Centre for Internet & Society

Details of a session proposed by Madhavi Shivaprasad and Sonali Sahoo for the Internet Researchers' Conference 2019 - #List.


Internet Researchers' Conference 2019 - #List - Call for Sessions

Session Plan

Exactly a year after #LoSHA (List of sexual Harassers in the Academia) was compiled by Raya Sarkar in 2017, the second wave of #MeToo began when writer Mahima Kukreja accused comedian Utsav Chakravarty of sending her unsolicited pictures of his private parts. This sparked a barrage of tweets by her with screenshots from other women who had been in similar situations with him, and in one case, also a minor.This was the beginning of the second wave of #MeTooIndia.

In this session, we propose to look at the implications of “List” being circulated in relation to the comedy industry in particular and study the discourse surrounding it. While Raya Sarkar’s was structured as a list and circulated on social media as one too (albeit a dynamic one), the second wave of the movement was nothing of the sort. Sarkar has still refused to divulge details of the assault as shared with her in the interest of those that came forward with their stories. The second wave, involving primarily the media and entertainment industry, was about naming and shaming the perpetrators, mainly by specifying details of every case of harassment while keeping the survivors anonymous. In this case, there was no physical, tangible list, but host of people on social media sharing screenshots of the accounts and retweeting the same. Each of the panellists will be presenting papers and engaging with the interpretative idea of “list” as they understand it in relation to the comedy industry in India.

Apart from such “controversial” issues being brought forth in the media, comedy, or comedians have not necessarily featured as a genre of academic study in India. Although the content performed by the stand-up comedians today has been about challenging the status quo with regard to questioning hegemonic narratives, the idea that at the end of the day “it is just a joke”, unfortunately leads to dismissal of comedy as serious business. It is with this objective as well that we want to foreground the stand-up industry and the ways in which it contributes to dominant progressive as well as regressive discourses especially with respect to gender.

The session is intended to be a panel discussion that would foreground the multivalent possibilities of what “The List” entails with respect to comedy. Both the panelists would be presenting individual papers followed by a discussion of their findings with each other as well as to be thrown open to the audiences.

Paper 1: Sexual harassment in comedy: When Twitter threads are treated as “legitimate” testimonials [Madhavi Shivaprasad]

In my paper, I will be focussing on the characteristics of “The List” circulated by Mahima Kukreja and the reasons people began to consider that the #MeToo movement had “arrived” in India.

There are two main aspects to the way in which it played out in India. At first, it was mainly about showing solidarity with other women, make people aware of the “magnitude” of the problem, the pervasiveness of it. The second was the naming and shaming in the hope of taking away the power harassers hold over the women, banking on their silence.

However, there is also a third aspect to it that needs to be considered with much seriousness: that of the details of the sexual assault itself. These accounts were circulated widely and in reading these details is where the “virality” of the posts lay. It was almost as if digital media houses were having a field day reporting one harassment case after another. Thanks to unimaginable speeds of the internet, reports would be filed within hours of posting the tweet online. New names were being added every day, new lists being made.

It is also interesting that it was the “lack” of a conventional list that ended up making the list of comedians accused of sexual harassment go viral. The list here manifests in the form of multiple Twitter threads by different people associated with the comedy industry. So much so that it became difficult to keep track of who was saying what.

In this paper, I ask questions such as what specific characteristics of the stand-up industry made it possible for it to become the first to come to the limelight. At the same time, I speculate about effect of the #MeToo movement for the men and women who are a part of the comedy industry today. What does it mean for their careers now that some have been outed as harassers? How are the women dealing with the threat, and at the same time comfort of having #MeToo as a resort to made their concerns public?

The questions I ask therefore are these: How does the “List” initiated through Twitter threads become pervasive in its absence as a conventional sequence of items? Is it just the solace afforded by what the list represents that encouraged women to make their stories public? What other structures were in place which made it effective at such a magnitude? What implications does it hold for the larger feminist movement in the wake of so many comedians being dropped off the rosters of large media conglomerates such as Amazon Prime?

Paper 1: The list on YouTube: An analysis of the comments manifested by the Indian stand-up routines on street assaults [Sonali Sahoo]

There has been a shift from the mainstream idea of the essentials of a comic woman (Tuntun, Upasana Singh, Archana Puran Singh on the celluloid and Supriya Pilgaonkar and others on television) who are portrayed from the point of view of the male (for the script has always been written by males). The essentials of the comic woman shall be elaborated upon by tracing the evolution of the idea of the female comic on various settings such a films and television, live performances posted online during the discussion. Today, the noticeable shift has been the female comedians have not remained just the face in a comedic plot but also the voice along with the face (the stand-up comedian writing and performing her own script) in a comedic setting. However, the female stand-up comedians have faced a rebuttal at this juncture. They have been called out for not aligning to the dominant ideals of the topics to be included in a stand-up routine. Their issue-based humour associated with the body, and hegemony politics has been openly reprimanded on Twitter, other social media. One tweet invited a lot of criticism in December 2017 which said “female content bra, boobs, period.” People were agreeing with it but also disagreeing and defending it by saying “so what?” In this paper, though, the scholar in not interested not in the Twitter conversational list rather, she is looking at the comments section on YouTube to understand the reactions people have to content posted by these comedians on their YouTube channel. Following is the explanation of the objective of the discussion.

The list has existed in various forms, here I intend to look at the comments section on YouTube as a list, and look at the implications of it through over a period of 2 to 3 years. (on the YouTube channels of Radhika Vaz, Vasu Primlani, Daniel Fernandes, Karunesh Talwar amongst a few others) To be particular, how are the commentators influencing the comedians or are they really?

  1. How is the list formulated by the commentators different in concern to male and female stand-up comedians when they incorporate street assault or harassment against women in their stand-up routines? (a common ground)
  2. How does it bring out the ideology of the commentators?
  3. Discussion of the impact factor determined through its reach by referring to various newspaper articles that apparently are the voice of a collective group of people in the Indian society.

Hence, the whole point of the scholar is to look at the “list” of YouTube comments as deeply rooted misogyny in the society which have come to the limelight only due to the female stand-up routines on street assaults.

In the end of this session the scholar would discuss the potential of stand-up industry as an important medium to start the discourse on the sexual assault. These comedic routines can also be looked at as to be the first of the incidences discussing their personal accounts of harassment on the comedic stage.

Session Team

Madhavi Shivaprasad is currently a Ph.D scholar in the Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies at TISS, Mumbai. She also teaches full-time in the English department at Mount Carmel College Bangalore. Her areas of interest include gender and studies, humour studies, as well as disability studies.

Sonali Sahoo has an M.A. in English language and literature from St. Joseph’s College for women, Vizag. She is currently pursuing an M. Phil in English studies from Christ (Deemed to be University). Her area of interest include cultural, gender and humour studies in particular.


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