard. And simultaneously, albeit unfortunately, we ignore the fact that people are not meant to be categorized as objects of our appraisal.

-Ahmed H. Sharma (Mr. Writer)

Originally Written on the 10th of May, 2017

Works Cited 

Han, C. Winter. “From “Little Brown Brothers” to “Queer Asian Wives”: Constructing the Asian Male Body.” Body Aesthetics. Ed. Sherri Irvin. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 60-78. Print.

Irvin, Sherri, and Sheila Lintott. “Sex Objects and Sexy Subjects: A Feminist Reclamation of Sexiness.” Body Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 299-317. Print.