Why would I not feel disgusted at the sight of Michelangelo’s masterpiece David with its meticulous depiction of the male body but want to puke at the sight of a ballerino performing in tights?
Both are forms of art that I do fancy. However, I utterly believe that carrying the art tag is not enough to chase obscenity. I personally think that context has the final say. But here arises the big dilemma of defining context in the shadow of our different standards of decency.
I once had the opportunity to attend an opera and sit in an orchestra seat where the view is crystal-clear (this is a detail of importance to the message I’m trying to convey). In Cavalleria Rusticana, the aforementioned opera, the curtains open to different practices of 19th-century Italian society and among the scenes was an onstage concrete representation of prostitution. The scene, however obscene if taken out of its context, did not provoke the audience (at least for me and my seatmates whose facial expressions I could read).
“I will obviously consider It obscene if it is void of context and does not serve the plot”
The act was one of the aims of the opera that of exhibiting the prevailing dark society usually glossed over in the fairytale-like operas. Furthermore, Cavalleria Rusticana is considered the first Verismo opera that came to blow the lid off taboo topics, previously deemed not fit for operas and thus considered as a revolution for the genre as a whole.
Should we take the same scene and put it in another production (TV, cinema, theatre or whatever) and let it come out of the blue, do not expect my reaction to be the same. I will obviously consider it obscene if it is void of context and does not, in any way, serve the plot.
The same thing goes for language.
For instance, I will personally use asterisks if I take off the reference quoting this: “You are like a comet: every so often you come around to f**k up my s**t”. Nevertheless, I would write it explicitly as “You are like a comet: every so often you come around to fuck up my shit” after introducing it as a verse from Neil Hilborn’s poem ‘Ballad of the Bruised Lung’. And why not, after inviting you to listen to the whole poem so that you can grasp the poet’s emotions and decide for yourselves whether it is vulgar or not?
“How can we define Context?” is the question I would leave now hung in midair because “the last judgment” is yours.
–Roiya Souissi, Correspondent (Culture)
(-Picture, Soham Banerjee)