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This Boar Ain’t Very Cool, Benny Lava

June 30th, 2008

Via Andrew Sullivan, if you haven’t seen it, you gotta:

It’s an Indian (?) music video, or maybe a musical segment from a movie. The kind that baffles Americans even more than our own musical numbers do–you just can’t figure out what the heck they’re thinking. But the person who made this video noticed that the language spoken in the video sounded a lot like English words, so they went to the trouble of transcribing it and adding the English version as subtitles. Not a translation, mind you, but just what the words sound like if they were English.

It is, in a word, hilarious. Turns out there’s quite a few videos like this, the original guy seems to have started a trend. Some are pretty funny.

Go Benny Lava!

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  1. Brenda
    July 1st, 2008 at 04:13 | #1

    You may think it’s ‘hilarious’ but that’s a culture you’re making fun of. And maybe American videos are just as baffling and stupid to Indian people.

    All I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t be so judgmental – this is where racism starts.

    I’m Indian. And upset.

  2. Luis
    July 1st, 2008 at 10:23 | #2

    First, let me begin by saying that if you have been offended by this, then please accept my apologies and understand that there was no intent to offend.

    But, “racist”? I fail to see how this could be seen as racist, or even making fun of culture per se. It’s having fun with phonetic coincidence. I myself pointed out how our own musical numbers are baffling, even to ourselves. But seeing phonetic similarities and then running with a garbled-nonsense gag, this does not suggest anything bad about Indian culture or the Indian race, it’s more akin to slapstick. Like assigning random, funny lines to any foreign language. If the new text were specifically crafted to be insulting (e.g., making specific comments about physical attributes, cultural habits, references to known stereotypes, etc.), that would be racist–but, “the puppy had a fee”? “We know what’s in butter rum”? Even with lines such as “Send him the crazy Hindu,” it is couched in such garbled nonsense (“Jet pack! Operation!”) that one cannot even begin to take it seriously.

    There was a movie by Woody Allen some years back called “What’s Up, Tiger Lily” which did something similar–took a Japanese movie, then re-dubbed it with new voices saying nonsensical things which were comedic when contrasted with the apparent intent of the action. It was similarly hilarious, and not racist either.

    I’ve lived in Japan for many years and have suffered various degrees of racism here; I have been insulted by content here in the past, and have understood insult as seen by others–in short, I am not blind to what racism is or what it feels like to be on the receiving end of it. I can be quite sensitive to what does or does not qualify when pointed at myself. if I were to imagine an American video shown here, with the subtitles in Japanese cleverly written so the English spoken sounded like the Japanese subtitles, which were hilarious nonsense to Japanese, I would not be in the least offended. Phonetic similarities between languages used for comic effect are delightful to me, in fact.

    Now, were the video something that would make some denigrating comment about the indian race or culture, or even if any of the words could be taken seriously to any degree, I could see your charge as holding weight–but I don’t see any of that. I cannot imagine anyone coming away from seeing this video any having any preconceptions about the Indian people or culture. It’s almost a given that musical numbers are often bizarre–just look at the U.S. movie “West Side Story” and imagine actual gangs acting like that, and it almost has a comic effect even without any alteration. Such things are made fun of on a regular basis–for just one example, witness Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the singing son of the swamp lord.

    The only other thing I can think of is if this were somehow a culture-specific insult–for example, if putting other words in people’s mouths were specifically insulting to people in India, just like making a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad is offensive to Muslims in a way that non-Muslims do not understand until they are told. If there is such a taboo or other culture-specific insult that is unknown until pointed out, then I am truly sorry–but you have not pointed out any such thing.

    In short, racism is marked either by intent or pre-existing form shaped by prior intent. I don’t see either one here. That doesn’t mean you can’t be offended, but I don’t think that you can just casually apply the label of racism–which can in itself be incredibly offensive if applied incorrectly–without reasonable cause. I recall the visitor to this blog who accused me of racism when I posted about crows which were loud and made a mess of our garbage heap were annoying; the accusation was unjust, and as such, greatly insulting to me.

  3. etoipi
    July 1st, 2008 at 15:32 | #3

    Hear, hear, Luis. A thorough defense. I particularly liked the West Side Story and Monty Python references… spot on.

    IMO, this “Benny Lava” video is no more racial than another one I saw recently of Joe Cocker’s Woodstock performance of “With a Little Help from My Friends” . Alas, IMO, Mr. Cocker could be offended that his diction is being made fun of… as Joe Cocker, in theory, is actually singing in the same language as the subtitles. The participants in the Benny Lava video have no such basis for offense.

    I have no idea what Brenda is offended by… truly.

  4. Tim Kane
    July 2nd, 2008 at 03:30 | #4

    I thought it was hilarious, plus the Indian women look extremely beautiful to me. So it’s a two for one. Nothing wrong making fun of the differences between languages or cultures. I think it gives us a sense of perspective as well as laughs.

    Generally speaking, I fault no one, per se, for criticizing American culture (though I reserve some discretion here), such that it is, we can always use it, and if you want to hammer it home, mix it up with derision and laughter.

    The Mohamed thing: the problem is Mohamed was the founder of a Religion and Political ideology (wrapped in one). Founder’s of religion generally don’t get lampooned, but politician get, and must get, lampooned. The issue is fundamental, because the core of the problem in Islam today is it’s inability to separate religion from civics, church from state, etc…

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